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Monday, July 12, 2010

More feedback on football and cycling

World Cup Final analysis and more on cycling performance limits

I have too little energy (and time) for a proper, in-depth post, but as promised, analysis from last night's World Cup final is now done, courtesy Zonal Marking.

It's another great analysis, from a site that has really increased my enjoyment of the tournament, and you can read it here.  I wish that all sports would embrace this kind of analysis - can you imagine if the "experts" on television produced such clear and insightful thinking for rugby, football, tennis, cycling, and even athletics?

One or two thoughts on the analysis - I agree that Holland set out with spoiling tactics and wanted to physically disrupt Spain's creativity.  Early on in the game, the flurry of fouls predicted that at some point, a red would be issued. It might well have been in the first half, with two horror challenges getting lenient treatment, but it could easily have been 11 against 10 as early as 35 minutes.  Spain were involved too, and it's always an interesting dynamic how the entire game degenerates into petulance and over-aggression when one team starts out with that approach.  That certainly seemed the case last night. 

There has been much criticism of referee Howard Webb, but I feel that his performance was more a reflection of the players' performances rather than a controlling one.  He could easily have shown red on two or three occasions before 90 minutes was played.  And also, I have to point out, given that we've had so much debate on this site about the cheating and fouling in football - if that was Uruguay or Italy or another South American team, and not Holland, there'd have been an uproar, widespread condemnation for 'typical dirty play'.  Spain weren't blameless, no, but for Holland last night, it was a poor showing.

The last 20 minutes of the match and extra-time finally told.  Space appeared (which it always does - as we saw with our post on fatigue, players lose about 8 to 10% of their speed by the end, making it much more difficult to press and close space).  Spain looked more likely to construct a goal, Holland remained dangerous on the break, but in the end, Spain wrestled control away and for the last 50 minutes of the match, were completely in control.  All they lacked was incision and composure in front of goal.  David Villa was poor for a second game - he is not suited to that lone central striker role and looked far more threatening when playing wide and coming in.  If Spain had him out there and an in-form Torres, they'd have scored twice as many goals this tournament.

Lastly, as Zonal Marking points out, Spain have won the European Championships and the World Cup, playing seven knock-out matches and not conceding a single goal in those games.  Attack wins matches, but defence wins tournaments.

Cycling - more on doping and performance limits

We've had some lively debate just recently regarding whether performances, and the physiological basis they require, can be used to flag (not prove, let me emphasize) doping.

And today, the New York Times ran a piece looking at much the same thing.  You can read it here.

This is another example of what I consider very interesting, well applied science to the sport.  I agree with Aldo Sassi around his limit to performance, I do agree that there is a grey area, and I believe that this grey area exists below 6.2 W/kg.  Others disagree, I'm sure.  Some have said this is "science at its worst".  I couldn't disagree more strongly - it's science at its best, being applied in the pursuit of an answer.  The very fact that it is debated makes it worthy of discussion, since there is no answer but a compelling reason to question.

People will always decide, of course, based on what they want to believe.  We will see what happens in this year's Tour, but if the top 5 of this year's Tour are climbing at the same power outputs as the Top 30 from Tours in the early part of the century, then either cycling has a vacuum of talent, or we're seeing an indictment of the 2000s, and the cleaning up of the sport now.  And physiological demands of the sport will highlight that change.



DrTim said...

And do we think the terribly sad thing is that Lance on Stage 8 was Lance clean?

Surely he would have known from training that his performance was a long way off what it used to be if that is what it was. Hopefully it was just all the bad luck he had on the stage ...

Anonymous said...

Armstrongs crash was pretty bad and I am sure his fitness is up there with the best.


MJKenney said...

This seems an incomplete and/or ambiguous post: if the top riders now are climbing at the same wattage as the top climbers from 10 yrs ago ("the early part of the century") how does it follow that (a) there's a talent vacuum or (b) it's evidence of a clean-up? If, as the post seems to insinuate, there was rampant doping in the early 2000's, would it not follow that wattages would be down now? And how would same/similar wattages from 10 years ago equate to a talent vacuum now?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...


Thanks for the comment.

I'm not sure how it's ambiguous? Either that or your post is ambiguous to me.

My point is this: If every rider in the peloton is now slower than 10 years ago, then there are two ways to explain it:
a) If the state of doping is the same as it was 10 years ago, then it means that there is a serious drop in the level of the riders. Not just one or two, but all of them because all would be slower. This would be a talent vacuum.

b) If the talent is the same, then the reason we're slower now is because the doping problem is in the process of being cleaned up. Therefore, it has to suggest that in the 1990s and 2000s, the performances were driven by doping.

Remember, we're not talking about small changes here, the kind that could be explained by the weather or a strong wind. We're talking about massive change. For example, one of our readers analysed a climb in the Giro d'Italia and found that:

The top 7 finished it collectively almost 11 minutes slower than a few years before. 109 riders were slower, 37 were faster, and from all reports, the conditions were better in this year's race (weather and road surface redone).

So was the Giro slow because the level of cycling has dropped? I doubt it - I'd say that the Giro of days past was 'artificially fast'.

So when you say that if there was rampant doping in the 2000s, would it not follow that wattages would be down? Absolutely, that's the point.

The talent vacuum is the other way to explain it. Maybe the sport is just really, really weak. I doubt it though, which leaves me with one conclusion.

MJKenney said...

Hi gents:

I think the ambiguity is created by your original post saying that the top riders were "...climbing at the 'same' power outputs..." compared to 10 yrs ago, not lower power outputs or, as you state in your response, slower.

I missed the reader analysis of the Giro, do you have a link? I must admit I straddle the fence on such analyses. It makes for an interesting discussion and may even evince doping or lack thereof, but I am reluctant to place too much weight on it as it relies upon the false premise of accepting one day's climb of a certain mountain as equal to another's (or at least relatively so), yet that will never be the case. As you note, weather and road conditions are two such factors, but greater variables would be the state of the GC, what was going on that day, what had transpired in the race in the preceding days and what was to come next, and perhaps most importantly: where the climb fell within the two compared stages.

Thanks for the response, I enjoy the site.

Anonymous said...


here chris anker did 6.4 watts per kg for 10minutes to launch andy schleck. he's not even the team leader...

so would you say this is a red flag for doping? or because of the short duration it's not? when you say 6.2 watts per kg is a red flag do you mean 6.2watts per kg at threshold? cuz if 400watts is Chris Anker's FTP (as it says in the article) he is 60kg, then that is 6.2watts per kg at threshold...


JT said...

Hi Guys,

I was wondering if you have ever turned your attention to the use of PEDs in tennis. This is one sport (along with the NHL and NBA) that is begging for a closer look at their anti-doping measures.

I write this because there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) does not take testing seriously. For example, if you look at their testing statistics there are very few out-of-competition tests, which the time one would expect players to be cycling on and off PEDs.

Further, in an 2009 interview with the New York Times, an ITF anti-doping official indicated that he believed that tennis players were less likely to dope than other sports. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/sports/tennis/10doping.html

This was a laughable and shocking comment.

I really hope you guys take a look at tennis. There are players (both men and women) that are bulked up beyond anything seen in tennis before and also possessing unbelievable endurance. In my opinion, there appears to be a lot of whistling past the graveyard by tennis officials, players, journalists, and fans.

Anyways, keep up the good work!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Dan

True, but then he sat up and lost 15 minutes over the rest of the stage, most of which came in the last third of the climb.

A 10 min effort is obviously very different to a 60 minute effort, and even a 40 minute. If it weren't, then the marathon world record would be run at the same pace as the 10km world record and would be 1 hour 51 minutes.

And this issue of FTP is very interesting. He clearly couldn't sustain a power output of even 2% above his FTP for more than this, and so it gives an indication that for a rider to ride for 40 minutes, they would be well below FTP. now, the measurement and definition of FTP is entirely contextual, and so one would have to be cautious about using it as the benchmark unless it's measured the same way in all the riders. For example, in our lab, we'd produce an FTP a bit lower than this based on the lab test we'd do. And of course, there's the fatigue effect on FTP.

I'd be really curious to know the overall average power output over the leaders on yesterday's stage. Given that Sorensen dropped from that peak of 410W to 368W (5.7W/kg) for the next 10 minutes, and averaged 334W for the whole climb (5.2W/kg), I'd be surprised if the race leaders averaged much more than 6W/kg, though of course the attacks will be up near 8W/kg for a minute, then back down - you'll have seen the shifts in tempo while Schleck and Contador were off the front - Sammy Sanchez provided the yardstick, because he was backwards and forwards at a steadier tempo. For me, the problem is when the average on the climb is 6.4W/kg, and there are attacks that you just know are approaching 600W for half-a-minute.

So it's an important consideration that the pace is not constant, and the position of 6.2W/kg assumes this. Oh, and lastly, if 410W is 6.4W/kg, then his mass must be 64kg, not 60kg?


Frans Rutten said...

The absolute source for climbing is www.cyclismag.com. It's so the speak the home base of the French scientists, a.o. Frédéric Portoleau. They didn't publish power figures of the Col de la Madeleine. Probably they come with a survey later in the TDF.

Contador did, I think, the whole climb with estimated 393W (great, but not exceptionel). The last 5km were roughly 8% better.

Armstrong did the climb estimated in 419W.

Apparently Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani together did better (1998).
There's a Italian calculation that gives for part of the climb (38 min.) the astronomical figures of 7,3W/kg for Pantani and 6,9W/kg for Ullrich.

As for comparison today with the remote past: visit cyclismag.
It's all there.

The original SRM website (www.srm.de)is the best read for actuality.

DirtyWorks said...

Here's the link to SRM's Col de la Madelaine data. (Via Google's translator) http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.srm.de%2Fgo.htm&sl=de&tl=en

The German link: http://www.srm.de/go.htm Then go to translate.google.com and paste the link into the dialog box.

Even though it is well outside the scope of this blog, the UCI's role in choosing whose biological passport gets further scrutiny is rumored to be quite dependent on their celebrity status. Water carriers will get full testing while stars seem to be passed over. This is an angle not discussed much since the Landis bomb dropped. It's critical to eliminating doping...

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi DirtyWorks

Thanks for the links, very interesting! I saw Sorensen's SRM data and responded to it yesterday (In response to Dan). I'm going to have a good look at all of them now.

Regarding your final point, you're 100% correct, and it is definitely critical to eliminating doping! And we've even argued it here (for which we get told it's not our business!), but if the authorities are serious about cleaning up the sport, they must be accountable for that approach. It's much like the 'corruption' that seems to affect law enforcement where the big fish often escape while smaller "scape-goats" are hung out as proof that anti-doping is working!


JT said...

Would be interested in knowing what you gents make of this recent article and what it means for anti-doping authorities/testing:



Randomized response estimates for doping and illicit drug use in elite athletes


To date, there are estimates for the percentage of unknown cases of doping and illicit drug use in fitness sports, but not for elite sports. This can be attributed to the problem of implementing questionnaires and surveys to get reliable epidemiological estimates of deviant or illicit behaviour.


All athletes questioned were subject to doping controls as members or junior members of the national teams. In order to estimate the prevalence of doping and illicit drug abuse, the athletes were either issued an anonymous standardized questionnaire (SQ; n=1394) or were interviewed using randomized response technique (RRT; n=480). We used a two-sided z-test to compare the SQ and RRT results with the respective official German NADA data on the prevalence of doping.


Official doping tests only reveal 0.81% (n=25,437; 95% CI: 0.70–0.92%) of positive test results, while according to RRT 6.8% (n=480; 95% CI: 2.7–10.9%) of our athletes confessed to having practiced doping (z=2.91, p=0.004). SQ and RRT both revealed a prevalence of about 7% for illicit drug use, but SQ failed to indicate a realistic prevalence of doping (0.20%; 95% CI: 0.02–0.74%).


We demonstrate for the first time that data from official doping tests underestimate the true prevalence of doping in elite sports by more than a factor of eight. Our results indicate that implementing RRT before and after anti-doping measures could be a promising method for evaluating the effectiveness of anti-doping programs.

Anonymous said...

Eddy Merckx could sustain 455 watts for 1h in a lab test in 1975.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

so if the Giro numbers are lower, and you think this TdF is looking more possible without dope .... that perhaps means that the UCI passport and related targeting etc has helped bring down the level of doping in sport? in a way the police raids of 1998 etc did not? yes?? no?

Oh thats right I forgot you dont think any of the controls or efforts by the UCI in recent years to chase the likes of Valverde (despite law enforcement/courts best efforts to prevent it) has done any good at all.

Perhaps it has it been you own stinging critique that has caused cyclists to reform just a little???

Or can you concede the tightest scientifically based controls and system for anti doping in the sports world might just be having even the slightest bit of an effect? Go on, you're big enough to give a little bit : o )

Or should I wait for petulant and arrogant response, once more demanding the unprovable and impossible of the UCI, ASO and every other part of cycling? Such is the fate of anyone pointing out of your lack of logic or perspective when discussing the implications and causes of the issue! (even if ironically much of the analysis you base your then much elevated and sweeping critiques on is solid)

Go on Ross harness you testosterone, take your meds and and hit the keys! Its always good for a laugh.... and try and get in McQuaid,
in your answer for extra points. I know you have enraged dreams about him handing out CERA and EPO for cash donnations ; = )

only kidding. But seriously, ignoring the tease, isnt it an indication that the passport type of approach, along side better testing (ie the CERA breakthrough 2 years ago) is having an effect?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Anonymous

Back in about August last year (August 11, 2009 to be precise), we interviewed Prof Yorck Olaf Schumacher, a key player in the bio passport, and we published his responses to our questions, unedited, word for word, because we believe 100% in what he is trying to do (along with colleagues for the sport). he said in that interview that he believed it was working, and we agreed. I would implore you to read that if you haven't already done so:


Now, the take-home message from that interview with Schumacher is that bio-passport is working. It has NOT cleaned up the sport, but it is making an impression, and this is entirely consistent with what I have written in this post and in the comments about the Giro numbers.

So has it had an effect? Same answer now as 10 months go...we've been acknowledging this all along. And the interview with Prof Schumacher was an attempt to say this, and to provide a platform for him (and others who he works with) to say it.

So when you write that I don't believe the efforts have done any good at all, I think you're inventing a straw man against whom you can argue.

I think the issue is that you've taken my criticisms of the UCI out of context, because a) those criticisms dealt with the historical nature of the doping problem in the sport, in which I still believe the authorities were entirely complicit, and

b) the fact that there is still denial is not helping it move forward at all. The AFLD should be commended for their efforts, as should WADA. But the reality is that cycling is where it is (and I'm repeating myself) because it had to get there in order for sponsors and media to remain involved. And that's great for the sport, I'm sure we're all delighted about it. And yes, I wish other sports would be forced there too - I can only imagine what baseball would look like if US TV and sponsors actually cared. And football/soccer, too.

But I'm not about to commend the efforts of people who may have accepted bribes to sweep the issue away before the passport was introduced, and who knew of the problems but did not act to prevent them early. Cycling is winning the war, but only recently.

And then finally:
a) What's this about my meds? Are they related to my testosterone?

b) I'm not sure which part was kidding and which wasn't, but I agree 100% with your final sentence - the passport type of approach IS having an effect. Does this absolve those who steered it to the precipice? No. But long may those who care to clean it continue and long may those who don't be exposed. And when they're done with cycling, I hope that they tackle football.