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Chocolate, coffee, and data: managing team performance on the WorldTour


Using technology to drive performance

What does it take to drive the performance of the first African team to ride in the UCI WorldTour? Coffee and chocolate are my energizers of choice, in between all the emotions and adrenaline …which might explain why, despite not being on a bike, I need time to recover after a race!

Laptop and coffee on a table

‘I personally live the whole Tour de France on chocolate and coffee.’

This is a defining year for Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka. As we look to complete the 2019 season, our goal is to prove we have what it takes to be successful on the world stage and achieve the best ranking. It’s really important that we start each race on the front foot. If we want to influence the race, not just react to what’s happening, we have to do our homework. 

Selection, strategy and support

Technology and data are being used more and more in pro cycling, and really help us remove the guesswork and emotion to get a clearer view of our talent. We use technology to get a competitive edge on everything from selecting riders for races to determining our race strategy and giving riders the best support when they’re competing.

Team Dimension Data reading data

Data removes the guesswork and helps us optimise decisions about our overall strategy and race tactics

Rider selection

About 80–85% of a rider’s success is determined by their physical attributes. With the data and customised algorithms we have now, we’re getting a very good sense of the physiological qualities a rider needs to succeed at WorldTour level.

Data analysis also helps us identify which of our riders will have the best potential to get the most points from a race, and optimize the decisions we make at every stage – literally!

Race strategy

Our WorldTour points analytics system helps us identify which races present the greatest opportunity for us to win maximum points. On top of this, we use sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to predict which riders will be most likely to succeed in each race, based on the demands of the course, their strengths, and performance history. 

We then map out the race strategy – for example, we may find it’s better to aim to finish seventh in general classification than to win a stage. Finally, we look at individual and team profiles: how many climbers, sprinters, or rouleurs do we need to get the best results? This informs our decisions about which riders to send to which races. It also helps them understand our approach and work to a common goal.

Team support

When we’re at the race, we use data to help our team execute the strategy.

Being in the car makes it difficult to see the riders, as we’re usually about 200–400m away from them. We can get information from the TV broadcast, but the delay means we could miss something crucial. We therefore have multiple data sources giving us real-time information to guide our riders at every turn and climb.

If we know more than the peloton, so will our riders. All of this adds up to a huge advantage for the Team.

Team in a car  

Riders have to trust the team in the car to give them the best information

The voice in the rider’s ear

Our riders have a lot to take in and process when they’re on the bike. They’re performing at their physical maximum, under enormous pressure. From our vantage point, we can be a single voice in their ear which they can focus and rely on.

Our role is not to overload riders with facts but deliver critical information that helps them focus on their strategy and make decisions based on their own instincts. The data and technology solutions we use today give us insights that simply weren’t available before.

For example, we can locate individual riders and tell them what’s coming next – a climb with this elevation, or a left corner with a crosswind. We can also assist with their pacing strategies, like telling them when they can push their physical limits because there’s a downhill coming that will allow them to recover, or when they need to reserve energy because the gap to the next rider is widening.

Having a super strong coaching group with diverse experience also helps us to integrate all this information for our team to get to the best possible race outcome.

Integrating insights for the best outcome

We’re constantly processing information and, although we don’t want to miss anything, we all have our limits. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from our riders, it’s that getting the fundamentals right – consistently – gives you the ability to push your boundaries when you need to. So, our approach is to cover the basics as best we can with the data we have, and give extra information where we think it will add value.

We’re all extremely motivated by what the Team stands for. We know what we want to achieve and we hope to look back on this season with pride, knowing that we used everything we had to achieve this monumental goal.

Now, can someone point me to the nearest coffee station?

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