Are there any characteristics that explain why some countries are more successful in pro cycling than others? An article at the Inner Ring blog discusses why Germany is «Europe’s Pro Cycling Black Hole», despite having some serious mountains and a vibrant cycling culture (as illustrated by the membership of the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer) - but note that the same author has also warned against simple expanations of why countries are successful. And in the UK, there has been some disappointment that successes in professional cycling haven’t led to more cycling in general.
So are mountains and cycling culture somehow related to success in professional cycling? Of course, there are different ways to answer that question. Here’s a look at some indicators, which suggest mountains - no, and cycling culture - maybe.
The graph below shows maximum elevation (to be more precise, the difference in elevation between the lowest and highest location on the country’s mainland) and the number of jerseys won in the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España over the past years.
There is only a weak and not statistically significant correlation between elevation span and the number of jerseys won. If you adjust for the size of the population, the relation is even negative, and still weak. Perhaps a different indicator for mountainousness would yield other results, but for now it appears that having mountains has little to do with success in the grand tours.
Then how about cycling culture? The graph below shows two indicators on the x-axis: the share of trips made by bicycle in the country’s capital (modal share), and the relative number of bikes sold. The y-axis shows the relative number of jerseys won over the past years. According to these variables, cycling culture is not related to success in professional cycling (in fact, there’s a weak, not significant, negative correlation).
Another possible indicator of a cycling culture is the membership of cyclists’ organisations. The graph below is a bit geekier than the previous ones: the scales are logarithmic (for example, the y-axis goes from 0.1 to 1 to 10 to 100).
It turns out that there is in fact a correlation between the membership of cycling organisations and the number of jerseys won. Perhaps bicycle sales and modal share are indicators of everyday bicycle use whereas membership of cycling organisations also says something about recreational use, which in turn might be related to success in professional cycling – but that’s just guessing. Whether there’s a causal relation between the two is yet another question.
See also: Giro, Tour and Vuelta: Which countries won jerseys over the past 111 yrs.
The analysis is limited to the jerseys for the leaders of the general classification (the maglia rosa for the Giro d’Italia, the maillot jaune for the Tour de France and whatever colour the leader’s jersey had in the Vuelta a España that particular year). For each year and for each tour, for each rider who has won a jersey in that tour (regardless of how many days) a point was added to the country total of that rider’s country.
The D3 tooltip code is largely borrowed from D3 Tips and Tricks.
Note that Wikipedia explains that the modal share (the share of trips made by bicycle) is not measured in a consistent way and something similar may well apply to data for membership of cyclists’ organisations.