Causation or Correlation: Does Rider Height Matter at Paris-Roubaix?

Now that we find ourselves firmly in cycling’s “holy week” (defined as the start of the Tour of Flanders and the finish of Paris-Roubaix), it is time to take stock of the usual contenders and see who has the best chance of winning Paris-Roubaix this Sunday.

Predicting Paris-Roubaix is always difficult. While the strongest rider almost always wins Flanders, Roubaix has the unique ability to serve up wildcard winners like Johan Vansummeren in 2011 and Matt Hayman in 2016. While this can make predictions difficult, there is a common thread through most Roubaix winners. They are almost all over 6-feet (1.83 meters) in height.

Since 1999, 14 editions of Roubaix (73%) have been won by a rider over 6-feet tall, with only 2 winners under 5 feet 11 inches. Compare this to the Tour of Flanders, which, in the same timeframe, has seen 11 editions won by riders over 6-feet tall, with 6 editions being won by riders under 5”11. 

The difference is even starker when we pull out this comparison to every Monument. Milan-Sanremo has only seen 4 editions won by a rider over 6-feet since 1999, Liege-Bastogne-Liege 3, and the Tour of Lombardy with only 2 (note: these 2 editions were won by the same riders, Phillipe Gilbert).

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 1.55.28 PM

(These numbers are obviously nuanced and complicated due to factors like repeat winners and potentially inaccurate rider height data and should be taken with a grain of salt.)

A factor for taller riders triumphing at Roubaix is that it features the least amount of climbing of any major race, and taller riders tend to be heavier than shorter riders.

This extra weight not only makes it difficult to get up and over climbing-heavy courses but also helps when dealing with the constant punishment dished out by the cobblestone roads. A slightly-built rider like Michał Kwiatkowski is always going to have difficulty managing the rough, 6+ hour ride over the Napoleonic roads of Roubaix.

However, if weight was the only factor, one would think there would be heavy riders under 6-feet winning the Queen of the Classics.

This leads me to wonder if there something about Paris-Roubaix that actually rewards taller riders.

Let’s take a look at a list of the lead contenders for Sunday listed in order of height.

Niki Terpstra-6”3
Sep Vanmarcke-6″3
Wout Van Aert -6”2
Jasper Stuyven-6”1
Zdenek Stybar-6”0
Philippe Gilbert-6”0
Gianni Moscon-6”0
Peter Sagan-6”0
Oliver Naesen-6″0
Alexander Kristoff-5”11
Arnaud Demare -5”11
Greg Van Avermaet-5”11
Edvald Boasson Hagen-5″11
John Degenkolb-5″11

Now let’s look at the list listed in order of their odds according to Sky Bets.

Peter Sagan-11/4
Greg Van Avermaet-7/1
Niki Terpstra-7/1
Philippe Gilbert-9/1
Sep Vanmarcke-9/1
Zdenek Stybar-12/1
John Degenkolb-14/1
Arnaud Demare-18/1
Wout Van Aert-18/1
Alexander Kristoff-20/1
Edvald Boasson Hagen-22/1
Jasper Stuyven-22/1
Gianni Moscon-25/1
Oliver Naesen-25/1

It is possible rider height matters at Roubaix. It is also possible this is simply a crackpot theory. But judging from recent history, if you are in interested in picking possible winners, the smart money should go with a rider measuring 6-feet or above.

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