A new way to see the Giro d’Italia

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The Giro d’Italia is a wonderfully visual race. From striking images of snow-lined roads snaking high into the Dolomites, to shots of the fervent tifosi lining the roadside, the beauty of the Giro is easy to see. But there’s another way to visualise this great bike race too.

For more than a year now CyclingTips VeloClub member Cameron Harris has been using data visualisations to help illustrate what he calls “the beauty and chaos of cycling”. And in the past few weeks he’s been keeping a close eye on the GC at this year’s Giro d’Italia.

By combining daily results and time gap data from Pro Cycling Stats with tools from data visualisation platform Datawrapper, Cameron’s been able to paint a rather striking picture of the season’s first Grand Tour.

The interactive graphic above shows the GC position of every rider for every stage of this year’s Giro. The vertical “lines” represent the stages of the race while the horizontal or sloping lines between stages show how each rider’s position has changed from day to day.

At first glance it might seem like a somewhat unintelligible collection of pink squiggles, but look a little closer and the stories of this year’s Giro start to emerge.

Hover over a particular rider and their trajectory becomes highlighted. For instance, here’s King of the Mountains leader Giulio Ciccone’s progress up the GC:

Riders that have abandoned the race are represented with a dotted line (rather than a solid line) and are dropped down into equal 180th place on the day they leave the race. Here, for example, is Elia Viviani’s trajectory throughout the race, ultimately ending with his departure after stage 11:

After having a play around with Cameron’s interactive graphic, a number of things caught our eye:

There was a quite a shake-up from stage 1 to stage 2, which is somewhat unusual for a Grand Tour. Given stage 1 was a time trial, the TT specialists found themselves high up on GC to begin with, but most slipped off in the sprint stage the following day.

Why? Many of the time-trial specialists tend to be workhorses on the flatter stages so their job is often to ride the front early in the stage for their leader before sitting up and losing a bunch of time. Jos van Emden’s plight is a good example of this. The Dutchman finished a solid 35th in the stage 1 time trial, then finished roughly 10 minutes down the following day, slipping to 143rd.

Looking at stages 1 and 2 it’s also interesting to note that many of the GC contenders posted good results and maintained their position on stage 2, unlike many of the domestique-TTers. Also worth mentioning: If stage 1 had been a sprint stage, as it usually is in Grand Tours, we’d expect there to be plenty more horizontal lines between stages 1 and 2. Speaking of which …

We can tell at a glance which stages were flat sprint stages. Just look for the days with a lot of horizontal lines without much up-or-down movement. Stages 5, 10 and 11 stand out in this regard and sure enough, all three were bunch sprints.

We get a good perspective of Tom Dumoulin’s demise. The former winner was fifth in the opening time trial and held that position until the end of stage 3. His crash late on stage 4 cost him a bunch of places and ultimately led to his withdrawal in the neutral zone the following day.

Dumoulin’s dotted line is a little faint in the image below (Datawrapper automatically chooses variants of a baseline colour, in this case “Giro pink”) but his drop off is easy to see once you follow the line from his name.

We can see that the breakaway won big on stage 6. Check out all those lines swooping up to the top of the leaderboard on stage 6. That was the day that 12 riders finished well ahead of the peloton (there was more than seven minutes between stage winner Fausto Masnada and the bunch). The result was a significant reshuffling of the GC, with all of the top 10 spaces going to riders in that successful breakaway.

Valerio Conti moved into pink that day, as we can see from his trajectory.

The region of white space at the bottom grows as more riders abandon. Some 176 riders started the Giro and at the time of writing, after stage 15, 148 remain. On a related note …

Quite a few riders abandoned on stage 13. Eight riders left the race that day — three didn’t start, while five didn’t make it to the finish. The most notable of those withdrawals was Tao Geoghegan Hart who’d started the race as one of Ineos’ co-leaders but was forced out of the race after a crash.

Note the effect the withdrawals has on the trajectory of the last-placed rider.

We’re starting to see the GC battle settle down somewhat. Note how wild the reshuffling was on stages 7, 12 and 13. Now look at stages 14 and 15. Much less dramatic, right? Riders are starting to fall into their natural place in the GC pecking order and any variations aren’t as significant now as they were earlier on.

That’s not to say that the GC battle is over and that we won’t see the overall contenders move around from here on out. Far from it. Just that the changes we’re likely to see are more likely to be minor in the grand scheme of things.

We can see Simon Yates’ rollercoaster of a Giro quite clearly. The Briton started very well, finishing second in the stage 1 time trial and holding the same GC position until stage 6 (when, you’ll recall, a bunch of riders from the breakaway slotted in ahead of him). Stage 9 is where things started to go badly — Yates lost a bunch of time in the second ITT and dropped to 24th. He moved up with a bunch of the GC guys on stage 12 and has moved up the rankings every day since then.

As of the second rest day he’s eighth overall, courtesy of back-to-back podium finishes, but still sits 5:24 behind. Might his rise continue in the difficult final week?

We can see the fortunes of other GC contenders quite clearly too. Vincenzo Nibali, Rafal Majka and Mikel Landa, for example, are all sneaking their way slowly towards the top. Here’s Landa’s trajectory — a scary prospect for Movistar’s rivals given Landa’s teammate Richard Carapaz is leading the race too…

Cameron tells us that he’s working on some improvements to his interactive graphics. For example, he’s looking to change the Y-axis to better represent the time gaps between riders. He’s already importing that data to Datawrapper each day as it is, to create the “waterfall” time gap chart you can see below. Adding that data to the GC “swarm” graph should offer great insight into what separates the riders at the 2019 Giro.

Cameron is planning on doing a similar analysis at the Tour de France so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, chapeau to Cameron for what he’s put together so far. He’s not the only one doing data visualisations for pro cycling, but his work is certainly among the niftiest we’ve seen. Be sure to check out his work via the @bikechart account on Instagram where he offers regular breakdowns of the data he’s graphing.

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