What are the odds that Tadej Pogacar will win the Le Tour de France?

'Le Tour' has just started. And the first question is of course 'will Tadej Pogacar win again'. For the uninitiated, Pogacar (henceforth Pog) has convincingly won the previous two editions of the Grande Boucle, and many of the other significant races that he has competed in.

I vaguely wanted to bet on the Tour, but normal sports betting sites seem to only allow you to be on the winner of certain stages, or the winners of the overall. I didn't want to bet on a winner, as the chaos of the Tour seems to make picking a winner pretty much impossible. I would much prefer to bet on who won't win.

I looked at Polymarket, where the only thing that's available to bet on is whether Tadej Pogacar will win the overall. This is more appealing. For the right odds, I would definitely bet against Pog winning. polymarket currently gives him a 54% chance of winning out right. Though he certainly seems to be the strongest rider, I didn't think he's 54% chance to win.

As a base to start from, let's imagine a Tour de France that is 'fair'. By this I mean no one gets ill, no one crashes, no one loses time due to mechanical issues beyond their control. If the Tour was like this, I'd give Pog an 85% chance of winning.

However the Tour de France is rarely fair. There are always crashes. People always get ill. Tyres always go flat at inopportune moments. And this year we will probably see some number of riders leave the race after testing positive for Covid 19.

How important are these issues then?

Randomly made up numbers zone

If you ride the Tour de France you run a risk of being involved in a crash, which might ruin your chances of winning the race. In last year's Tour de france 43 riders didn't finish the race for various reasons, and two major contenders (Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas) were made uncompetitive by crashes in the first couple of days of the race. The year before 30 riders didn't finish, and numerous injuries sustained in crashes in the first stage certainly affected how the race was ridden and the results of various riders. That said, it seems like serious contenders for the yellow jersey don't often get taken out of the race by a crash. Their teams will make efforts to keep them out of harm's way, and to help them if they do get in trouble. They also don't need to be involved in most particularly risky sprint finishes. Famously crash prone Geraint Thomas has had three of the eleven Tour's he's competed in seriously impacted by crashes. Pog seems like a somewhat less accident prone rider, so I'm going to very roughly estimate the chance of him being crashed out at 10%.

Let's also tack on a 5% chance of random illness impacting Pog's performance enough to prevent him from winning.

On top of that I think there is probably something like a 20% chance for every given rider in the race that they will test positive for Covid 19 and be forced to abandon the Tour. If this sounds high, note that a covid outbreak at the tour de suisse meant that only half of the field finished.

Finally we need to look at the stages that will be raced. Notably stage 5 is a sort of Paris Roubaix light. This means the riders will be going over 20km of rough cobblestones. When they did this in 2014 the defending champion crashed out of the race, before they even got to the cobbles, and it's a really terrible place to get punctures. I think we can assume a 5% chance that a random accident makes Pog lose enough time on this stage that he loses the Tour.

so we have 85% chance of winning, a 90% chance of not being crashed out, a 95% chance of not getting ill, an 80% chance of not testing positive for Covid and a 95% chance of not crashing out on the Flemish cobbles. 85% * 90% * 95% * 80% * 95% = 55%

And weirdly, this is actually very close to the odds offered by Polymarket. I didn't plan this. I actually wanted to calculate a really low odds so I could justify betting 100 pounds against Pog.

To johnclude

The Tour de France is a race that is very hard to win, and very easy to lose. You can only win it in one way, and you can lose it in very many ways. I don't believe that it's really to say that someone has a more than 50% chance of winning the race at the start of the 21 days.

However, there have been several occasions when the same rider has won the Tour many years on the trot:

All the times Lance Armstrong won the tour

So maybe there's something I'm missing.