the digital era
Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advance Technology Group: Sport, NTT
In the professional cycling arena, NTT Pro Cycling is unique. They’re not only the first team with its roots in Africa that’s competing on the world stage, but riding for a cause is also part of their DNA. As headline sponsor, we help NTT Pro Cycling to be the most purpose-led, performance-driven, and technology-enabled team in pro cycling today. We help them uplift communities in Africa through our combined support of the Qhubeka charity. And as the Team’s technology innovation partner, we also work together to realize their ambition of being ranked among the top 10 cycling teams in the world.
Together, we support the team through innovative technology that monitors and manages the performance of the riders. We also use advanced data analytics and data science to help the team make key decisions. Working together within this ecosystem of support, we give the team every possible advantage to be a high-performing pro sports team, both on and off the bike.
Daniel Green, Head Coach, NTT Pro Cycling
We strive to be the benchmark within the sport through being a performance-driven, technology-enabled team that is underpinned by our unique purpose-led approach in support of the Qhubeka charity. Our commitment to changing lives together with Qhubeka remains stronger than ever and we’ll be looking to do so with even greater enthusiasm in 2020.
Together with our staff, riders and valued partners this core belief remains a foundation of our organization. We truly are a team that was born in Africa but created for the world.
Technology not only supports NTT Pro Cycling’s performance, but also it's business processes. Advanced data analytics helps the team select riders, prepare their race calendar, and assign the right riders to the right races. Technology also helps us monitor the health of our riders through a health and wellness application. Business-focused applications such as asset tracking, and vehicle tracking and monitoring help us to function as a well-organized global business.
Identifying talent and potential with advanced data analytics
Data analytics for rider recruitment
NTT brings ‘Moneyball’ to pro cycling.
Every pro cycling team in the world knows that their riders are their most important assets. In order to secure those all-important race victories, a team needs to have the right group of riders at the right race. Anyone in business can relate. Having the right people with a range of skills and capabilities is an important foundation for building a successful business.
In order to get the right mix of riders in the team, NTT Pro Cycling is using data to analyse just about every pro cyclist in the world. Using a combination of historical data and performance metrics they’re able to identify which riders they want to recruit. Leveraging data analytics, team management are able to make more informed decisions, building the best possible team, while still staying within budget.
What have we got?
Just like the IT industry where you need coders, creatives and engineers to keep your systems up and running, a cycling team needs the right mix of climbers, sprinters, rouleurs to be successful.
In cycling, even though one rider crosses the finish line first, many people don’t realize that it’s a team effort that gets them there. The rest of the team riders work tirelessly throughout the race to ensure their rider is in the right position to win. For this to happen you need precisely the right blend of riders in the team for the stage.
In order to give the team the intelligence they need, NTT’s advanced data analytics solution analyses over five years of team performances – using an API from the Pro Cycling Stats platform – to create a view of the current composition of the team. This is then used to identify the specific strengths and weaknesses within the team.
Starting with this overall understanding of the team’s performance data and metrics, team management can work out which riders work best together. They can then use this to create a 'team stability' score.
General Classification | Riders who have the fastest time when all the stage results are added together.
Sprint | Riders who finish explosively by accelerating to a high speed to win stages.
Depth | The size of the pool of good talent within the team.
Stability | How long the team has been riding together.
Mountains | Riders who excel on steep roads, such as hills or mountains.
Where are the opportunities?
Once the current status of the team has been established, they can start identifying where the gaps are and what riders are needed to fill that. By using the analysis of the global pool of pro cyclists they can see which riders would deliver the biggest ‘bang for buck’.
This is no different from the process that businesses go through to ensure they have the skills needed to deliver against their business strategy. The key difference being that NTT Pro Cycling have access to a level of performance detail that would be the envy of many companies.
In addition to examining the strength of the individual riders against the needs of the team, the data analysis solution incorporates the full pro cycling calendar, including the number of points available and the historic strength of the field. This allows them to identify opportunities to score the maximum amount of points and which riders and combinations are most likely to be successful.
While much of the focus in professional cycling is on race wins, like most sports leagues there is also a points system in place. Points are awarded on a race-by-race basis with difficulty, duration, and prestige all playing a role in the number of points available.
One of NTT Pro Cycling’s key goals for the 2020 season is to finish the season inside the top ten World Tour teams
How do we find the right talent?
As well as using analytics to establish which riders are the best in any given situation, NTT Pro Cycling uses the tool to review the global pool of riders. They understand that discovering the right resources at the right time is critical to success both in business and on the road.
With their understanding of the team’s requirements, team management and performance coaches work together to narrow down the thousands of cyclists, creating a shortlist of potential talent. Factors that are taken into consideration include rider type, race victories, age and recent performance, to name a few. And from that, the algorithm deducts the likelihood of riders earning ever-important World Tour points in races to come – the ‘win quotient’. Together with data-driven rider profiles, management has a view of each rider’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to identify the skills needed to fill the gaps.
Integrate, monitor, report
Are we getting the results we need?
The final phase is the actual recruitment. With a holistic view of the current team, the gaps they need to fill, and the potential talent available from our data and analytics solution, team management are able to make quicker, more informed decisions, taking some of the guesswork out of the process.
These tools allow decision-makers to make objective choices to help them achieve their goals.
All of this information allows team management to sign riders, rest assured that, together with their vast industry knowledge and experience, technology is enabling them to drive their performance.
To monitor and evaluate performance we've integrated multiple technologies, wearables, IoT devices, platforms and tools to provide both detailed performance analytics and a holistic snapshot for management. Partners include: Garmin, ALE, Today's Plan, and Lumin Sports.
Related NTT solutions and services
Data-driven resource allocation
Data-driven calendar optimization
Getting the right resources to the right races at the right time
Like all other organizations, professional sports teams also need to embark on the journey of digital transformation in order to remain relevant and competitive. It’s only through digital transformation that they can improve their efficiencies and become more effective organizations. For NTT Pro Cycling this is no different.
With hundreds of races – in addition to the 36 compulsory WorldTour events – for teams to choose from, making the decision about where to send which riders is critical to success. To ensure that the right choices get made. In order to get the best performance out on the road, NTT Pro Cycling uses data and analytics to help them optimize their schedule.
Global race calendar
NTT Pro Cycling participates in 82 races on five continents, with riders racing for 256 days every year, sometimes with three different races on a single day. This creates not just logistical challenges but also challenges in ensuring optimal team performance. To get the best possible results the team needs to make sure that the right riders get to the right races, at the right time.
29 riders, 54 management and support staff, over 200 bicycles, 250 sets of carbon wheels, 22 vehicles, over 900 airplane tickets, 3.5 tonnes of nutrition, and dozens of partners and assets across the globe, make up the complex team infrastructure that is NTT Pro Cycling. This calendar needs to create a balance between logistical feasibility, the opportunity to earn points, and rider schedules, their strengths, and their training and race load.
At the top level of cycling - the UCI WorldTour - securing enough points is critical to the Team’s survival at this level. With different tiers of races and different scales of points, it’s essential to establish where the best opportunities to score points are. Their data and analytics tool helps them identify this and from that, build a race calendar.
The algorithms that the Team uses takes into account the points available by race, calculates the predicted field strength based on the caliber of riders who have competed in the past and creates a score to indicate how easy or hard it is likely to be to win points at each race. This shows the team where the best value races are - where they are likely to achieve the best results and therefore earn the most points. From there they can take this scoring, together with the logistical constraints of time and distance and from that build out the race calendar. Coupled with our rider and team composition analyses, they can pinpoint who they should be sending to which races.
The system produces multiple dashboards which Team management can use, along with other key information such as rider programs and team logistics, in determining which races they should attend in 2020.
Based on our analysis, using this data could provide a 20-30% increase in achievable points.
Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group: Sport, NTT
Available points per month
Best bang for buck
For instance, one such outcome of the data analysis shows that it is four times easier to win points in Asia Hors Categorie (HC) races than in European WorldTour races. It also shows that the Team’s riders are able to win more points at one-day races than stage races. There are more points on offer at WorldTour races but they are statistically harder to earn.
The analysis proved its worth early on with strong results across the globe :
- 8 top-2 finishes with six different riders, on three continents
- Stage wins at both Étoile de Bessèges and Tour de Langkawi (Ben O’Connor and Max Walscheid)
- Leader of the points classification at the Tour of Langkawi (Max Walscheid)
- National Championships of South Africa (Ryan Gibbons)