It starts with a quick browse of the results that day. I see who’s been winning around Europe, from the WorldTour down to smaller professional races. But give it a few minutes and I am well and truly down the rabbit hole, niche statistics or seeing who finished top twenty in the 1988 Paris-Roubaix. My name is Andy and I am a ProCyclingStats.com addict.
But I’m not alone. Procyclingstats had 74 million page views last year, and the forecast for 2015 is double that. It is the website everyone is reading, from cycling fans to pro cyclists, journalists and commentators.
I caught up with director Stephan van der Zwan to hear the story of ProCyclingStats.
Rouleur: How many people are behind Procyclingstats?
SVDZ: Just me and Bert [Lip], that’s all.
What is the story behind the website?
It was Bert’s idea. At first, it was just a little database for fun with some SQL and pHp scripts that he made. I was a cycling journalist in my former job; I knew Bert because he was an amateur cyclist who made scripts for my former employer. Before that, I was a medic in the army for 12 years.
It’s quite a funny story, but this will make it a lot about me.
Bert does so much work that nobody sees, all the scripts and things in the back office. I can’t do anything without him. He lives about an hour’s drive away, we have a lot of contact by mail, phone or WhatsApp and meet up every two weeks or so.
Back to your question, I was always a cycling enthusiast in my youth; I got into it around the time Joop Zoetemelk won. In those days, Dutch riders won everything.
In 2001, I had my first computer. It belonged to my brother, who died in a cycling accident, run over by a truck.
I had a daughter who was eight at the time who was doing some youth cycling in Holland. I was proud, so I made a website about her. I added the results of races on there and there were other kids surfing it to see their performance. Then in 2003, I started a website called jeugdwielrennen.nl about youth cycling.
It was pretty popular in Holland, I did it next to my army job on the evenings and weekends for fun. Soon, you had teenage kids who said they missed the website where you could make your own profile on it and chat with each other.
So I did something for them too. It got bigger and bigger and in 2007, it was too much. They were getting older – funny fact, some of those juniors are pros now, I still talk to guys like Barry Markus [of Lotto-Jumbo.nl] and the Kreder brothers now.
I became a cycling journalist, starting Wielerland.nl. I think in 2012 Bert started ProCyclingStats.com. At the end of 2013, he called me and asked me to join. I was enthusiastic from the very first moment – my former employer had just been made bankrupt, so I said ‘let’s try it.’
I had already got some good ideas and contacts with riders and teams from six years as a cycling journalist. At the start of 2014, we started the company ProCyclingStats. It’s going well.
So it’s only officially been one year as a company?
I think we signed the contract in March last year. Before Bert was doing it and still had a job next to it because making money with this isn’t that easy; now I’m working on it 100 per-cent. But we’re getting more popular so we’re getting more income: from the App, from advertisers, we’ve got some teams we’re working with. If you go to the Etixx, Lotto-Jumbo NL or Giant-Alpecin team websites, for example, all the data you see there from their riders is directly from our database.
They pay for a one-year license to use that data and to have the results as well. They don’t have to do it themselves either - they wake up in the morning and they have the results published by script.
You’re the ones building the database and updating it every day. What are the difficulties of the job?
You’re working seven days a week, so you have to do something about time management.
You need understanding family and friends. At a birthday party or barbecue on a sunny day, I’ve always got my computer with me. And they know between five and seven in the evening, I’m busy as hell. But they accept it and bring me a piece of food. After it’s done, I have fun as well.
You need passion. Otherwise, it’s really impossible. You can’t say at 5 o’clock ‘ah, not today.’ Because people expect the results less than an hour after the finish. I like the pressure, I want to be the first, but that pressure to get the information as soon as possible is always there.
How does the inputting work?
I put the result into the database, then the database puts it into a cache. So if you want to see the results, it comes from the cache, so there isn’t so much pressure on the database.
What kind of mind do you need to do this job?
You need to know the riders. It’s pretty easy to add a result because the database recognises old names. So I only have to cut and paste it from the Excel sheet or PDF document I get.
But names are not always spelt right. So you have to know – hey, it’s this rider, especially if it’s a race in Malaysia or Costa Rica.
Or, for example, from Costa Rica, you have this guy called Alejandro Valverde, last in the Costa Rican championships. But every time I add the Movistar rider’s name, I see his as well. So which one do you pick?
I don’t have to be at all technical because I just work with the programme. Officially, Bert is the technical guy, I don’t know anything about scripts. I see any mistakes and say ‘this is not correct’.
You must know more about cycling than you ever wanted, from the Monument Classics to races in Costa Rica and Borneo.
I love that. I like the globalisation of cycling: I went to the Int. Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen [in Indonesia] in October, it was amazing, I never knew it was so well organised. I hope that races like that will get popular too, I know it’s not going to happen overnight. Wouldn’t it be great if an Indonesian rider or someone from Laos wins the Tour de France?
So, what is the fundamental aim of ProCyclingStats?
We’re very enthusiastic about cycling and we want to share it, and make others enthusiastic as well. Through social media and the website, you’ve got the information on demand. That’s what we want to have, one place to go for all the information you want from a cycling race, results and start lists.
There’s only two of us and we make some money to make a living, not enough yet to develop new things. A lot of people ask why we don’t have an app for Android yet, but do for iPhone. But that’s because a Belgian company found us, said they’re cycling fanatics and that they’d like to build an App for us.
For Android, it costs 20 or 30,000 Euros to develop it. Then you have to maintain it as well. Where does that money come from?
I noticed you always mention on Twitter when a new pro cyclist follows you. How many pro riders currently follow ProCyclingStats?
Someone on Twitter calculated it – talking about WorldTour teams and Pro Continental teams, it’s about 55 to 60 per cent.
Guys like Rui Costa and Fabian Cancellara – and they give us information too. I just had a chat with Philippe Gilbert because I missed some wins of his past. Those races weren’t in our database yet.
His wins total said 53, he actually has 55 or something. I missed two because we don’t have all the data from all of the past yet. In the winter, we put extra in from the past, but it takes time.
What is the busiest time of the year for you?
May, when there are many races and the Giro. You’d think the Tour de France is the busy part, but that’s practically the only race on and a lot of people go on holiday then too. We had more visitors during the Giro and Vuelta than during the Tour last year.
Are you surprised by the growth and popularity of Procyclingstats?
I think Bert is more surprised. I’m more positive about it. Last year, we had 74 million page views. So I said ‘well, 2015 must be 125 million.’ Seeing how we’re going so far, it could actually be 150 million. We’re almost double every day, compared to last year.
Would you consider selling the website for the right bid?
Oh, I’d get bored. I’m 47 - if they gave me enough money so I’d never have to work again, maybe. We’ve already had a few companies talking about it. But there’s no plans to sell it. What other job can you make money and do the sport you love?