Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Tour de France

Friday, August 4th, 2017 | Sport

I have never watched cycling before. For the obvious reason: that men peddling away on bikes for five hours does not sound that interesting.

However, when you are working with Sky Sports, you sometimes get caught up in the excitement. It happened with golf, and now it appears to have happened with cycling, too.

Plus, I have stopped watching Formula One since Sky announced they were getting almost-exclusive live coverage of it. So, I am in the market for a new boring sport to watch. Cycling seems an excellent candidate.

Not as boring as it looks

A cycle race may seem like a bunch of people riding around for hours before sprinting towards the finish line at the very end. And, to a large extent, it is that. It is much easier to ride together in a peloton, so that is what happens, especially on the flat stages.

But it becomes more complicated than that. Riders can “attack”, which means they cycle off up the road and the peloton has to decide between chasing them down or letting them go. Cycling by yourself or in a small group is tiring, so it then becomes a competition to see if they can build up a big enough lead to hold off the peloton when they speed up towards the end.

Tour de France has four different jerseys:

Jersey Description
Yellow jersey This is the most prestigious one: and the one Wiggins and Froome raced for and won. It is a sumation of your time for each stage: the one with the lowest is the winner. You also get time bonuses for winning stages.
Green jersey The points jersey. You get points for winning stages, intermediate sprints (designated points along the route) and reaching the top of hills first.
Polka dot jersey King of the Mountains. This is given to the rider who scores the most points from reaching the tops of hills first.
White jersey Best young rider, similar to general classification but with an age limit.

So, lots going on. And because different riders are aiming for different jerseys, tactics change a lot. It’s a team sport. If you want to win a sprint, for example, it is easiest if you have a line of team-mates to get you in the perfect position.

Or, if you are competing for the yellow jersey, it makes sense have some of your team mates attack. That way, the yellow jersey is forced to either chase them down, tiring himself out so you can pass him at the end, or leave the attackers to the stage, taking valuable time out of his lead.

Grand Depart in Leeds

There are four big races in cycling, known as the grand tours. These are the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de Yorkshire. Some people dispute whether the latter is really a grand tour.

But Yorkshire is certainly a hub for cycling. In 2014, the Tour de France started here, with the Grand Depart starting on The Headrow in Leeds. I was there.

This year’s tour

Chris Froome took the win in relatively easy fashion. While his winning time was narrower than his previous victories, and he briefly lost the yellow jersey at one point, it never really looked in that much danger given how dominant Team Sky was.

The real outrage of the tour was that Warren Barguil was awarded the combativity prize. He rode an excellent race and won the King of the Mountains jersey fair and square. But how anyone other than Thomas De Gendt, who spend over 1,000km in breakaway groups (mostly leading them), could be awarded the combativity jersey is a mystery to a novice cycling-watcher such as myself.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Leeds 10k 2017

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017 | Sport

July means the Jane Tomlinson’s Run For All 10k in Leeds. It is usually boiling, making for difficult running conditions but is also a really fun event to be part of: you set off from the east side of town and loop all the way around before heading up Kirkstall Road.

Last year I set an awesome time: 59:59.

I wanted to beat the hour and did so: by one second!

Race Time
Abbey Dash 2016 56:45
Run For All 2016 59:59
Abbey Dash 2015 1:07:58
Abbey Dash 2014 1:07:36
Run For All 2014 1:06:14

This year was a mixed bag. I managed a time of 57:28. This is 43 seconds behind by Abbey Dash time, but 2:31 ahead of any time I have set in the heat.

Any hope of the run being good for me was quickly dashed. We went for brunch at Wetherspoon’s, followed by recovery ice cream at Baskin Robbins. That was Venla’s favourite part of the whole event.

The race was well organised. You get a colour coded number based on your expected finish time: blue (elite), red (not so elite), and green (everyone else). Previously, I have been held up by slower runners, so I put in a target time of 54 minutes.

This seems to have been the magic that moved me into the red zone. 55 minutes plus seems to have put you in the green zone. However, there were only two pens: all the blues and reds were in the same one. This meant that while I expected it to take 10-15 minutes to get to the start, I was actually through a couple of minutes after the gun.

Well done to everyone else who took part, what were your times?

Oakwell Hall parkrun review

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 | Sport

I try to test up for the week or two before a race. However, as I’m also chasing my Parkrun 250 club (I have a long way to go), I couldn’t resist doing a Parkrun the day before the Leeds Half Maraton.

As I didn’t want to do my usual 10k run there-and-back, that meant driving. And, as I was already in the car, we decided to take the whole family and head over to Oakwell Hall.

As a Parkrun, it’s a mixed bag. The organisation is brilliant. There were loads of volunteers and cake at the end. It was also scenic: probably the most scenic I have done with the exception of Lyme Park. However, on the downside, a lot of it is done on man-made pathways that are only two people wide. Therefore, for the first 2 km, you are constantly being bottlenecked and forced to stop or slow down. It’s two laps, and nobody lapped me, despite me taking it easy.

This is how I did in the Leeds Half Marathon 2017

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 | Sport

Sometimes, I think it would be fun to run a marathon. Then there are other times. Times such as this, when I have just run a half marathon, and still remember just how painful it was. To do the easy half of a full one.

I completed my first half marathon last year and managed to complete it in 2:28:00. This year I had set myself a base target of 2:15:00 and a stretch target of 58 minutes. It’s quite a range, but I thought if I really want to push myself, I might as well go for a world record.

Favourable conditions

The temperature was a lot kinder this year. Gone was the 25-degree heat. Sunday gave us 17 degrees and some cloud cover.

The other thing I changed this year was the amount of sustenance I took on. Last year I stopped at every water station (I stay stopped, you don’t really slow down as you grab a bottle on the way past) and took on some food as well.

I don’t take anything on on my training runs: I just go out and run for two hours. My training runs are always faster. I also skipped the water station in last year’s Abbey Dash and set a personal best 10k time. So, this year, I avoided all food and skipped one of the water stations.

The result

Drum roll, please… This year I managed it in 2:03:42. That’s the official chip timing, I didn’t get my GPS quite perfect.

Notice how it condescendingly marks the whole thing as a “walk” (I ran the whole thing).

I managed to take a good line: you always end up running further than the actual distance because you are dodging around people. So an extra 150m over 21.1km is pretty small.

Most importantly, I took 24 minutes off last year’s time and beat my target by 11 minutes.

How did I feel about it?

I should be chuffed. But, if I had that ability, I would probably spend far less time stressing and enjoy life a lot more. It was a great time: but if I could just found an extra 4 minutes, I could have broken 2.

I did try. My pace was pretty erratic because of how hilly the course is. However, I did enough to give myself a chance in the first half the race and spent the 3rd quarter chasing down the gap.

But, towards the end, I ran out of steam. For the last 4 km, I was running on empty. I didn’t even notice the people cheering me on the finishing straight.

I’ll get it next year. It’s a race between me and Kipchoge. Who can break 2 first…

How does track cycling work?

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | Sport

Did you experience a little confusion when watching the Olympic action at the velodrome last year? I certainly did. So I looked it up. Here are the ins and outs of track cycling.

Road cycling is pretty straight forward. People start at one point and then try and ride to the other point as fast as they can. The one who gets there first is the winner. Things get slightly more complex when there are stages and time trials, but the basic idea remains the same.

This is not so with track cycling. There are different disciplines and whole new skills to be learned with each one. This guide takes you through the most popular.

It’s all about the slipstream

Much like road cycling, being at the front is hard work. You have to move all of the air out of the way. In comparison, if you are sat behind another rider, it is much easier because you can cruise behind in their slipstream. This is critical throughout track cycling.

Team pursuit

In team pursuit, each team has four riders that have to complete a distance of 3km. Each member of the team will take it in turns to ride at the front, doing most of the work, before falling to the back and allowing the next member to take up the strain.

Only three riders need to finish the race. In theory, the team could go the entire race with all four riders. However, often one rider simply cannot keep up with the pace. Or, more often, the team will work tactically so that one rider does an extended spell at the front, burning all of their energy, before allowing the remaining three to finish the race.

Sprint

Spring is a competition between two individual riders. Distances vary but is often three laps of the track. In sprint races, you will often find the riders going very slowly for the first lap or two. The reason is that if the riders went off fast, the rider at the back would tuck into the front rider’s slipstream, save their energy, and then pass them on the final lap.

To prevent this, the front rider will cruise around at a walking pace, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. They will then suddenly rush off, hoping to catch the other ride unprepared. The other ride attempts to keep close enough to perform the undertake, often riding around the top of the track so they can rush down for a sudden gain of speed.

Keirin

Kieran is a race of 2km. However, for the first three-quarters of the race, the riders follow an electric bike around the track and must keep behind. The bike gradually increases in speed before pulling off the track near the end of the race, at which point it is a free-for-all.

Omnium

Omnium is the heptathlon of the track cycling world. Riders compete in a series of different races including pursuits, elimination races and time trials. An elimination race is a simple race around the track where the rider at the back is eliminated each lap until a winner is found. Omniums will typically end in a points race. This could be over 100 laps, with points given every 10 for the first four riders.

Start running with Parkrun

Saturday, February 25th, 2017 | Sport

Just going outside and running is simple. But for us adults, we often need something a little more structured to get started. Parkrun is a great option.

If you are thinking about getting started with running, Parkrun is a great way to go. Founded in the UK it was quickly spread to almost every town and is rapidly spreading across the rest of the world too.

So what is it? It is a timed 5km run that takes place every Saturday. It is free, so you can simply turn up and do the run. At most Parkruns there is a huge ability difference between runners: some will complete it in 15 minutes, others will take 50. Everyone goes at their own pace.

As a Yorkshireman, one of the major appeals to me are the free t-shirts. When you reach 50 runs, 100 runs and 250 runs you get access to a special t-shirt for that “Club”. Actually, it is not free, but all you pay for is a few pounds postage. There is also a “25 Club” for those who volunteer as marshals.

Here are the technical details. You register on the website and are given a unique barcode to print out. Take this along with you to the run and when you complete the course a volunteer will scan your barcode so that your time can be sent to you.

Back on the trail

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 | Sport

Between Venla arriving and the nights being cold and dark, I have not been for a run up the canal this year. That changed last week when I finally got out there. It felt good.

My times have really slowed down in January. I went from almost setting a personal best at the first Parkrun of 2017, to struggling to keep it under 30 minutes for the rest of the month. My weight has not changed, so I wonder if Christmas turned all of my muscle into fat. I am hoping that bumping back up to two training sessions a week will reverse this decline.

Super Bowl LI

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 | Sport

Ah, I was so close again! Last year I predicted a Carolina Panthers vs New England Patriots Super Bowl (this was before the playoffs started, not before the regular season). The Denver Broncos beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game to knock me off by one.

This year, I predicted a Green Bay Packers vs New England Patriots. Alas, the Atlantic Falcons convincingly beat the Packers in the NFC championship game to once again knock me off by one result.

Still, it made for a good Super Bowl. The first three quarters were so-so. It looked like the Falcons were firmly in control. But then Tom Brady did a Tom Brady and suddenly we had a game on.

Turn out was good too: six of us, not counting Elina, Venla and Kearny who were all here, but had gone to bed. For once, I managed to make a reasonable amount of food.

NFL: Who are the real franchise quarterbacks?

Saturday, January 28th, 2017 | Sport

The term “franchise quarterback” is thrown around a lot in the NFL. There is an official meaning: teams can use their franchise tag to keep one key player at the club. However, more often when referring to QBs it is used to label quarterbacks who people expect to be at the teams for a long-run without any enforcement.

But who exactly is a franchise quarterback?

Philip Rivers, for example, is probably not the first person to come to mind when you think about the legendary quarterbacks of the NFL. However, Rivers has now been at the San Diego Chargers for 12 years. Only Tom Brady has been at his current club for longer.

Quarterback tenure in data

Below, I have tabled all of the NFL teams and their starting quarterbacks. I have included the year that they joined the club, and the team’s 2016 record.

Note that this is slightly different to the year they became starting quarterback. Many sat on the bench for the first season, for example. However, as it is a measure of how long the teams have kept them around, tracking it from the time they joined the team makes more sense in this instance.

It also does not include how long they have been in the NFL. Alex Smith, for example, was at the San Francisco 49ers for several years before moving on to the Kansas City Chiefs. Again, this makes more sense for what we are discussing.

The data

Team Starting QB Year joined team 2016 record
Patriots Tom Brady 2000 .875
Chargers Philip Rivers 2004 .313
Giants Eli Manning 2004 .688
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger 2004 .688
Packers Aaron Rodgers 2005 .625
Saints Drew Brees 2006 .438
Falcons Matt Ryan 2008 .688
Ravens Joe Flacco 2008 .500
Lions Matthew Stafford 2009 .563
Bears Jay Cutler 2009 .188
Panthers Cam Newton 2011 .375
Bengals Andy Dalton 2011 .438
49ers Colin Kaepernick 2011 .125
Colts Andew Luck 2012 .500
Seahawks Russell Wilson 2012 .656
Dolphins Ryan Tannehill 2012 .625
Redskins Kirk Cousins 2012 .531
Chiefs Alex Smith 2013 .750
Cardinals Carson Palmer 2013 .569
Raiders Derek Carr 2014 .750
Jaguars Blake Bortles 2014 .188
Titans Marcus Mariota 2015 .563
Bills Tyrod Taylor 2015 .438
Buccaneers Jameis Winston 2015 .563
Jets Bryce Petty 2015 .313
Vikings Sam Bradford 2016 .500
Browns Robert Griffin III 2016 .063
Texans Brock Osweiler 2016 .563
Eagles Carson Wentz 2016 .438
Broncos Trevor Siemian 2016 .563
Rams Jared Goff 2016 .250
Cowboys Dak Prescott 2016 .813

Discussion

I was expecting to see some correlation between the length of quarterback tenture and the results of each team. However, this was difficult to fine.

Sure, a lot of the play-off teams have the longest-standing quarterbacks. But then, the Chargers and Saints did not make the playoffs, despite having had the same quarterback for ten years.

Similarly, while there are a lot of rubbish teams with new quarterbacks, there are also the Cowboys, with one of the best records in the NFL, who only replaced Tony Romo, their quarterback since 2003, this year.

Here is the data in a graph:

There is nothing there. As with most of the stats in the NFL it probably suffers from the same critical problem: small sample size. When you only play 16 games per year, and those games only involve 11 minutes of actual play, almost anything can be luck.

49ers record season

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 | Sport

When I started following American football, there was only one sensible choice for who to support: San Francisco is the Mecca of software development, so the 49ers it had to be. As it happens, much like the team’s namesake, I had struck gold. Jim Harbaugh was in charge and doing amazing things.

In Harbaugh’s first three seasons in charge, the 49ers went to the championship game in all of them. He was the first NFL head coach to do this. The second of those saw the 49ers go the Super Bowl and were just one play away from winning the thing.

Then, in 2014, the team went 8-8 and Jed York fired him.

Jim Tomsula was given the head coaching job, while the two highly commended coordinators, Vic Fangio and Greg Roman, both left the team too. The team went 5-11. Tomsula was fired and replaced with Chip Kelly. This had promise. Kelly had taken the Philadelphia Eagles from a 4-12 season to a 10-6 season in which they went to the championship game, before being fired a year later for a still-respectable 7-9 season.

But this year, things have been even worse.

Should Kelly be fired? Well, maybe. But it is worth noting Bill Walsh’s record. Bill Walsh is the greatest 49ers coach of all time. In his ten seasons in charge, he won three Super Bowls. Even Bill Belichick’s record with the Patriots is not that good. What was Walsh’s record the first year in charge? 2-14. It was the equal-worst season ever for the 49ers. But they stuck with it, and it turned out to be the best decision they ever made.