Pogačar’s Winning Win Rate

A year ago the win rates of Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglič were remarkable, a “fantastic five” ahead of their peers. Revising and rejigging the numbers and Pogačar is now well ahead. Statistically he’s not quite Eddy Merckx… but he’s not far off.

A new year and a new set of numbers. The win rate chart here shows the number of victories and the number of race days for 2022, 2023 and 2024 so far (Friday lunchtime). The range of years makes a difference because if we start with 2020 to today then Pogačar is on 27%, if it’s 2021-2024 then he’s on 29%. Using 2022-2024 though and he’s on 33% but this seems a reasonable range to compare riders with. It allows us to see Jonas Vingegaard in a comparable light as his win rate has improved in the last couple of years, take this season so far where he’s had seven wins out of 11 days. Jasper Philipsen is the lead sprinter, for years sprinters had the best win rates and often by a big margin.

Primož Roglič looks like he’s a step below his peers here but that’s also a question of perspective as his 15.4% win rate is still superior to Tim Merlier (15.2%), Wout van Aert and Fabio Jakobsen (both 13.7%) and Mathieu van der Poel (11.7%) but it’ll be interesting to see if the Slovenian can stay ahead of them during April. Now he has changed teams he won’t find colleagues like Vingegaard, Van Aert and Sep Kuss in his way… nor will they help him.

As ever there are statistical caveats, these are just wins and race days. First the methodological point that 100% isn’t the upper limit, the win rate tilts to stage racers because they can win stages plus the overall: so a grand tour is 21 days + overall, win everything and the win rate would be 105%; sweep a one week stage race and the win rate would be 117%. A sprinter is always going to find GC wins more elusive. Second this is no measure of quality, just efficiency. For example Vingegaard boosts his rate thanks to the Camiño yet dilutes it at the Tour de France and Vuelta.

So behind the numbers are all sorts of stories and explainers, for example Mathieu van der Poel hauled himself around France last July without a win, had he done a private training camp instead he’d be on over 15% today but of course his efforts went a long way to helping team mate Philipsen win green. Similarly Wout van Aert has been a big helper for his team so his win rate is down; whether he can find winning ways this spring in the Ronde and Roubaix is a big storyline. These are crude rates.

Still because they are crude, they are illustrative. Returning to Pogačar his win rate far above the others. Is he better than the others? In a word yes, but this is where nuance comes in and we have to interpret the numbers because there is more to it. His numbers are boosted by his range, he can win cobbled classics and grand tours alike, he can win solo in a summit finish and take a bunch sprint too. But he’s not the favourite to win the Tour de France.

Pogačar is also UAE’s undisputed leader, there are few occasions when he’s working for others. His team is congested and top-heavy with big names yearning for leadership but when Pogačar starts they’re all hired help. So the plan is for him to win, something that is less apparent with the others. Jonas Vingegaard is probably the most comparable, especially this year now Roglič has moved teams. The Dane is his now consistently team’s leader and also when he does race it’s to win rather than get around.

If Pogačar’s win rate is impressive, so is his podium placing ability. Third in Sanremo last Saturday, third in the World Championships last year and second in the Tour de France too, these results are more than anecdotal. If he wins around one third of the races he starts, he in on the podium in over half the races he does, or 52.3% for 2022-2024.

How about Eddy Merckx?
The Belgian is the reference point in the sport. In 1971 his win rate was in excess of 50%, astonishing. That’s hardly cherry-picking either because between 1966 and 1974 it averaged over 41%. The era was different but so was Merckx. For a comparable rider in terms of the win rate and arguably the range to Pogačar, Bernard Hinault comes to mind, between 1980-1982 he was winning close to a third of his races too.

So much for Albert Camus and his “glorious uncertainty of sport”. With Tadej Pogačar on the startlist there’s a strong probability of a win, if not the podium. His win rate is impressive, both superior to his peers and also in historical terms. Taking the past two seasons and so far this year Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel and Jasper Philipsen also stand out, and it is notable that stage racers are winning so often too and rank ahead of sprinters.

The paradox of all this is that Primož Roglič’s goal is to parlay is regular success throughout the season for the overall win at the Tour de France: if he could win in July sans a stage win surely he’d sign up today? But he’ll have to get the better of Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar and their win rates.

87 thoughts on “Pogačar’s Winning Win Rate”

  1. Comparing Tadej Pogačar to Eddy Merx, one must use some sort of statistical metric, for example win rate as above. But judging by the win rate is flawed in some respect. Basically any metric is bad to judge cycling greatness.
    For me, the least bad metric would be PCS all time ranking. If you check the ranking it makes sense – Merx 1st, followed by Kelly and Moser. Bartali & Coppi @10&11th.

    • Cycling would really benefit from a stat along the lines of “wins above replacement” – which would allow for domestiques to share in partial wins and would account for team strength.

      But the nature of the sport doesn’t allow for these types of sabermetrics.

      • It doesn’t, but these kinds of Moneyball statistics are certainly in the future of the sport when it comes to figuring out what the team composition should be for a given race. The team that really figures this stuff out first will have a distinct advantage, regardless of their budget.

  2. Unpopular opinion… Pogacar and Van der Poel are becoming boring (unless they race against each other on a course that suits both more or less equally i.e. Flanders). Watching someone ride a bike alone while commentators wax on about how incredible they are is not interesting. I didn’t watch the end of Strade Bianche and I’m not watching the end of E3.

    • I’ve often wondered what the Merckx era was like. People watched the sport differently, TV was just one way and often just the final hour or the last climb. But still, “Merckx in the lead, Merckx wins” must have been very repetitive whether you watched it or read it.

      I haven’t found things boring so far but it could still happen, especially if one goes away from from and the result turns into a foregone conclusion from far out. But the phase before this certainty happens in today’s E3 was lively, it’ll be ruined if it feels like we know what is going to happen though.

      • I feel a bit like certain races are foregone conclusions. There was absolutely no doubt that Pogacar would win either of the last two Lombardy’s if he stayed upright. He has no equal on that type of terrain. I feel like Van der Poel in northern one day races is getting that way if Pogacar isn’t there. He has gone up a level over the last 18 months. He’s a level above Van Aert now and make’s previously impressive looking riders like Stuyven and Asgreen look run of the mill.

        • Honestly, I don’t think that your opinion is really that unpopular. I turned off Strade after Pogacar attacked and just checked PCS later for the full results. There’s a reason that time trial stages have lower audience numbers than road stages.

    • I’m one of those that found Strade boring and generally find crushing domination boring….much prefer an unpredictable tactical race regardless of protagonists. It’s a shame for the Volta that Pog doesn’t have a serious rival there, barring misfortune he has the race sewn up already and no matter how close the race for lower placings are it’s always a lot more fun when that applies to the win as well. Meanwhile Itzulia/Basque will see Vingegaard, Evenepoel and Roglic which promises a lot more entertainment value. I suppose the question is what if anything can race organisers and the UCI do to incentivise all the star riders showing up for the same races. Top teams understandably don’t seem to care too much about UCI points so maybe a season long competition based on individual rider stage race results, with a substantial cash prize. There have been season-long one day race competitions in the past so perhaps bring that back as well and give it the proper prestige it deserves. Something to spend all that spare Saudi cash on maybe? Also dare I mention calendar reform? Nothing too drastic, just make it easier for the top riders to compete against each other in more races. I don’t buy the trope that the lack of meeting each other in early season builds intrigue for the Tour, why not have more intrigue and excitement throughout the season?

      Regarding E3 it was an exciting race until it wasn’t so much, for specific reasons. I thought it bode very well for the coming races.

    • Yeah, let’s go back to the good old days, when we could a whole exciting stage with some roboteam making the pace upfront for hours until roborider no.1 saw a signal on his powermeter and accelerated away in the final 1-2km. It was so thrilling cause we never knew if his powermeter may fell off and we weren’t spoiled cause he didn’t start with 70km to go.

  3. There can’t be many days where he starts in his team kit, finishes the stage and goes and gets straight on the bus. Invariably he seems to be wearing a classification jersey of some sort or finishes the day making a trip to the podium for something. This might decrease slightly due to no longer being eligible for the youth classification but its still probably going to be >50% of the time.

          • I like that idea – crown a rider who is too good a permanent champion until they age out and focus on the race for second-best.

            More seriously, the U25 classification in the grand tours would be better off reformed as a ‘rookie’ classification for riders in their first two years as a pro (regardless of age) and any other riders entering that grand tour for the first time.

            The U23 format used in other stage races doesn’t really need fixing.

          • I keep plugging the idea of a gray jersey – for riders of a certain age. These days far too often the best young rider also wears the leader’s jersey so why not something for the old guys? Just think of the advertising possibilities! All those companies who buy time on your TV news broadcast should jump at the chance to sponsor a best old (over 30, 35?) rider jersey and presentation. C’mon, who is really buying that hair-booster stuff? 🙂

    • Along with the stage wins and major jersey presentations (GC, points, KOM, U25) there will also be many trips for minor awards that are rarely televised – especially at the Giro d’Italia.

      A smart team plans on being delayed and accepts a quick departure as being the sole good point of a day without success.

  4. As someone who observed the Merckx period closely during his pomp, I can maybe add a few comments.
    It is impossible to compare different periods of cycling, no matter what parameters are used to measure ‘champions’. Every era has differences and different levels of competition
    My observations on Pogacar is that his attacks, like Merckx, leave his opponents unable to respond. They are attacks that come from distance or closer to the finish just like Merckx. Both riders are/were able to win stage races as well as one day classics, although Pogacar at 23 still has a little catching up to do. Both had/have strong teams to support them. Both can/could sprint, although Pogacar probably has the edge. If Pogacar continues to perform for the next few years as he is now, then he will be a brilliant successor to Merckx. Even if, unfortunately for Belgium, he is not their next messiah!
    Just to add a comment on all the racing so far this year. Brilliant, non-stop, exciting. Best since the dark, boring days of the 90s. Long may it continue.

    • +1 Thanks for the opinion on the Merckx era, I’ve always wondered what it was like and how it compared to later ones as I didn’t get into it until the Hinault/LeMond period. I remember Eddy’s negative comments about LeMond in the pages of “The Fabulous World of Cycling” which I eagerly awaited each season 🙂

  5. @ Gabriele Boring 90s. Well to be more precise up to the mid/late 20s. The dark period of super charged riders, where results became almost meaningless and some well known teams dictated the racing. I know and have unfortunately seen the damage done first hand to even fairground riders of that period. Of course things were not perfect before the 90s. Even Merckx was suspended, but riders were not supercharged with the modern medications of the period above. I hope our host does not object to me pointing out what I thought was fairly obvious, which is why I was a little circumspect.
    Irrespective of all this, the question of comparisons between Merckx and Pogacar remain perfectly valid.

  6. Unless I have my riders mixed up I think that I read that Merckx had a serious prang on the velodrome mid career and, in his own mind at least, was never quite the same afterwards. Statistics don’t tell you everything.

      • I remember Guimard and Thévenet saying (I don’t remember where and when) that Merckx was always complaining about his health before a race, before to crucsh everybody. He always had excuses if things didn’t work the way he wanted, apparently.

  7. As has been said before, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Physical attributes are the necessary foundation for sporting achievements, but winning is just as much about your opponents weaknesses as your own strengths. As Sun Tzu wrote, every battle is won before it is ever fought. We cycling spectators only get to see the battle not when it is won.

  8. Pro cycling in Merckx’s era was little more than a provincial European sport. The first non-European to wear a TDF yellow jersey (Phil Anderson, 1981) and first non-Euro winner (Greg Lemond, 1986) both post date Merckx. There is incredible global depth in pro cycling nowadays, Solevenians included. What the Pog has achieved already is remarkable.

  9. @Anonymous. Would be fun! Just to continue the different times of Merckx and Pogacar, and why direct comparisons are impossible. In the days of Merckx salaries were significantly lower, about 20.000 French Francs a month for the top riders. Road riders rode the six days in the winter months and crits both offering start money in the Summer to supplement their salary – especially after the Tour where they would travel constantly all over Europe for Crits. Amphetamines were in general use just to drive from one event to another! There were few motorways in those days. Pogacar by contrast, can pick his seasons programme with little need to worry about topping up his not insignificant salary. Yes, Merckx was involved in a motor paced track accident at the concrete Bios track. His pacer, Wambst unfortunately did not survive, suffering a fractured skull. As @150 Watts says, Merckx always attributed that accident where he also suffered multiple injuries in 1999 to his gradual decline.

  10. So much for Albert Camus and his “glorious uncertainty of sport”.
    Really? When Pogacar shows up it’s all over? Not so fast I say! Did you miss MSR?
    I didn’t pay attention to the sport in the Merckx era but one thing seems different…the joy and playfulness of the Slovenian vs the Belgian. While Eddy seemed compelled to win out of insecurity Tadej seems to be having fun. MvdP is starting to seem to be having more fun now too, but too many of the others are rather dull, robot-like racers IMHO.
    I laughed at that comment about rim brakes…same marketing-maven bullspeak as that other guy. I’m bemused at how effective it is…I was thinking the other day about integrated seatposts…remember those? And how you (according to the marketing-mavens) just had to have a bike with one? Where are they now? You still see a few but they’re a long, long way from ubiquitous, despite all the hype

    • I was in a Giant bike shop in summer 2022. The head of sales was spouting about hookless wheels, saying they’d be standard on all bikes within a year and dismissing out of hand my reservations. They’re not in a good place right now with all the media focus on them and they’re very far from widespread. Maybe Mr Ring could take a look at major innovations, how they were received and why (disc brakes hardly had a smooth ride!)

      • “Maybe Mr Ring could take a look at major innovations, how they were received and why (disc brakes hardly had a smooth ride!)”
        I’d vote no – it’ll stir up endless polemics about luddites who don’t follow the marketing-maven’s “newest-latest” bullspeak vs those who embrace it fully.
        I suspect there are tech-wienie forums already out there full of this stuff? I know there’s plenty of arguing about it in places like zootube.
        For me (and I think/hope the UCI) cycling is about the athletes, not their equipment and I’ll make the claim again that races are not won/lost (barring outright failure) because of the equipment one rider uses vs another.

  11. Pog is also winning by a big way, it’s not like he just has a better sprint for a mountain finish like Primoz.

    Curious as who will be the next rider to break through, maybe Del Toro? As a Dane I hope to see Albert Withen Philipsen there in the coming years.

    • I think one thing we could see in this era is that the reign at the top is more short lived, Merckx’s rule lasted a long time (he had peers who also had strong win rates), Hinault too. So this opens up space for more riders.

      • Merckx’s career was short compared to many (66 – 77) though he dominated for almost all of those years. Kelly, Zoetemelk, Valverde, Zabel, Poulidor and many others had much longer careers.

        As one who followed the sport during Eddy’s career, I think his attributes evolved. From the start to 1972 he was both a top sprinter and top climber who seemed to dominate with ease, from 73 to 75 he still dominated but was no longer the favourite to win a mass sprint or match the climbing specialists in the high mountains while other riders (Thevenet, Ocana, R De Vlaeminck…) no longer accepted his domination. In short he still won but had to fight harder to do so.

  12. As someone who has only followed the sport for the last ten years, one thing I can’t understand is the infatuation with Eddy Merckx. I understand he had four positive doping tests during his career, so why is he even used as a comparison, and not persona non grata like Armstrong?

    • Because his doping practices were not relevant, unlike Armstrong’s, whose problem, anyway, is more about his cycling politics than his scientific, high-level, systematic, differential, impunity-granted team doping (so imagine the weigh of the former). However, in the last ten years or ten weeks, even, quite enough on the subject has been written on these pages – enough to feel the possible difference between Armstrong and Merckx, at least. In shorter words, Eddy was the true thing, Lance was just a fake, although a huge one.

    • Watch the Roadman Podcast (I think that’s the name) video on zootube where the guy interviews Greg LeMond at length for a “PED’s 101” class. You’ll then understand the difference between oxygen-vector doping and simple stimulants like amphetamines, etc. which most agree didn’t turn any plow horses into race horses, unlike EPO/reinfusing previously extracted blood did.

      • Amphetamines have a huge effect. They allow a person to completely override their intrinsic “mental governor”, which is thought to be a significant component of peak performance – and particularly thought to explain most of the difference between athletes who appear, on all measurements, physiologically identical, but produce different performance numbers.

        They’re also extremely dangerous, especially in physical competition. Riders in the speed using eras regularly needed medical attention. Some died (Tommy Simpson famously).

        LeMond hardly rode in a clean era himself. Maybe no EPO, but… corticosteroid abuse was common.

        LeMond also tries to claim that Armstrong had no talent, and only succeeded cause of EPO. This is just… completely at odds with documented reality. I’m not an Armstrong fanboy, but everything recorded about his early days suggests talent. A top ranked tri-athlete, beating older pros, as a young teen. US national junior champion. *World* champion in his 2nd pro year, aged just 22 – just before his 23rd birthday.

        LeMond also basically tries to claim that VO2Max is everything, and that Lance did not have a great VO2Max. Ignoring that the figure he gives for Armstrong may or may not be correct, LeMond is _incorrect_ in giving VO2Max /complete/ weight. While VO2Max is a significant predictor of performance and success in aerobic sports, it does *not* correlate perfectly, by any means. It is quite possible to have 2 athletes where one has higher VO2Max, and yet have the athlete with the lower VO2Max produce greater aerobic power, weight for weight. It is certainly quite possible for the lower VO2Max athlete to have more success.

        As an example, for any given top pro rider, their peak VO2Max will have been somewhere in their very early twenties. Yet, the peak of their success likely will have been a bit /later/ in their career, 25 to 28 say.

        I like LeMond, love his exploits. I disapprove of what Armstrong did. But… some of what LeMond says on that podcast just doesn’t sound right.

        • Doesn’t sound right? I think LeMond has spent a lot of time researching the subject. BigTex was a punk (and likely dope cheat) from a young age and his VO2max data is accurate as far as I know so there’s some truth to LeMond’s claims. And why does “LeMond hardly rode in a clean era himself.” make any difference? Does he claim that was not the case? I think his point is oxygen-vector doping (or transfusions) changed the game, actually improving the human engine vs amphetamines which I would say are just like over-revving that engine (risking a blow-up) rather than actually improving the engine’s efficiency. Plow horses (though high-level ones) became race horses almost overnight. BigTex is just the posterboy since he had the ruthlessness and audacity to exploit it better than any other racer.
          LeMond doesn’t claim Tex would have been nothing as a rider, just not what he’d become once he got fully “on the program.”

          • Looks like my reply on the accuracy of LeMond’s figures for Lance’s VO2Max hasn’t gone through. Sigh. To summarise…

            LeMond is claiming in the podcast that Lance’s numbers were 75 (ml/min/kg I assume). However, 8 years ago in a 2016 CyclingNews article, LeMond is making this argument but saying it was 78. So it seems LeMond has a tendency to keep dropping the number he remembers for Lance as time passes.

            Next, in that article, LeMond says he is going by data that he heard or read stated by Dr. Coyle – who had tested Lance. Searching for this, that would appear to be based on interviews he gave to the press around 2005 – which follow from a paper he published “Improved muscular efficiency displayed as Tour de France champion matures” (in journals dot physiology dot org slash doi slash full slash 10 dot 1152 slash japplphysiol.00216.2005), which is about Lance Armstrong.

            The highest VO₂Max was measured when was young /and/ when racing at 81 ml/kg/min, or 6.1 litres/min. That’s pretty good. His other figures that Coyle measured are lower, but seem to be off-season. The lowest at 66 ml/kg/min in 97, apparently in reduced training and with nearly 5kg extra weight – that’s not much higher than my best ever VO2Max, where I was in the best ever shape I was ever in (and on EPO micro-doses – but again, EPO micro-doses did not move the VO₂Max needle too much for me, though it did make a big difference to fatigue over a long ride) ;).

            However, 81 ml/kg/min in race season is pretty good, and that’s just the peak from a handful of measurements by Coyle in this paper. At ages when Lance was a good bit _heavier_ than in his GT winning era. In other interviews that are later than when this paper would have been prepared, Coyle states Lance tested at 84 ml/min/kg. If Lance was able to retain his peak 6.1 litres/min O₂ uptake, while reducing weight to 72 to 70 kg, he’d have hit 84 to 87 ml/kg/min.

            Something else Coyle notes in that paper is that Lance had amazing lactate threshold. His respiratory O₂ uptake rate at his Lt is 4.63 litres/min. To put that into context, that is pretty much exactly what my _peak_ respiratory O₂ uptake was at max. Lance is basically completely cruising, while I’m at my failure point. 😉 I was about 2 litres/min at ventilatory threshold (not quite the same as LT, but tends to be similar AIUI).

            An ability to have your body still be in a cruising mode, while others are starting to work, would be immensely beneficial in endurance sports. And this does _not_ depend on VO₂Max per se.

            Again, there is _more_ to performance physiology than just VO₂Max. Otherwise Thor Hushovd would have dominated GT racing.

            Again, I’m not a Lance fanboy – I am a bit of a LeMond fanboy. His claims about VO₂Max don’t tally with what Coyle has said. And his claims about Lance’s junior career don’t really tally with the record either.

          • Coyle? Isn’t he the guy that tried to prove BigTex wasn’t a cheat with all kind of statistics, lies and bullspeak? Then on his “Hype Rides Again” comeback Tex somehow got Don Catlin to try to legitimize the scam? Both of those guys sullied their reputations by associating with that punk from Texas IMHO.
            Did I claim or imply VO2max was improved by oxygen-vector doping or transfusions?
            Tex’ numbers were nothing compared to LeMond’s (which is the basis for him claiming Tex would never have been a big champ without the secret sauce) and I think even Tex himself described the treated blood as “high-octane” a time or two?

          • Coyle was famously quite taken in by Lance, and defended him as being clean. However, there’s no reason to doubt his lab numbers.

            To what degree doping influenced the lab numbers is another question. But, again, Lance showed a lot of talent as a young teen. Well before any kind of sophisticated doping.

          • BigTex as a smart-ass, teenaged tri-jock was rumored to be using PED’s even then so claims like these fall flat IMHO (and I think LeMond’s as well?)
            The misperception (one he likes to imply is the case) is that he was clean until getting his a__ handed to him by the Euro pros enough times to declare he had to get “on a program”.
            To me that suggests just a more sophisticated/effective/expensive program than the DIY PED regime he’d been on, not that he was as pure-as-the-driven snow and suddenly realized he could only win by doping.

          • But that’s a different point then. What you’re saying is that Lance went from domestic, junior, US level doping to Europe and then was behind. So then he had to get on the game-changing EPO programme?

            Either way, you’re saying Lance didn’t do the game-changing doping stuff until Europe?

            Note, I didn’t argue Lance was squeaky clean in USA. However, it’s unlike he was on /much/ at age 15 – and he was already beating seasoned elite athletes then. And he likely wasn’t doing that much different to other juniors when he won the US Junior champs, cause he and other riders (some of whom went on to be his teammates in Europe) were already spending a lot of time together as part of a US Cycling junior talent programme (I can’t remember the names, other than Julich). They would have known what they each were up to.

            Lance deserves a lot of opprobrium for what he did, but… LeMond’s argument that he was nothing except for doping is just… not at all well-founded. He already had made a bit of a name for himself as a young teen domestically.

        • There were Amphetamines and amphetamines ‘back in the day’ as Larry would say. Towards the end of this era standard amphetamines were bought mainly in Switzerland, and were not the same quality as the top riders were using. These were bought in quantity from dealers who travelled to supply their clients at fairly high prices.
          It is interesting to note that riders like Charly Gaul (RIP), a well known consumer, performed at their best when the weather was cool or cold. This was normal, and makes Tom’s use in extremely hot weather (probably about 50 degrees C) all the more difficult to understand.
          Don’t confuse the performance effect of amphetamines. There was an advantage for sure. I rode against many with the telling 100 meter stare, and never found their performances to be anything special, and certainly not as special those seen in the later LA, MP et al era.
          Like the Pagacar and Merckx discussion, you have to judge everybody by their time!

          • “Don’t confuse the performance effect of amphetamines. There was an advantage for sure.”
            But they didn’t improve the performance (oxygen uptake, watts/kg, etc.) one bit. They just detached the rider from normal sensations that made those not using them slow down or give up. That’s an advantage smart and gifted riders (like LeMond) could often overcome while oxygen vector manipulation was like having a motorized bicycle.

        • Larry, On amphetamines v EPO and the plough horse -> race horse thing (I have another comment about the LeMond/Armstrong VO2Max accuracy – but it’s awaiting moderation by Inrng, as I cited some old web articles):

          Absolutely agreed, EPO makes a much bigger difference to speed to endurance performance capability. Having been on a programme of EPO myself – only small micro-doses though – as part of a WADA study. 😉 I personally did /not/ gain anything in VO2Max, or in peak performance over 20 minutes. But it made a big difference to how fresh I felt over the course of a long ride. I could take the last hill like the first on EPO – without EPO, you suffer much more from fatigue over hours.

          And note carefully, though I had significantly higher haematocrit %age, my VO2Max did not (statistically) increase significantly. I think a major reason for this is that VO2Max involves /more/ than just your aerobic engine – it relies on additional power systems. However, I was far far from elite physiology – maybe elite physiology responds better. Such a study is nearly impossible to carry out unfortunately.

          Still, the amphetamine’d up rider in the 60s, 70s, had a noticeable advantage over the pan y agua rider of the same era. This argument applies to LeMond in the late 80s/early 90s, as the Italians (initially and most noticeably) started blood doping and got huge performance gains over the riders still on older-school doping.

          It also – according to testimony by Lance Armstrong and other teammates – applies to Lance and Motorola in ’92 / ’93. (I doubt fully, but I would believe there is some /degree/ of truth to it too).

          I think there’s more nuance and grey zones here than LeMond likes to paint.

          • The “plough horse -> race horse” argument applies to the /transition/ period that LeMond found himself in… is what I meant there (and Lance et al say the experienced that transition too). My wording was lacking a bit there.

          • “I think there’s more nuance and grey zones here than LeMond likes to paint.”
            Quite likely, but since BigTex had such a horrible effect on his post racing career reputation and business life IMHO that’s understandable.
            My VO2max references might have been inaccurate in terms…but it makes what LeMond says more true in the case of oxygen-vector doping/transfusions – even athletes not gifted with amazing VO2max (or old guys like Moser) could win when their less than stellar engines were running on the high-octane liquid coursing through their veins vs the mere blood of guys like Christophe Bassons.

    • Different times, different thinking? I’d need to check but think amphetamines were sold over the counter in pharmacies to the general public until the end of the 1960s in France and Belgium to help people drive at night, concentrate for exams and lose weight. Plus testing was sporadic and if positive the penalty was light, a month.

      By the 1990s doping meant using medicines reserved for, say, cancer patients, and whose use meant a two year ban (four today) and often breaking criminal law from prescription fraud to smuggling undeclared blood bags. I’d suggest this change in product and method explains in part the changing social attitudes towards doping, plus as Larry says the change in results too.

      Armstrong is still serving a life ban but it wasn’t just him, when, say, Michael Rasmussen was thrown off the Tour in 2007 several newspapers in France ran with death notices and obituaries for the Tour de France saying the race was finished, attitudes had changed.

      Another reason why comparing results over the years is fraught with problems and nuance.

      • INRNG. Amphetamines and other stimulants’ were available in many European countries over the counter from Pharmacies. No questions asked. Their regular use was almost endemic. Dr Dumas was the leading medical opponent of what he considered as a medically dangerous practice, as well as cheating. The unfortunate death of Tom Simpson made Duma’s point to the authorities, and bought the matter to the notice of the general public, who had shown a degree of ambivalence until that point. It is interesting to note that Tom’s death was partly covered up by the authorities who blamed alcohol and heat as the main contributing factors.

  13. According to PCS Pogi is not now racing until LBL. What a contrast with Eddy who rode the lot. It’s another sport and world.

    While checking on Eddy in 72, he finished the season winning the Baracchi TT with Rogers Swerts. Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, 109km hanging on Eddy’s wheel!

    • OTOH I don’t think Merckx was winning anything like Strade Bianche before MSR in his day? He’s already won De Ronde, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne, does he have to win ’em all again?
      In the end I don’t think head-to-head comparisons are fair unless it’s in a race. Comparing riders in the present day to those from 5 decades ago might be fun, but in-the-end basically meaningless?

      • It Is meaningless. And it’s also meaningless to compare Pogi’s young career with over a decade of Eddy’s. We can begin to compare when Pogi finished his career and then look at what he achieved then.

        • It’s hard to compare and the more you look, the more complex it is. But there are a lot of people wanting to know what it all means… partly because these comparisons are so complex.

          Anyway more in the moment and if Pogačar wins the GC in Catalunya today, a formality assuming he crosses the line then his win rate will go up a percentage point to 34%, if he wins the final stage as well then it gets close to 35%. The hard thing in the Giro preview here will be working out who are the picks for the other podium places.

          • Pogacar has not won the last two Tours because Visma have worked out he’s his own worst enemy. As we saw yesterday at G-W, 3 guys from Trek can beat van der Poel, and when Visma tried to push the pace at Catalunya Pogacar suffered so much, Landa thought he was going to catch him at one point.
            It really is up to teams to work out how to win not by brawn but brains, when mano a mano is out of the question.

          • I think Lidl-Trek’s tactics were slightly easier to pull off at G-W where there are less hills and MvdP is therefore a little easier to contain. I think they’d find it harder at Flanders, but I might be wrong. It will be interesting to see what they do. I quite fancy Milan for Roubaix potentially due to his sheer brute power.

  14. +1 Larry T and DJW. It is indeed pointless trying to compare different generations of riders, but as you say fun.
    For me, Merckx was very special both in attitude, range of wins, treatment of team mates, demeanor and athletic ability. Lest we forget he was also up against many, more than worthy competitors.
    Pogacar is also clearly athletically something special, but has a long way to go to match the man with over 500 pro wins!
    Hopefully it’s going to be an interesting few years!

    • “Lest we forget he was also up against many, more than worthy competitors.”
      I’d say another one of the “golden ages” though I only know it from the great films made: Sunday in Hell, Stars and Watercarriers, Greatest Show on Earth, etc. Renting those VHS cassettes from a LBS and watching ’em with friends really started my interest in pro cycling. Greg LeMond’s exploits at the time helped too.

    • +1 Another “hate the team, like the rider” situation. Like Ganna and INEOS, Milan and LIDL/Trek. I’ll stop there but throw some props to that last team for a masterful and entertaining G/W. They had triple-teamed MvdP until one of ’em had a puncture, but played their other two cards well to the point I’m thinking it’s Pedersen’s race to lose. HTF will/can MvdP get rid of him before the final sprint? Nice to see a race won on tactics vs pure power and/or watts/kg!
      And MvdP’s post-race comments illustrate what I think is some recent maturity on his part, even if he hocks a loogie at a ‘cross cretin now and then!!!

  15. To me Merckx is similar to Donald Bradman in cricket, in the sense that he is so statistically superior to everyone else who has ever practiced his sport he stands completely alone. Eras are different but both stand head and shoulders above everyone both before and after them. Pogacar seems like a good match with Hinault, but much more cheerful!

    • The mad thing is that Bradman was even more dominant than Merckx.

      If you look at PCS (and apply all the caveats), Merckx is recorded as having 276 pro wins. The average for the top 100 riders is just over 86. Merckx is over 5 standard deviations above average.

      But Bradman is almost 6.5 standard deviations above the batting average for the 270 international cricketers who’ve scored 2,000 runs or more. That’s the equivalent of Merckx getting an extra 55 pro wins! Given that cricket stats are more likely to be comprehensive than PCS, I suspect the gap is larger.

      (For context, a good test batsman would average 40 runs or more each time he batted. Averaging 50 would put you in the 40 best of all time, averaging 60 would put you in the top 6, 62.2 would put you second of all time. Bradman averaged 99.94)

      • @Nick. Merckx is recorded as winning over 520 races of all kinds out of about 1800 starts, sometimes in fields of 140 plus .
        No mean feat. As I think we have already discovered there are stats and stats!

          • @Nixon. Yes, of course. The prolific, in those times after TdF crits were well known for being ‘fixed’. The local boy often being allowed the win. The ‘stars’ were paid start money, so the winnings were not too important to them. Merckx, despite his winning reputation, must have ‘sold’ many of these unimportant smaller races.

        • Agreed. The inclusion of various crits, kermesses and track races in Merckx’s reported total make it difficult to do a proper comparison. Hence using the PCS total, with all its flaws, to try to balance his competitive record with his peers.

  16. I remember reading of a French TV debate show sometime in the 60s where the subject was a proposed outlawing of amphetamines by the French Government. Jacques Anqueteil was a guest on the show and accepted that it was a sensible move, but argued that those with arduous professions should be exempt from the ban…..pro cyclists obviously chief amongst them!

  17. A question on win rates. Surely a 21 stage Grand Tour, for example, gives the opportunity to win 22 times (each stage plus overall), so the win rate should be based on a 22 race max? Patrick S

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