Greg Van Top-Ten

Greg Van Avermaet

A follow-up to yesterday’s piece about José Joaquín Rojas, the master of finishing fourth. Some have asked about Greg Van Avermaet and his ability to place regularly. Is he the king of second place, the present-day peloton Pou-Pou? Time to crunch the numbers.

Greg Van Avermaet

As the chart shows, if you can glance you’ll see Greg Van Avermaet as a sixth-place specialist… although only just. What is striking is the consistency of nearly-man places with a tight group of positions around 2nd-6th place. But the win rate isn’t too bad either, 18 wins for 192 top-10 places or 9.4%, a normal distribution in every sense. Compare that to Rojas and his 9 wins for 258 top-10 places, 3.5%. Some have said GVA is a choker prone to throwing races away but the stats say he wins often enough and is very solid.

The problem for GVA is the simple stats don’t tell the full story, he might have a decent share of wins but those wins have come in smaller races, four alone in the Tour de Wallonie compared to three in the World Tour: a Vuelta stage win in 2008, an Eneco Tour stage win in 2014 and the recent Tirreno-Adriatico stage win.

Meanwhile the runner-up places are legendary and crucially, screened in prime time TV and recent. Think of second place in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen last spring, second behind Vincenzo Nibali in the Sheffield stage of the Tour de France or third in another Tour stage last summer, third in the E3 Harelbeke and so on.

Van Avermaet is 29 and the career path is one of progression. He’s under investigation in Belgium and some saw his recent win in Italy as a response to this but without this you suspect he’d have won in Arezzo too, the finish is ideal for him. Tactically he’s in a paradoxical situation where he has a fast sprint but he’s not the fastest sprinter, he can ride solo well but can’t expect to ride away from the likes of Fabian Cancellara. He’s very good in an uphill sprint but so is Peter Sagan and more. He’s placed fourth in Paris-Roubaix and seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, in fact if you add up his best finishing positions in each of the Monuments he has the lowest total and his great versatility is reciprocated by a lack of a specialism.

So what’s he to do? The distillation of his abilities says he can sprint well from a small group after a very hard race, so perhaps he just needs to play the numbers and sit in for a sprint from a select group rather than using up watts in speculative solo moves. Take his attack on the Poggio last Saturday, it could have prompted a selection but perhaps it would have been better for him to sit tight and track someone else doing it. All easier said than done but the numbers show he can win and will win more.

Often seen as Mr Second Place, Greg Van Avermaet’s won plenty too and unlike Rojas, there’s no statistical aversion to first place. If some take him to be a Poulidor, it’s by perception rather than reality, it seems more that his second places and near misses have happened in some high profile races. Crunch the numbers and he’s very consistent rider, by some measures the most solid rider across all the classics. As a versatile rider he can place in a variety of races but will he win big soon?

31 thoughts on “Greg Van Top-Ten”

  1. If GVA has a ‘problem’ – and who wouldn’t give their right arm for his palmares – it’s his versatility which makes him a bit of a jack of all trades – not quite the best at anything and so doesn’t win as much as he’s expected to. That said, with a changing of the guard likely on the cobbles, he’s got a real chance at Flanders this year and Phil Gilbert doesn’t seem to be the rider he once was so . . . $od it, he’s going to somewhere between second and tenth isn’t he.

    • This seems to be the problem with Sagan, too. Both of them are expected to win far more often than they do (although obviously Sagan is more hyped) and their greatest strength is also their biggest weakness.

  2. One of my favourite riders. If the World Cup still existed, it would be his. Watch out for him in Amstel this year. He also should have been around in Lombardy last year. A harder San Remo would of course help him. And let’s see how what his last TT results mean in terms of watts output in Roubaix. BMC is also looking more like a team this year, so it should help him.
    His thing about attacking is that he performs best when he’s in the wind, for some psychological reason. It looks like sitting on someone else’s wheel stresses him into being afraid of not being able to hold it, which is what ends up happening.
    But he should learn a bit od the art of discretion. He could get a rainbow jersey one day.
    One last mention to his climbing and descending Balès last year is deserved.

  3. If anyone is the king of 2nd places it’s Sagan. GvA has had 4 2nd places in the World Tour in his career, Sagan had 4 in both the 2014 and the 2013 Tour de France, 27 in total. Now you would have to compare that to all their top results (say top 10) to make a fair comparison. Sagan is up there a lot more than GvA is, so naturally he’d have more 2nd places as well. I haven’t done the data crunching, but they both have done a bunch of very “visual” 2nd places.

    • The problem with that angle is that Sagan has a truckload of amazing first place finishes. There was a spell where he simply won at will. GvA doesn’t have these kinds of wins.

  4. Interesting reading of “what the stats say”. What the stats say to me is that GvA is more likely to come 2nd to 6th than 1st (and almost as likely to come 7th or 8th). My money wouldn’t be on him to win when it matters. Its a bit like Sep Vanmarcke: he does all the work to get in with the chance but then, in the big races, doesn’t finish the job. Frustrating. Sagan should take GvA’s stats as a warning. You need to finish the job off.

  5. are we overthinking this? in a race of 180-200 riders where you only have 1 winner I imagine every successful rider has to have a ton of placings in order to get the wins… what about Canc and his Monument podiums?, and some sprinters tend to drift off if they perceive it isn’t happening for them rather than sprinting it out for 4th or 5th spot…

    • Surely the point there, though, is that Cancellara has stacked up monument wins. And Greg hasn’t. For my money INRNG has overplayed his win percentage. What’s his win percentage in the big races? Not to labour the point, but wins in the Eneco Tour soon fade from the memory….

    • True, but the point with Rojas yesterday was the curiosity of someone who places so often but rarely wins while many think GVA does the same but actually he can win regularly too; for Cancellara we know he’ll place on the podium but has a giant list of wins too.

  6. Greg in my book is a gifted opportunist. I would say the same for Sagan, yet Sagan is a young developing rider. PS will win more frequently as he matures, once he figures out best practices. Were GVA is cast in his role. Both very valuable assets.

  7. Interesting statistics, nice to see that some legends are more true than others. Using numbers instead of full stories is always dangerous (lies, damned lies etc), but if you’re going down that route I guess the percentage of wins out of top-10 placements is not a bad measure for efficiency. Who would score highest on this ranking? A pure sprinter like Cav or Kittel, or maybe a guy like Gerrans?
    The number would mean a lot more if we knew what the ‘normal’ distribution looks like. Are you counting by hand or is the data source organised well enough that you can let a program or script extract the histograms for you?

      • Seriously. A champion doesn’t “race like it’s his last day on Earth” Maybe that’s his problem. There seem to be plenty who win small, unimportant races but when it comes to the big stage they can’t perform well enough to win. The bigger the race, the higher the pressure, the better CHAMPIONS perform. GvA might even win a few races, maybe even some important ones, but I don’t see the characteristics of a champion in him.

  8. Fasinating to read the Rojas and Van Avermaet pieces. Like others would love to see comparisons, over time, for some of the other riders in the peloton.

    Surely one of the V’s (Van Avermaet or Vanmarke) will stand on the top step of the podium over the next three weeks.

  9. I wonder if its not an individual situation with him as much as one of team tactics. If BMC had a classics team that could send more credible threats up the road and allow him to ride wheels to a reduced bunch sprint I think we could see him do much more. His strained relationship with Gilbert can’t help this much and the squad seems light on real classics strength.

  10. Nice work! His average # of placings 1-6 is 22.8 and assuming placings are random and uncorrelated then by Poisson statistics the standard deviation from an average of 22.8 is 3.8 which suggests numbers in the range 19.0 to 26.6 are only 70% likely with numbers outside that range 30% likely (normal approximation). Conclusion? The fact he’s won less than placing each place 2-6 is virtually indistinguishable from random chance…. it may simply be a matter of poor luck. But as you point out his breadth of skills are such that he’s excellent at getting to the finish line with the leaders but not the best at finishing first among the lead group, or even of dropping the lead group. Still, many fans, me included, value such all-around tenacity and strength: winning isn’t everything, after all.

  11. Do sponsors find value in having their colors/logo on the guy pounding his handlebars in frustration? Is the TV exposure over the final KMs worth anything if their rider doesn’t win?

  12. Is the Rojas/ GvA hit-rate comparison valid in this context? Sprinters are very much likely to be up there in sprint races/stages, particularly GTs (Cav aside when he feels the win is off). In races GvA excels in even top pick faves are more likely miss out on the selection e.g. the cobbled TdF stage last year after the aforementioned Sheffield performance).

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