Collecting, analyzing, and making sense of data is my job.
So when I finished the 2014 Barry-Roubaix, and wondered aloud whether it was harder than it had been in previous years, I thought I would do what I usually do, and ask the data.
The chart below shows the relationship between time and placing for six editions of the race. For this chart I combined the 40+ fields and the Open field in 2013 and 2014 because in the first four years they let the stallions run with the geldings.
There are a few things to note. The first three years the race (2009, 2010, and 2011) was two laps of a 32 mile course. The most recent three years (2012, 2013, and 2014) the race was added to the American Ultracross Series which required a single loop, and the race was shortened to roughly 62 miles. In 2013 and 2014 the start was moved from Yankee Springs State Recreational Area to downtown Hastings, and registration limits were expanded from 1,500 to 3,000.
Thus we would expect that the first three races to be slower. They were of a longer distance with more elevation. In the last three years the number of registrants increased dramatically which influences the slope of these lines. More registrants of similar ability makes for a flatter line.
The lines below clearly cluster into 2009-2011 and 2012-2014. The first cluster had slower winning times (intercept with Y axis) and fewer registrants (length of the line). The second cluster had faster winning times, more registrants, and tighter competition.
So back to the question, was 2014 more difficult of a race?
There are two ways answer this question by looking at the above graph. If we draw a vertical line at any finishing place, we can see which race required the fastest time to achieve that place.
For example, in both 2012 and 2013, to get 50th place you had to finish in about 187 minutes. In 2014, 50th place was a full 13 minutes slower at 200 minutes. Across the board, at every placing 2014 was a slower race than the other two races held on the same course. So 2014 may have been faster than the all of the years in the first cluster, but it was much slower than the prior two years.
If we draw a horizontal line, we can see in which year would a given time lead to the best finish. 200 minutes would have put you on the podium in 2009, but in 2012 that would have gotten you one hundred and twenty fifth place. In 2014 that same 200 minutes would have ended up in 49th place.
But what about individuals? How did they fare year over year?
The chart below looks at the year-to-year differences in times for those men who competed in the Barry-Roubaix in back-to-back years. The number in parentheses on the X-axis shows the number of men who competed back-to-back. The graph shows the average time difference (green triangle) as well as the minimum and maximum differences.
There were only 13 men who completed the race in 2010 who also finished in 2009. For these finishers, as well as for 2011-2010 the average time was just a little bit slower each year.
The fourth edition of the Barry was by far the fastest. This resulted from both the unseasonably warm temperatures as well as the shortening of the course which also reduced the total elevation gain. The average rider improved by 37.4 minutes from 2011 to 2012, and the every rider who rode in both years shaved some time off in 2012.
An interesting note? The person who had the largest increase (51.3) from 2010 to 2011 was also the same person who had the most improvement (-79.8 minutes) from 2012-2011. My friend Mike Hemme had a mechanical early on in 2011 and ended up walking back to the start shortly in the race to fix it, and ground out the rest of the race solo. He came back in 2012 and finished 18th overall.
For the 97 gentlemen who returned in 2013, the course was less forgiving than in 2012. The average time was 4.3 minutes slower, and for the 118 who returned from that cold-frozen mess, they found that the mud was even slower (by more than 13 minutes) than the cold.
The story for the women and singlespeeders is not as straight forward. The top five women were slower in 2014 than in 2013, but things are not as clear in places 6 thru 25. The most important trend is the growth of the women's field from 3 in 2009 to 35 finishers in 2014.
Oh yeah. And single speeders? U cray.
So how did I do? I shaved just under a minute off of my time this year and I'll say it out loud. I feel pretty good about that.