Harder, Better, Faster, Hotter?

by M

wigginstdf2012Photo: Robert King

According to the news today, “faster” cyclists are more attractive. Naturally, this has me worried.

The findings come from a paper by Erik Postma, published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, which details a study in which female participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of riders who completed the 2012 Tour de France.

While the conclusions appear ostensibly intuitive, it strikes me that using stage race results is a flawed way of determining who is “faster”. The Tour isn’t a test of who is the fastest cyclist per se, it’s a test of who is best at winning the Tour, a feat that depends on a great many variables, including luck.

In fairness, the analysis does make use of the riders’ individual TT times and the author acknowledges the potential for error in his methods section:

“Professional cycling, and especially a three week stage race like the Tour de France, involves a substantial amount of tactics and teamwork.”
“Note that, depending on their role in the team (helper or leader), riders vary in their motivation to finish in as little time as possible. Although this role is likely to be correlated with their abilities, this will introduce some error. Also, I only measure one aspect of performance, emphasising endurance capacity and the ability to perform consistently over a relatively long period of time, and thereby this measure of performance is biased against sprinters and pure climbers.”

I’m not qualified to assess the quality of the statistical analysis so I may be talking out of my chamois, but it seems to me that rather than merely introducing error, the inherent flaws in the premise of the study render the results essentially meaningless.

Or in other words, slow is hot too.