A University of Lynchburg physics professor and a student have made some incredibly precise predictions for the Tour de France this year. In the last two weeks of the race, they hope to see their predictions hold true again and again.
Dr. John Eric Goff is well known for his research and writing about the physics of sports. Sports reporters frequently ask him for insight on record-breaking performances or controversies in sports.
Chad Hobson ’17 is working with Dr. Goff for the second year in a row to try predicting the winning time for each stage of the world’s most famous bike race.
“We make use of geographic data for each stage, published work on cyclist and bicycle performance, and a little physics to come up with a prediction of the winning time for each stage,” Dr. Goff explained. “Our goal is neither to predict the stage time for any one cyclist nor to predict the cyclist who will win a given stage…. What we do is predict the winning time for each of the 21 stages.”
Dr. Goff began developing a scientific model of the Tour de France with LC students in 2003. Since 2011, he has published their predictions on his blog. “It’s a gamble because we stick our necks out for three weeks,” he said.
Sometimes the predictions are close. For example, their predictions were within two percent of the actual finish time for seven of the first 12 stages of the 2015 race, including four stages with predictions within 1 percent of the finish time.
But some days, the prediction ends up being more than 10 percent off—about 30 minutes off during a 5 hour stage of the race. There are some things even the most advanced physics cannot predict. “We can’t know team strategies, what the weather will be like, when crashes will happen, or any of the other vagaries the Tour de France contains,” Dr. Goff said. “A typical stage has a length of more than 100 miles. A lot can happen along the roads through the gorgeous French landscapes!”
The predictions, as well as detailed reports on each stage of the Tour de France, can be read on Dr. Goff’s blog at http://johnericgoff.blogspot.com/
The Tour de France continues ends on July 26.