10 Predictions for 2016

Ten predictions for the new year. Given forecasts are storytelling masquerading as insight the claims below should be taken with a pinch of isotonic sports drink mix, don’t rush to the bookmakers just yet.

Who will win the Tour de France? There’s a lot to enjoy throughout the season but the Tour de France is the central story so no set of predictions can exclude this race. Chris Froome is the prime pick as he’s got everything needed, from a strong team to route to suit but there’s a good list of challengers with Alberto Contador’s last stand, Nairo Quintana improving, Fabio Aru’s Tour debute and the Richie Porte-Tejay van Garderen tandem and it’ll be fascinating to see how they fare in the first half of the year. Allowing for anti-doping adjustments and wartime interruptions, we’re in the longest streak of individual winners: as soon as someone wins the race one year, the next it is won by someone else, a decade without consecutive wins for anyone.

The Law of Six: are you superstitious, do you believe in patterns? French journalist Gilles Le Roc’h has mentioned the propensity of the Tour de France to turn out strange in years that end with six:

  • 1956 saw Roger Walkowiak take the yellow jersey thanks to an early breakaway and ever since his name as been, unfairly, forever associated with riding to an easy win
  • 1966 saw domestique Lucien Aimar win after a lucky breakaway helped his chances then Jacques Anquetil made it his business to ensure his team mate Aimar won at Raymond Poulidor’s expense
  • 1976 saw Eddy Merckx injured and Lucien Van Impe took his only win in the race
  • 1986 was the special Greg LeMond vs Bernard Hinault duel
  • 1996 saw Miguel Indurain deposed by Bjarne Riis
  • 2006 was the year Óscar Pereiro won after Floyd Landis was ejected

So what surprise will 2016 spring?

The year of the time trial: the Giro has three, the Tour de France has two and if we don’t know what the Vuelta will bring, there’s the Olympic Time Trial, that rare one shot race for many. There are more TTs that matter in 2016 and they’ll become major objective for some riders which means they’ll plan their calendar accordingly as well as using the TT bike a lot more in training. It’s a massive year for Tony Martin, seemingly invincible a couple of years ago but he only won three time trials this year while getting beaten in more. Tom Dumoulin is one of the sport’s rising stars, able to win a time trial but also excellent on the climbs and the prototype for Rio. Rohan Dennis getting better and the Olympics will appeal to Chris Froome and Tejay van Garderen who’ll look to use their pacing and power to distance rivals during the Tour de France.

Peter Sagan will have a poor spring classics campaign. This is one of those calls where it’ll be great if this one falls flat on its face. Sagan is on the cusp of becoming a superstar but can he deliver on a wet afternoon in Belgium? He’s got the “curse of the rainbow jersey” to deal with, nothing superstitious but rather the added media burden and the rainbow striped target on his back. As for a “poor spring” this is measured by high standards as Sagan is among those riders who, to cite Blondin on Merckx, “loses when he doesn’t win” meaning if the Slovak places on the podium it’ll be a failure rather than a triumph for many. For all the talk of his billionaire team, they’re not that strong in the classics: Oscar Gatto is a decent signing but plugs a gap left by Michael Mørkøv.

Watt’s going on? once upon a time a passing knowledge of haematology came in handy in order to understand pro cycling, certainly if you followed cycling you soon learned expanded your vocabulary with words like haematocrit and reticulocyte. Now the new frontier is power data and its interpretation for performance. Only it’s confusing many, too often coverage of the topic last July was more WTF than W/kg. We saw this at the Tour de France where people were comparing Chris Froome’s recorded power on the climb to La Pierre Saint Martin with an estimation of his Maximum Aerobic Power. These things are totally different but it didn’t stop the numbers being compared directly and arguments being built on top of these false premises. The problem is we turn to scientists for certainty but science really only offers hypotheses to test and explore. Expect more confusion and 21st century witch trials, especially during July.

The UCI reviews its World Tour reforms: some sports are dependent on the Olympics for notoriety but it’s hard to think of another sport that defines so much of its identity, fame and income from one event. Even ASO is dependent on the Tour de France, money made in July is spread over the year to help keep races like Paris-Nice afloat. Given all this the Tour de France isn’t the jewel in the crown of professional cycling, it is the crown and with it, the regal power. As the golden rule goes, those with the gold get to rule and ASO’s objections to the UCI reforms can’t be ignored. A reformed World Tour without the Tour de France is like a bicycle without a frame so there has to be some kind of settlement. Right now Brian Cookson has to press on given he’s been told to do so by the UCI’s Management Committee and Congress but if there’s a collective voice to reform the reforms then then we can expect a review.

The Olympics will be better than expected: expect a lot of doom-laden pieces about Rio from the collapsing economy, the government in crisis and social unrest and how this could spill across to the Games. Yes the Brazilian economy is in recession, the government faces the threat of impeachment and that’s just the national story, there are local concerns causing protests in Rio and the excesses of the IOC will be under review again so we’re bound to get negative stories in the build-up. Yet once the Olympic flame is lit the focus switches to the athletes and their excellence, two weeks of escapism. It’s also a superb cure for the post-Tour de France blues.

The Worlds will be better than expected: at least many are interested in the Olympic races while nobody seems to be expecting much from the Worlds in Qatar. It’s flat and the percentage of population interested in cycle sport surely begins with a decimal point. Yet the combination of smaller teams, the mega distance and hopefully the wind should make things more selective than we might imagine. Several teams have an interest in a sprint but many will want to fire riders up the road. Napoleon said “a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon” and the same goes for a cyclist scrapping for a rainbow jersey.

Dimension Data aren’t the new High Road. Born out of the incendiary ashes of the wrecked T-Mobile team, Highroad – later known as Columbia and HTC – was an impressive team that punched above its weight. It was helped by a spread of talent where Mark Cavendish and André Greipel began as up-and-coming sprinters and there was much more with Tejay van Garderen, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin and Edvald Boasson Hagen plus a comprehensive women’s team. In managerial jargon the team had a flat structure with neo-pros winning as regularly as wisened veterans; it felt as if anyone could take their chance. Dimension Data is very different, there is a clear hierarchy, a vertical plan with Cavendish at the top. Now it makes perfect sense to back a proven winner, to surround them with capable helpers and implement strategies to ensure sprint wins. But it’s different.

Will Bjarne Riis be back? A question mark here because he’s said to be thinking about a return to pro cycling having made millions out of Oleg Tinkov in the past few years. Only it’s hard to imagine. One reason for Tinkov and Riis’s split was Tinkov’s concern about Riis’s commitment, that the Dane was losing interest in the day to day management of the team. Riis is a multi-millionaire now so if he was getting bored at Tinkov then why would he want to come back to life on the road? Perhaps it’s the freedom to run a team, to become a sporting entrepreneur again?

Finally a bonus eleventh prediction: 2016 will be the year women’s cycling takes off. It’s fast-growing from a small base but new UCI Women’s World Tour is more than a label, the idea is to create a calendar and support the races on it with minimum standards for TV, race websites and more, basics which should be there… and now will be. The Olympic focus should mean the media hones in on some of the riders to create character interest too.

67 thoughts on “10 Predictions for 2016”

    • I make a living analysing this sort of data and have done so for a long time.

      I cringe often reading the “analyses” written by some commentators during July, and what’s makes it worse is some of these are written by those purporting to be scientific and often compounded by a basic lack of understanding of bike racing. Some should know better. Others are just interested in generating click bait.

      Inrng does a good job of recognising when such things do and don’t matter.

        • Alex – as a layman who appreciates the expert commentary w/kg etc, can you elaborate?

          It’s impossible for someone like me to do much more than take such analysis at face value. I hate the way some fans cherry-pick the bits that suit their agenda (hello Clinic regulars) but I don’t want to find myself doing the same, albeit from a different perspective. Any sensible assistance would be much appreciated!

          • I think it’s probably too long of a subject to elaborate here. You are on the right path though wrt the cherry picking or the fallacious use of such w/kg estimates. In essence it’s like many such topics, they are heavily prone to much logical fallacy.

            There is nothing inherently wrong with making estimates of rider’s power outputs. Where it tends to go off the rails though is what people then do with such estimates (i.e. infer something definitive from them that one really cannot do) and don’t do with such estimates (i.e. critically assess the quality of the data).

            One of the more common logical fallacies made is that of confirmation bias – i.e. no matter the data, to them it will support their pre-conceived notion or whatever opinion they choose to hold, and/or they will dismiss anything that doesn’t.

            The reality is often far less certain and blurred, because performance in bike racing is always multifactoral.

            Layer onto that those who get fundamental stuff about physics and/or physiology (or indeed just science in general) wrong, and well you end up with stupid twitter storms, even between those that really should know better.

            People want a better dopeometer, I get that. But they are going to be disappointed if they are looking for it in an SRM file or an ascent time power estimate. The answer isn’t hidden inside some cyclo-computer, rather it lies in how to strengthen means described in Article 3 of the WADA code and Section 3.2 in particular.

            Some of course just want publicity and don’t care so much about quality analysis.

          • Thanks Alex. I watched the recent furore re: Froome’s testing and was astonished at how obnoxious and blinkered the usual suspects were. I thought Jeroen Swart did an amazing job of responding to people who were basically accusing him of being a fraud. And these are the same people who think that Vayer is the pinnacle of scientific credibility! All very hard to unpick for the layman.

          • Alex – I just wrote a reply to your post, which has subsequently vanished! Basically, thanks for the response and yes, I agree entirely. The recent nonsense re: Froome’s testing is a classic example. I think Jeroen Swart deserves a medal for the polite way he dealt with an onslaught of morons who think that Vayer is the ne plus ultra of sports scientists.

        • Did you listen to the Telegraph cycling podcast “the scientists speak”?
          Ross and Jeroen were both on that, and I thought they were excellent, asked tough questions we need answers to, and explained why a lot of stuff on the net is BS.
          Check it out, I think it’s worth the time – interesting that in my view Lionel didn’t come across well towards the end, could just be me though.

  1. Qatar as a location is awful on so many levels. With Verbruggen confirmed in his lifetime appointment and returning to administer the sport, it’s not going to get any better.

    • Have you been to Qater before? Have you ridden in Qater? If not, and I’m most certain that you have not, then stop repeating what the media/others say and have you own thoughts!

      • I’ve never been to the Pyrenees, but they look hilly.
        Have any of us ever been professional cyclists?
        If not, then – by your logic – we cannot comment on professional cycling.
        And this would also mean that the media – who you seem to think should be allowed an opinion – cannot comment either, unless they have been to Qatar and ridden in Qatar. And who are these ‘others’ you speak of? What qualifies them to have opinions about Qatar?
        Also, how you do discern what are channel_zero’s thoughts and what is repetition of what the media/others say?

      • I don’t need to visit or ride in Qatar to know it is run by decree by an unelected absolute monarch, that it still practices slavery in all but name, that it imprisons and tortures dissidents, that it has zero sporting culture and that it simply throws it’s vast pile of oil wealth at prestigious cultural events and ridiculous decadent holiday villages to attract westerners and legitimise it’s regressive existence.

          • +1 to C_Z, JE and DG. While I sincerely hope the Worlds is better than nearly everyone (apart from inrng) expects, the location doesn’t bear close scrutiny. ‘Awful on so many levels’. Dead right. No doubt Infront Sports & Media are involved so the TV coverage will be as poor as recent Worlds: if there is an exciting race we’ll struggle to get time checks or know who is in which group, how they got there etc. As C_Z knows, Infront is run by the nephew of Sepp Blatter, the man who awarded a football tournament to Qatar. I’m not a fan of joining the dots but sometimes…

      • “Have you been to Qater before? Have you ridden in Qater?”

        Yes and yes. I can spell Qatar, too, having lived there for four years in the recent past.
        It’s a terrible place (in so many ways) with no cycling culture or interest in cycling outside of a few expats. The ToQ and the worlds are just one of the many events they look to acquire to raise the profile and prestige of the country.
        They don’t care about the running of anything, worlds included, as long as there are some impressive photos of the event – the photos, not reality, define the event.

  2. Great read,
    Couple of others:
    Russia athletes boycotts Olympics, will claim they have been mistreated over PED use allegations!

    Someone name Anonymous on this blog will make derogatory statements about whom ever is in yellow
    this July!

  3. Said it before and will say it again.

    Contador has been outduelling Froome in ITT’s for awhile now.

    The ITT World Champion was the only rider to beat Contador at the Giro ITT, and only due to a late wind change..

    I struggle to see any evidence that Froome will suddenly be once again great all of a sudden at ITT’s. Zakarin outdid him at Romandie too.

    But this is a Froome friendly forum.

  4. Thanks INRNG for another great year of insightful and entertaining writing. I predict (and hope!) for a 2016 with more of the same!

    Also thanks to the broader commentariat on the site – few blogs/sites (in fact I can’t think of any) feature comments below the line that aren’t just (on the whole!) of a high standard but feature additional insight which often actually enhances the original piece.

    It really is a breath of fresh air compared to Twitter; I love Twitter for breaking news, following races live and humour, but it isn’t a good place for debate (the watts-per-kilo brouhaha killed the enjoyment of following the Tour on Twitter for me).

  5. Last prediction depends on interpretation and knowledge on what happened the past years which most media don’t have. WWT really is more of a label than an actual improvement they just picked the races which had the most coverage and best media in the first place. The basics are already there, the media has increased attention to womencycling because of the different (and I think better) markting possibilities.
    UCI has already had TV crews on the ground for most world cup races and social media coverage isn’t that hard.

    WWT is more a list of races for the media to follow so the public can get familiar with womenscycling. Media coverage will probably be better but not that much more as is now the trend + Olympic year.
    Chongming has had the worst coverage so far and is probably the only race that has to work hard on their media requirements and I predict they will fail to achieve the minimum requirements but won’t get kicked out of the WWT.

    For womencycling followers 2017 is more economic interesting year as the question will be what will happen after the Olympics. Most contracts end as they are based on an Olympic cycle, big names are quitting etc. Often post Olympic years saw a drop in everything (races, coverage, sponsors etc.)

    Qatar: will be a tactical race and the wind might be factor but who is willing to shoot first a make an echelon sacrify your leadout only to see other nations take profit of your work. Worlds always has been a waiting game where even the outsiders don’t dare to attack or only non favorites like (in 2016) Spain, Russia, Belgium and Netherlands as they don’t have sprinters that can win a (mass) sprint.

    BTW here’s a Map of Qatar course the right side with circles are not really fit to make echelons. Left side to past the buildings (though even urban partsof Qatar are very spacious).

  6. No way in the world can Porte, TVG or Aru challenge AC, CF and NQ. I suspect Porte and TVG never will.
    Does AC still have what it takes to win the TdF?
    Was CF actually sick towards the end of this year’s TdF, or does he suffer in the third week?
    Can NQ do better if he rides more bravely and has full team support?
    I’d say that those are the big three questions.

    I fear you might be right about Sagan: other than this year’s WC, he hasn’t done it over a Monument distance.

    Ban power meters on bikes: make the riders use their brains more.

    Cookson – as always – will not do what he has said he will do.

    Valverde has left it too late to win another grand tour, spending too many years striving to get a TdF podium. As with the overall World Tour points competition, he’s the only one who cares about that.
    Unless Nibali falls off/grabs a passing car/etc.

    Brazilians will suffer because of the Olympics.

    The Worlds will be better than expected: wanna bet?

    Cavendish or Kittel: who – if either – is faltering the most?

    Maybe Riis wasn’t bored of cycling – maybe he was bored of working for Tinkov. And maybe he realised that if he acted up, Tinkov would sack him and he’d stroll away with the cash. Besides, whose word do we have about Riis’s behaviour? If it’s only Tinkov’s then it’s worthless.

    Women’s cycling won’t take off for the same reasons that Continental level cycling won’t take off. (The Olympics is a short-term memory thing in cycling.)

    • “Ban power meters on bikes: make the riders use their brains more.”

      This I don’t understand. All a power meter does, in the moment, is tell you how hard you are riding. You can set it to tell you how hard you are riding relative to what you can put out for an hour, but then if you don’t know how long an acceleration is going to last, that’s not a lot of use.

      You can use it afterwards for more detailed data analysis, but it’s not a magic wand.

      • I’d prefer to see riders riding more by ‘instinct’ or ‘feel’ – i.e. they ride to the extent they think they can manage – as opposed to ‘In training, using the meter, we have found that I can ride 400W for 20 minutes, so if I keep riding like this I will climb this mountain at this speed and I will not go into the red’. (Numbers are random.)
        It’s not a big thing, but I can’t see how power meters are adding to the sport.

      • If power meters were not an advantage, no one would look at them and there wouldn’t even be a display. What a meter allows is for a (usually) smarter person, like a coach or DS, to give a rider limits not to exceed. Without them, a rider would have to hone and rely on his own intuition.

        With all the tech, the sport will become a video game, played by the DS.

        • Perhaps it’s just seasonal cheer but I do feel rather plus-oney today. Hourrecord style powermeters are a must: to be used for race data acquisition but not for in-race diagnostics or strategy. Even Formula 1 have realised that having athletes continuously coached mid race looks bad and reduces the sport to appearing like a video game.

        • They’re really not an advantage during a race, except for maybe a time trial where there’s a controlled consistent effort. A lot of racers don’t even display wattage data on their computers. Psychologically speaking, it can even be a disadvantage. Disgruntledgoat has it right, there’s too much changing in a road race, even on a long climb. If Quintana attacks Froome and they’re only a few seconds apart for the GC you think Froome will just sit there and make sure he doesn’t go above threshold? I think not

          • Froome (and Sky generally) consistently does not respond to attacks. We’ve all seen him ride to his limitations (staring at an area near his power meter) when others attack.
            And if riders don’t do this, then why do they need power meters?
            Any advantage to having them? If not, get rid of them.

  7. I have nothing constructive to offer except the prediction that silence from the cycling community over the choice of Qatar for the Worlds will be deafening. I think this is an utter insult to the heritage of cycle racing. Not because of the non-Eurocentricity, I’m excited by the expansion of Pro cycling throughout the world, but …no climbs on the road course? Really? WTF? I could be wrong since I can’t find a profile on the internets, but that in itself is a bad sign.

    • I refer you to Zolder when Cipo won. No climbing. At all.

      That Qatar is a backwards, dictatorial hell hole might be a better reason to oppose it.

      • And you’re right, goat. I didn’t really want to go there because I’m on the fence on that as a reason. An event like the Worlds in ..say.. the DPRK, I would support if for no other reason than to leverage further exposure to the freer world. Qatari don’t need that. But their ruling class could use an international slap-down. Sadly that won’t come from any of the sports governing bodies, afaik.

        And just to keep this thread relevant to our patient and gracious host’s post:
        Cancellara rules the pave.
        Quintana in yellow in Paris 2016!
        And INRNG continues to be the all-seeing eye of pro cycling.

  8. Actual neck-on-the-line predictions:

    Kittel will have a monster year.
    Bouhanni will have a decent year.
    EBH will score more UCI points than Cav.
    Michael Matthews will win a big one-day race, possibly Milan-Sanremo.
    Ilnur Zakarin will finish top 5 in a grand tour.
    GVA to finally win a monument.

  9. More of a wishlist than a prediction…. but I am desperate to see Cancellara and Boonen in form going at it in the spring and ditto Contador, Quintana and Froome in July.

  10. Is it just me or are the top 2 (at least) not predictions?! You’ve said there are a lot of contenders for the Tour without picking who you think will win, and have said there are a lot of time trials but again without suggesting what you think will happen in them!

    Here’s mine:
    1. Dimension Data will be a flop because Cavendish will be outgunned by Kittel and Greipel in the races that matter.
    2. Kristoff will win Milan-San Remo
    3. Sagan will win Tour of Flanders
    4. Stybar will win Paris-Roubaix, and it will be wet.
    5. Valverde will pip Nibali to win L-B-L
    6. Nibali will pip Valverde to win the Giro
    7. Froome will comfortably win the Tour
    8. Dan Martin will win the Olympics Road Race
    9. Dumoulin will win the Olympic TT
    10. Contador will win the Vuelta
    11. The Worlds Road Race will be hammered by cross winds, and won by Cancellara
    12. Gilbert will win Il Lombardia

    13… at least 11 of them will be wrong!

    • For the first prediction, Inrng said Froome would win and the second prediction is that something really weird/unpredictable will happen this tour because the year ends in a 6.

    • I think you are underestimating Gaviria, who could perform at MSR, he can climb and he can definitely sprint. I like the Dan Martin choice for the ORR. Contador, Cancellara and Gilbert won’t win anything of note. I also think Taaramae will be up there in the Giro, Quintana will push Froome all the way in the Tour and Chaves will do well in both the Giro and the Vuelta.

    • Lovely, thanks for the link. As a (struggling to get a permanent job in a university) biochemist, it makes me wonder how many papers I could have got into decent journals by (relatively, assuming you’re in that sort field) easy analysis of a sport I like following. Darn!

      Ties into the INRNG discussion of rankings as well, and how hard it all is. As the BMJ paper author freely admits, their analysis doesn’t take into account the prestige of the wins, so does that invalidate it? Who knows, and there will be many different opinions. I just wish people realised this was the same for medical science as well, and statements such as ‘Valverde is the best cyclist because he topped the rankings’ are equivalent to ‘[insert foodstuff here] gives you [cancer/immortal life] because it did that to some mice in a lab’

      Happy New Year to all the lovely INRNG people. I drove past an INRNG jersey on the way into work today and gave a beep – afterwards I realised it was highly unlikely to be taken the right way, but I can hope.

    • Excellent shout on that article, a great example of the stuff they routinely publish at Christmas.
      There was one a few years ago suggesting that proponents of evidence-based medicine should volunteer for a placebo-controlled trial of the parachute 🙂

  11. Thanks INRNG, you saved your best for last, your insights are always enlightening and your writing at times brilliantly funny, I wear my casquette with pride.

  12. I have to say first and foremost I really appreciate the insight and intelligent commentary by “Mr Inner Ring”. However, I just cannot for the life of me get the idea that the Worlds in the middle of a sandpit, with bugger all crowd, no scenery, up and down a dual carriageway is possibly going to be “better than we expect”…..unless the bar is indeed so low that just the fact that the riders turn up and ride (which of course they will) is seen as a success…. and then a “great success” being the fact that they all safely complete it without serious injury from heatstroke. It is very hard – to be charitable in the extreme – to see how the UCI can possibly sell this as a World´s that 99 per cent of cycling fans really have any interest in.

  13. I’m just hoping that Kwiat fits better into the whole Sky thing than ebh did. The guy can look so comfortable on a bike at times…
    And I hope Richie Porte really kicks some ar@e and proves that good guys can win stuff…
    And I hope that G continues to develop like he is
    And I hope that Sagan blows the doors off a classic or two…. And that Fabian gets a last hurrah.

  14. Re Cav at Dimension Data. My prediction is that the team will continue along its previous path of getting into breaks, riding aggressively, and having someone at the back of the peloton to get the shorts sponsor visible on TV – instead of becoming HTC Mk II as a giant lead-out train for Cav.

    Either that, or I will end up looking extremely stupid for believing Brian Smith when he said all the above at an event I attended just a few weeks ago. 🙂

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