Life is all about peaking at the right time.
In sports, one need look no further than the 2019 Washington Nationals who rode a late-season surge to a World Series title after qualifying as a Wild Card team this fall. The same holds for the political realm, where candidates are hoping to catch fire heading into the Iowa Caucuses and carry momentum into the rest of the primary season.
Peaking at the right time is important, as is not peaking too early, much like that guy or girl we all know who still talks about the college glory days 20 years later. On this one, I am, of course, totally not speaking from experience.
Peaking at the right time is also a huge thing in cyclocross. With rainbow jerseys and so much riding on the line at this weekend’s World Championships in Dubendorf, riders are hoping to be much more the 2019 Nationals than Chi Omega Chris.
After this past weekend’s World Cup Hoogerheide, I got to thinking —is there a correlation between success at Hoogerheide, the traditional pre-Worlds World Cup, and success at the season’s biggest race. Or is it more like that thing where you are supposed to have a terrible practice session the day before the big game?
Ostensibly, I guess it could be something in between, thus rendering this exercise less interesting.
I decided to test the hypothesis of Hoogerheide mo’ by seeing how results at Hoogerheide have translated to Worlds glory in the past decade or so. For comparison’s sake, I also looked at how results at Namur and Zolder, two races that typically draw the top talent, translated to Worlds success as well.
Hopefully, when all is said and done, this endeavor will provide a bit of Science! to inform your Worlds picks over at Rouleur Derby or at least impress your friends at your Worlds watch party.
The Datas and Calculations
I based my analyses on 12 years of results from Hoogerheide dating to 2006, 11 years for Zolder dating to 2008 (2008/09 season) and 8 years for Namur going back to the 2011/12 season.
I ran the numbers for the women and men separately. Results for both fields were impacted by periods of dominance by one rider, with the #likeavos Era covering the late 2000s and early 2010s and the last 5 years starring the era of Van der Dominance. The maths, however, are the maths, so use the results accordingly.
The primary analyses I did were number of winners of X race who won Worlds, number of X race winners who finished on the Worlds podium, number of X race podium finishers who then podiumed at Worlds and X race podium finishers who placed in the top 5 at Worlds.
I also tried to add some predictive power to the World Cup results by looking at how Worlds podium finishers fared that season at the World Cups.
More on all this below.
GENERALLY SPEAKING, there is a stronger relationship between results for the Elite Women at Hoogerheide, Zolder and Namur than for the Men. There will, however, be some caveats for that generalization.
Also of note is Vos won Worlds every year from 2009 to 2014, so there is a correlation between how Vos did at the World Cups and how these results play out.
The table below shows the raw numbers and percentages for the Elite Women.
When looking at how winners at Hoogerheide and Zolder fared at Worlds, there is a good argument winning those World Cups is something worth aspiring for. That statement may seem like a tautology, but as we will soon see, the data for the Elite Men would suggest otherwise. I stand by my statement as a serious claim.
Five of 12 Hoogerheide winners (Vos 3 times) and 5 of 11 Zolder winners (Vos 4 times) have gone on to win Worlds the same season. In 9 of 12 years (75%), Hoogerheide winners have finished on the Worlds podium. Those numbers jump to 10 of 11 (91%) for Zolder(!).
The relationship between World Cup podium finishes and Worlds medals is a bit stronger for Zolder than it is for Namur.
In the last 11 years, 67% of podium finishers at Zolder have finished on a Worlds podium that same season. More impressive, in the last three years, eight of the nine podium finishers at World Cup Zolder have podiumed at Worlds that same season.
ONE MIGHT FIGURE, well no duh Zolder winners win Worlds, Vos won WC Zolder 7 of those 11 years and then won Worlds 6 of them. All that Vos winning has to affect the results, right?
Interestingly, there is a stronger Zolder Podium —> Worlds Podium relationship during the 2015-2019 post-Peak-Vos period than when she was winning all the things.
Eleven of 15 Zolder podium finishers (73%) in the last 5 years have gone on to finish on the podium at Worlds, while only 61% of podium finishers at Zolder from 2009 to 2014 landed on a Worlds podium.
For Hoogerheide, the numbers are kind of ‘meh’ for those fortunate to podium at the GP Adri van der Poel. Forty percent of Hoogerheide podium finishers have podiumed a week later at Worlds and 64% have finished on the wide-angle podium.
The numbers, at least for the Elite Women, suggest the riders on form during the intense Kerstperiode racing are those who go on to do well at Worlds and winning Hoogerheide is definitely good, but finishing on the podium by no means guarantees Worlds success.
ONE FINAL THING I LOOKED AT tried to get at a way to use results from Hoogerheide and Zolder to predict what will happen this Saturday in Dubendorf. For this analysis, I did a bit of a “backcast,” looking at where the three podium finishers at the World Championships finished at the World Cups earlier in the respective seasons.
The finishes are shown below. I calculated the mode (most frequent), median and “variability,” which is the average absolute distance from the median, for each podium spot.
If the Hoogerheide median is your guide, the values suggest picking a podium of Worst, Yara Kastelijn and Alvarado. The same using the Zolder median gives Worst, Worst, Kastelijn.
However, there is a strong case to be made that picking riders based on the mode is the better way to go if you are trying to find the most likely outcome. Mode values give a podium of Brand, Brand and Richards. The same exercise for Zolder using the mode gives a podium of Brand, Alvardo and Brand.
I am sure Brand is flattered the maths are such a big fan, but sometimes, the data can only get you so far. They cannot, despite their power, get the same rider in two different podium spots. Something will have to give on Saturday.
SIMILAR TO THE ELITE WOMEN, the last 11-12 years of these races covers two “eras,” with Sven, Stybar, Neils and others going at it in the first half of the 2010s and then the Van der Poel / Van Aert era starting with Van der Poel’s win at Elite Worlds in 2015.
Just as it was with Vos during her peak years, Van der Poel has won a lot of the World Cups the last five years, so the correlation with Worlds results is somewhat driven by his inexplicable non-wins in 2017 and 2018.
Across the races, the correlation of late-season World Cup success is weaker for the men than it was for the women.
Plus or minus a few percentage points, Hoogerheide winners have fared the best in repeating their success at Worlds. Four Hoogerheide winners have gone on to win Worlds the next week (33%), while only three Zolder winners (27%) have achieved that feat.
Expanding out to podium finishes, winners at Hoogerheide and Zolder have finished on Worlds podiums only half of the time —6 in 12 years for Hoogerheide and 6 in 11 years for Zolder.
While winning Namur does not necessarily translate to glory at Worlds, finishing on the podium at the famed Citadel has proven more likely to lead to a Worlds podium finish than it has for the other two World Cups.
Thirteen of 24 podium finishers (54%) at Namur since 2011 have gone on to finish on the podium at Worlds. That percentage is higher than Hoogerheide (50%) and Zolder (39%). Expanding it out further, a cool 71% of Namur podium finishers have finished on Worlds wide-angle podiums that same year.
FOR THE ELITE WOMEN’S FIELD, results at Hoogerheide and Zolder have become more predictive of Worlds success in recent years, even though Vos dominated and Katie Compton and Hanka Kupfernagel were consistent top performers as well. That is particularly interesting, given how wide open the Elite Women’s field has been in recent years.
For the Elite Men, the seemingly opposite has occurred. With Van der Poel now winning all the things and Van Aert settling into the role as the forever second, results at Worlds have come to resemble results at the three World Cups much more closely.
In the case of the Elite Men, doing well at Hoogerheide has translated to doing well at Worlds. Both Van der Poel and Van Aert did not start the race in 2017, so had they started, the 11 of 15 (73%) would have likely been even higher.
Conversely, back at the tail end of #svenness, it was really better to not race well at both Hoogerheide and Zolder if you wanted to finish on the podium at Worlds. Just 38% and 22% of podium finishers at Hoogerheide and Zolder, respectively, went on to finish on the podium at Worlds.
Before we move on, props are due to fan-favorite Kevin Pauwels for finishing Keventh at Worlds two different times in both the #svenness and MvdP Eras. They do not call third place “Keventh” without good reason.
TO WRAP THINGS UP, I again looked at how Worlds podium finishers fared at the World Cups. You know, to help with your Rouleur Derby predictions or whatever.
Looking at the mode for Hoogerheide, perhaps the best way to ensure a silver at Worlds is to not start the week before in the Netherlands. DNS came out as the top vote-getter there.
Otherwise, the Hoogerheide median suggests a podium of Toon Aerts, Michael Vanthourenhout and Eli Iserbyt. Given the highly unlikely scenario of Van der Poel not winning much less not finishing on the podium on Sunday, you could apply the variability creatively to get a podium of Van der Poel, Iserbyt and Tim Merlier, or something like that.
Numbers for Zolder are kind of all over the place, so maybe it is best to kind of hand-wave over those.
The Big Conclusion
SO DOES HOOGERHEIDE SUCCESS translate to success at Worlds? The answer is: it depends.
In recent years, data suggest there is some relationship between finishing on the podium at World Cups Hoogerheide and Zolder and doing well at Worlds, but a big part of that can likely be contributed to dominant riders such as Sanne Cant, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert more than some sense of “momentum.”
The sample sizes here are pretty small as well, so a few results here and there can greatly change results that look more like noise into something resembling a “trend.”
And in the end, your best bet might be to go to the crossresults.com rankings and choose podiums of Alvarado, Brand and Worst for the Elite Women and Van der Poel, Aerts and Iserbyt for the Elite Men.
That, honestly, probably makes the most sense.