YORKTOWN — While the Tour de France is thousands of miles away, University of Lynchburg professor Eric Goff, who holds a doctorate in physics, and student Adam Sanders of Yorktown, are using science to predict winning times.
After hearing of the opportunity in his Physics II course, Sanders knew he wanted to take part.
“I wanted to participate because I found it interesting to see how the concepts I learned in my physics studies apply to real-world questions,” he said, adding that since working on the project he’s increased his proficiency with Excel, as well as his “understanding of how to do terrain data research.”
Goff’s project began in 2002 during his first year teaching at the university. Now in its 21st year, Goff and Sanders are using data about cyclist power and course elevation profiles to make predictions on finishing times for all 21 stages of the race.
Their predictions are often very close to the winning times.
“Through 11 stages, we’ve hit six stages to better than about 3% error, which is the goal I’ve set for stage-winning time predicting,” Goff said on July 18. “We’ve hit three more in the 4%-5% error range,” Goff said. “Two stages have been in the 7%-9% error range, which isn’t great, but there are always a few that we don’t hit well. We can’t predict team strategies, weather, crashes, and so on. I’d say we’re having a pretty good Tour de France so far.”
People reach out to Goff throughout the year, asking if his predictions will be posted on his blog.
Sanders has been kept busy by the project, using his background in both physics and math. Sanders is responsible for finding terrain data for Goff, who then inserts the data into a program to make timing predictions.
“Our odds are a lot better than Las Vegas odds,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the project is a great resume builder.
“It’s a really awesome project to be a part of. Not many people around the world are physics people, I’m in a class right now of two people. I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this thing. It’s a cool thing to list on a resume because I’m working with a world-renowned physicist like Dr. Goff, who does projects like this all throughout the year,” Sanders said.
Inspired to get into physics by his grandfather, a nuclear physicist, Sanders is grateful to be able to apply real-world applications to his physics research.
“I always found physics intriguing in high school. We’re using science to predict an athletic event that’s known worldwide. The Tour de France doesn’t just stay in France, we have people from all over the world that come to compete there. Science is predicting almost the right time on most of the stages,” Sanders said.
The Tour de France wraps on July 23. Coverage of the event and up-to-date information is available from NBC Sports.