Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar, and the early season to de Omloop

Fans of the classics: as if the snow blanket of winter had lured us to complacency, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN) is nearly upon us already. Hailed as the opener of the Belgian classics races (some other nations have had their opening races by then), we wonder the impact of emerging early season races in warmer climates on the OHN. More specifically, we wish to compare the importance of Tour of Qatar (ToQ) and Australia's Tour Down Under (TDU) on the performance of classics warriors who have done well in the OHN.

In order to do this, we made a list of wielrenners who finished in the top 5 of the OHN from 2008 to 2012 and empirically compute the correlation of their performance and their attendance at the TDU and ToQ. What are we able to find out? Read on.

On the following plot we show our empirical correlation measure. We weigh attendance with the finishing rank of each rider for ToQ and TDU.

Our analysis didn't start out well for Qatar, with 2008 the year that Philippe Gilbert won and nobody in the top five of the race attended ToQ. Perhaps it was a fluke but winner Philippe Gilbert and 4th place finisher Yuriy Kristov both attended the Tour Down Under on behalf of their respective French teams la Francaise des Jeux and Ag2R-Mondiale respectively.

The following year 2009 went completely the other way. None of the top five finishers in the Omloop attended TDU. The winner Thor Hushovd attended neither ToQ nor TDU. But other finishers Juan Antonio Flecha and Marcus Burghardt attended ToQ.

The years 2010 to last year's 2012 saw further consolidation as we think both ToQ and TDU gained in importance. Thus, correlation is higher than ever before, even though the ToQ appears to be losing its importance in recent years.

Regardless, overall we think that these races have become much more important, as shown by the red line.

How does the viability of more early (pre-)season races in warmer climates affect our beloved spring classics in the future? Only time will tell, but if you have some thoughts on the matter please share them below.

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