With the off-season rapidly coming to an end, I look forward. To the monuments, to the cobbled-classics, the Ardennes, everything in between, and without a doubt, the Grand Tours. The Grand Tours are always just a bit different, especially when it comes to picking who will win. I find it hard to determine if it is going to be a breakaway win or Movistar will pull for some odd reason. While this is more a mental note for me, I hope it can also give some insight into the last nine Grand Tours and the breakaway victories we have seen there. Is there a silver lining?
For this experiment, I have used PCS as data. While we normally should have had 189 GT stages in the last three years, La Vuelta only had 18 stages in 2020 due to Covid-19. That means we have had 186 GT stages in the last three years.
The first mountain top finish always ends with a breakaway victory.
If we start by looking at the first one of them, Giro d’Italia, they have had 28/63 (44%) of their stages won from the breakaway. In 2019, the first breakaway win came on stage 6 which was also the first stage with a prober mountain close to the finish. A year later, Caicedo won the first mountain stage on Etna and in 2021, Joe Dombrowski took a stage win on the first mountain stage. A clear silver lining here, the first mountain top finish ended with a win for the breakaway.
Proceeding to the Tour de France. Here, 24/63 (38%) of the stages have ended in a breakaway victory. In 2019, on stage 6, Dylan Teuns won on the first mountain top finish, La Planche des Belles Filles. The year after, Roglic won the first mountain top finish. Jumbo-Visma controlled the day and Roglic got bonus seconds in the end. In 2021, Dylan Teuns took the first real mountain stage. The Col de Romme – Col de la Colombière stage.
Jumping on to La Vuelta a Espana. In Spain, 23/60 (38%) of the stages has ended with a breakaway victory. In 2019, Madrazo won the first mountain top finish. Impressive as we only saw three attackers that day. In 2020 it did not end in a breakaway win. In 2021 it did again with Taaramäe winning on Picón Blanco. Here, Dombrowski finished second. He got an eye for the early breakaway wins.
While the first mountain top finish does not equal a breakaway victory, 7/9 (77%) of the first mountain top finishes have in the last three years. That is a very good indication.
Breakaway wins mainly happen in the latter part of a Grand Tour.
While my initial thoughts have always been that breakaway victories mainly occur in the latter half of a GT, it is an important note, at least for Giro d’Italia that 7/28 (25%) breakaway wins have come within the first week. That is 25%. It is also worth to mention the Giro d’Italia has begun with a time trial in the last three editions, which makes it a 35% success rate for the breakaways without the time trials included in the first week. That is certainly higher than what I expected. If we are being generous, let us say the last part of a Grand Tour starts at stage 11.
In that case, 18/28 breakaway wins have come from these stages in the Giro d’Italia in the last three years. Approximately 64% of the breakaway wins come in the last 11 stages. If we take the last 11 stages of every year, for the last three years, we have 18/33 breakaway wins. That is 54% of the last 11 stages each year ending in a breakaway victory.
In the Tour de France, it is a bit different. Here, 3/24 breakaway wins have come in the first week. Most likely because the route is designed for sprinters before the first hilly stages to attract them. That is a 12.5% chance for breakaway wins in the first week. This just makes the rest of the Tour de France filled with breakaway victories. As with the Giro d’Italia, let us assume from stage 11 to the finish line in Paris in the latter half.
In that case, 16/24 breakaway wins have come from these stages in the Tour de France in the last three years.
That is 66% of the breakaway victories coming in the last 11 stages. If we take the last 11 stages of every year, for the last three years, we have 16/33 breakaway wins. That is 48% of the last 11 stages each year ending in a breakaway victory.
At La Vuelta a Espana, 8/23 breakaway wins have come within the first week. It is closer to the Giro d’Italia than the Tour de France with 34% of the breakaway wins coming in the first week. However, only 12/23 of the breakaway wins have come in the 11 stages in the three years. That is also very similar to the Giro d’Italia with 52% of the breakaway wins coming in the last half.
The Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a Espana both have their breakaway victories spread out through the race, while la Tour de France has more breakaway wins in the last part of the race. On average, 46% of the last 11 stages of the GT end in a breakaway victory and 61% of breakaway victories happen in the last half of a Grand Tour.
A silver lining in the data?
The data above shows the averages of the Grand Tour breakaway wins. Just below 3400 climbing meters. The Giro d’Italia had an average of 2884.7 climbing meters in 2021 for each breakaway victory and the Tour de France had 3719 climbing meters on average for the breakaway wins. As mentioned, the flat stages are not as likely to be won in Le Tour due to many sprinters being present.
As you can see, the dots are all over. There is one similarity between them and that is the average climbing meter of the breakaway wins for all the Grand Tours.
What are the data for the Giro d’Italia breakaway wins? The average kilometer in all 28 breakaway victories (2019 – 2021) has been 191.25 km. That is a fairly normal length. The shortest stage was 124 km and the longest was 231 km. The average climbing meters have been 3325. Now, while that number is a good indication it is not the sole answer.
The stage with the fewest climbing meters was in 2020 on stage 19 with pouring rain. That day, Cerny took a win from a big group. That stage had 406 climbing meters. The one with the most climbing meters was in 2019 on stage 20. Bilbao was caught but managed to win. That stage had 5754 climbing meters.
At the Tour de France, we have Nibali’s victory on Val Thorens in 2019 as the shortest breakaway stage. Only 59km. The longest being Mohoric in 2021 winning stage 7 with MvdP and WvA in the breakaway too. A long day with 249 km. The stage with the most climbing meters being won from the breakaway was back in 2019. Nairo Quintana won after 5215 meters of climbing. The one with the fewest was in 2021 with another win by Mohoric winning stage 19 with merely 1181 climbing meters. Once again, a big gap. The common factor, a flat breakaway win late in a Grand Tour.
At La Vuelta the gap is once again big. The shortest stage was 152 in 2021 on stage 7. Michael Storer won that day. The longest being in 2019 with 219 km. Here, Quickstep-Alpha Vinyl won. The flattest breakaway win the last three years was in 2021 with Cort winning on stage 6, barely keeping Roglic behind him. The breakaway win with the most climbing meters was in 2020 on stage 11 where Gaudu won his first stage that year. The gap is big.
The length of the stage is not a very important factor. However, the shorter (below 160 km) or the longer (above 200 km) the higher the chance. Flat stages are more likely to be won in the last week of a Grand Tour too.
There are some similarities behind the breakaway wins. The first mountain top finish is likely to end with a breakaway victory. The average climbing meters of a breakaway win is 3375 climbing meters. In the end, I would like to implement the PS score from https://www.procyclingstats.com/ . If you are not familiar with it, you can read more about it here: https://www.procyclingstats.com/info/profile-score-explained . What the similarity show is the average breakaway win has a PS score is 204 for all the three Grand Tours combined. La Vuelta in 2019 had the lowest average with 177.4 and the highest was in Le Tour 2020 with an average of 229.
So what can I conclude to some extent?
– Average climbing meters are around 3375.
– Average PS score is around 204.
– First mountain top finish has a 77% chance of a breakaway victory.
– Flat stages do not mean a sprint. If a breakaway can take the win while a rider defends his points jersey, they are very likely to do so. This is more likely to happen late in a Grand Tour.
– In the last nine Grand Tours, 66% of the breakaway wins have been solo.
– Breakaway wins do not solely happen in the latter half of a Grand Tour.