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Breakaway calculator: How long will the escape last?

Ever watched a breakaway and wondered how long until the peloton slowly but surely hunts them down? Here's a calculator that may have the answers.

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Have you ever watched a breakaway form and wondered how long until the peloton slowly but surely hunts them down? Or will this breakaway prove to be fruitful? A mathematics professor at Belgium’s Ghent University, Hendrik Van Maldeghem, has developed a calculator based on his mathematical formula that he says determines whether or not a breakaway will be caught.

The calculator uses four parameters:

• Number of riders in the breakaway
• Time gap between the breakaway and the peloton
• Speed of peloton
• Speed of breakaway

Marcel Kittel even endorsed the calculator, taking to Twitter to encourage fans to use it during the Tour to keep a close eye on the breakaway’s potential.

The formula, for all you math geeks:

X = distance at which the peloton should start chasing in kilometers
A = time gap between the breakaway group and the peloton in hours
p = speed of the peloton in kilometers an hour
v = speed of the breakaway group in kilometers an hour
c = 10-a
a = amount of riders in the breakaway group

When asked about the development of the calculator, Van Maldeghem said, “I did not use examples of breakaways to develop the formula; I used a lot of information on time trials (individual races against the clock, and also in small groups) to see the impact of the number of people involved in a breakaway on the speed.”

Van Maldeghem drew two main conclusions from the data: 1.) The speed of one person reduces approximately by 1km per hour per 20 minutes; 2.) For 10 riders or more, the speed does not reduce.

The professor noted that the calculator was further tested “in the recent Tour de France, but I did not do that, this was done by journalists of Het Nieuwsblad, the newspaper which approached me in the first place to try to make such a formula. Apparently the formula worked, but I do not know the details myself.”

The Belgian newspaper said that certain conditions yielded the most accurate results with the calculator: “Is the ‘Formula Van Maldeghem’ infallible? We will not argue that. But in flat stages it does give a very reliable estimate.” Wind, change in gradient, and other factors influence the results, so to achieve the most accurate results the calculator should be used on a flat stage with little wind and close to ideal conditions. The newspaper successfully tested the calculator during the first two stages of the Tour de France.

Here is the actual calculator, give it a try in the upcoming Vuelta a España!

Cycling Breakaway Calculator

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