Eliot Jackson is one of the most stylish World Cup riders on the circuit, but did you know he’s a massive stats geek and has set up the World Cup Stats page?
Pete caught up with the man himself to find out where World Cup Stats came from and where it’s headed with one of the most stylish riders out there, Mr. Eliot Jackson.
Who is Eliot Jackson?
I’m 28, and I’m from Westlake Village, CA. I enjoy long walks on the beach and curling up to next to a fire with a lovely book and some tea. My dislikes are walking, tomatoes, and airport check-ins.
What’s your background in cycling?
I grew up, like a lot of people, riding and building dirt jumps. Some of the best days I can remember are riding our jumps with my brother and friends until it was too dark to see. I got my first downhill bike when I was 18 and realized that it was insanely fun and that the World Cups were where the most fun could be had so I made it a goal to be there.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
I have always raced. I love the process of mastery and getting better and going faster. Racing fits all of those, so I think it’s something I have naturally gravitated toward. Bernard Kerr was a significant influence on me, and one of the big lessons he taught me was that you can do more and be more than “just” a racer.
It’s about doing things that interest you, that are fun, and that, hopefully, provide some value to people. I’ve tried to keep that in mind throughout my career, and I’m glad I have! I have some fantastic experiences and a very unconventional path to show for it.
When did you start racing downhill?
I started that first year I got my bike in 2008.
When was your first World Cup?
Val di Sole in 2010. I went from Cat 1 to qualifying at my first World Cup that year. It’s something I am incredibly proud of and a journey and story I’ll never forget!
How did World Cup Stats come about?
Even though people are just finding out about this now, I’ve always been a huge nerd. Programming, psychology, economics, marketing, etc. I’ve always been interested in computers so if I get the chance to create something in that area I try to take advantage of it.
The reason built it, though, is because, as a rider, it’s insane to have to try to figure out where you need to make up time at a race. It’s hilarious to go around the pits and see people trying to calculate sector times in their head and figure out who was where. It’s super archaic.
I wanted to create a tool to answer questions like “Where was I at sector 3?” “Where did I lose the most time?” “What time do I need to get a top 10 in the finals?” It’s for the World Cup community, and it has been overwhelming the amount of support and positive feedback I’ve received from everyone.
How do you fit this in around racing now that you’re back at the top flight?
One of the fundamental goals of the project, and why it took so long, was that everything had to be as close to 100% automated as possible. Every stat and update gets calculated automatically, so besides correcting some bad data here and there, it’s pretty easy to manage.
Why do you think people are fascinated by races statistics?
I think we all have this inherent need to be able to explain the world. Stats give us this simple number/set of numbers that make us say “Ahhh, that’s how that works/who they are/what that means”. They also satisfy our curiosity. We’ve all had that moment where we ask I wonder who did this or who finished there.
At the core, I think it’s about answering questions and getting information about something we love.
Are race statistics easy to come about or do you have go digging?
So, ironically, getting race results from the UCI is extremely difficult. There is missing info, incorrect info, misspelled names, etc. One of my favourite examples: I use the track length and the finish time to calculate the average speed for a rider during a given race.
I was checking over the numbers, and I noticed that one year in Hafjell the speed was insane, like 20km faster than the next fastest, which was Pietermaritzburg. Looking at the data, I saw the track was 1km longer than the other two years (I think it went 2.4km, 2.3km, and 3.4km). I thought I had made a mistake in my programming, but after 20 minutes I couldn’t find anything. Frustrated, I opened up the PDF and saw that it was 3.4km on the results sheet.
I was there that year, and I knew they didn’t make the track 1km longer than the previous one so I realised that it was actually just a typo on the UCI’s part.
What’s your favourite World Cup statistic?
I was really excited to implement the rider profiles. It’s a plot of the average finish for timed training, qualifying, and finals throughout a career with the width of the line being the standard deviation (consistency) of that finish.
It shows so much! What day do riders focus on? Who gets better or worse throughout the weekend? One of the coolest insights I saw was for the Giant team, you can actually see a pattern for some of their multiple year riders. Take a look at Danny Hart, Marcelo Gutierrez, and Andrew Neethling.
See a trend throughout the week? You could almost overlay their profiles on top of each other! Is that a team philosophy? Since I am on the team, I will say that the approach is definitely unique, but is that what causes it? Gah, I just love it.
Where next for you and the World Cup stats page? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
One of the primary goals is to add context to the results page. Why did things end up they way they did? Did they crash? Did it start raining halfway through? Were they hurt? Right now, it’s just a snapshot of what happened on that day, and it would be cool to get the story behind it as well.
I’d like to do a few predictive things. Given a qualifying time, can I predict the finals time? Not sure haha.
The idea for the site was never, and never will be, to turn it into a business. After I get done racing, I’ll definitely get a job somewhere as a data scientist, so having a great portfolio piece will help with that. Truthfully, I just love solving problems and creating things, it’s super entertaining for me! I’m happy to be able to apply that to a field I love and hopefully help all my friends achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
Everyone around me has been so crazy supportive. I think my close family and friends could probably tell you as much about the site as I can. One of the parts that makes me the proudest is the reception from the community as a whole.
Even though it’s mountain bike related, it makes me feel great to know that people are interested in what I’m up to outside of racing. We all have passions outside of bikes and I’m happy I get to share mine, and I hope it helps other people do the same.