So, your classics squad is totally set by now, right? No? You're going to keep obsessing over the results in Oman until the deadline to see if you can figure out who is going to be really hot versus only kinda good and who is going to tango with the pavement before Het Nieuwsblad? Okay, I understand.
But, unless you plan on picking up the top 15 places in every race between now and the middle of April, you need to think more broadly. Besides, just think about all those delectable points on offer in stage races, the Ardennes, Lombardia, San Sebastian, and more! So, I take you through five of my favorite climbers and stage racers to give you some advice that will surely come back and haunt me in the final VDS standings.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha, Spain)
The epitome of the pure climber, J-Rod does nothing good but go uphill. He is pint sized, explosive, and dogged in his attacks. He has also been one of the most consistent VDS performers in the past several years. He was the third highest points scorer in 2011 and the second highest in 2010.
Pros: Consistency. For years, J-Rod lacked big, headlining victories but was on innumerable podiums. Then he got even better. J-Rod pulls points all season long in Classics, Grand Tours, smaller stage races - you name it, if it has a hill, he's scored there. To illustrate, lets look at last year: his first win was a stage of the Tour of Basque Country in April, he nabbed second in both Amstel and Fleche Wallone, finished 3rd overall at the Giro, won two stages at the Dauphine along with the points and KOM competitions, took a short break in mid summer, and came back with a vengence to win the overall and a stage at the Vuelta a Burgos and two stages at the Vuelta. Phew! Also, that is a typical season.
Also, nobody likes the 2012 Vuelta route as much as Purito. Except maybe Contador, but that's for another reason.
Cons: Value. If he has a similar season, he will be produce 85-95 points per salary unit. That's pretty good. But, he is unlikely to exceed expectations and produce "extra" points. He's a good foundation for a team, but that means everyone and their mother will have him.
Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky / Colombia)
Uran is exploding in a big way. 240 points in 2010, 887 in 2011. He's climbing through the elite echelons of the sport like a scalded cat. He's leading the next wave of Colombian domination of any and all mountain stages in races.
Pros: Uran is one of the big promises in the youthful generation of the sport. He is 25 years old and has been getting better and better since his first pro season in 2006. All indications point to him maturing in a big way over the next few seasons. He was 5th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year, was leading the best young rider's competition in the Tour de France until he got sick with a few days to go, and notched top-5 finishes at the GP Quebec, the Giro dell'Emilia, and the Volta a Catalunya. He's pulled off results of this caliber since 2006, but he's doing so much more consistently now.
Cons: Low value. If he merely replicates his 2011 season, Uran will only net an efficiency ratio of 74 points per salary unit. If you compare that to many of the other riders at the top of the sport, that's low. Evidently the pricing gods expect him to get as good as I think he will. Also, he'll have competition for Wiggins for leadership in a number of races. Hopefully they can divide and conquer outside of July, where Uran will be sheparding Wiggins up the mountains.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto - Belisol / Belgium)
6 points! 6 points! This from a dude who looked like he was totally going to place in the top 5 of the Tour last year before his hopes literally came crashing down.
Pros: He's Belgian, but he doesn't ride the cobbles! But seriously, VDB is one of the big names poised to make the biggest jump in his points-earned column in 2012. If he performs up to expectations in the Tour alone, he will have almost 400 points to his name. And he tore up the Dauphine last year.
Cons: All the unknowns. If you pick up VDB, it will be because you think he has made enough progress in the last two years to truly ratchet up his performance. He scored 455 and 450 points in 2010 and 2011, but the second data point is a huge question mark. Many people would say he was a level above his 2010 form, but we don't know for sure. Also? The dude is hardly seen after July. All that talent being put out in the pasture until spring, such a shame.
Frank Schleck (Radioshack - Nissan Trek / Luxembourg)
Andy's older brother, or, the Schleck brother who doesn't daydream about ponies until the Tour. He's got class - he finished on the third step of the podium at last year's Tour and would stand a very good chance at winning the Giro this year if he targeted it. He goes uphill fast enough to finish in the top 5 of the Ardennes and almost any Grand Tour he gets to play leader for if he's on form.
Pros: Unlike Andy (and I do like Andy, I'm just not as enamored as I once was), Frank races his bike all year long. Or, longer than Andy does, at least. As a result, he pulls in more VDS points - about 300 more last year, and they are the same price this year! Additional bonus? Mean Uncle Johan might split them up this year (hopefully) and send Frank to the Giro. Cross your fingers, people.
Cons: He may be surgically attached to Andy come Tour time, keeping either of them from jumping away to a stage win and up the GC. Also, Andy is cuter. And Frank crashes a lot.
Also, it's Andy's turn to win the Luxembourg national title in the road race, so that's -100 points for Frank.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas - Cannondale / Italy)
Say hello to the darling of Italian cycling!* Who doesn't love the grin sexy Ivan gets when he starts going hard? And those massage videos, oh those massage videos... (you're welcome, Gav)
So, why else should you give signore Ivan a look this VDS season?
Pros: He's cheap! Seriously, at 10 points this dude is a steal. Why? Because he is going to win the Giro. Last year he only achieved 80 points per salary unit, but that's also because he bypassed the Giro in favor of the tour, where he finished 8th. Do you know how many more points are on tap for winning? Hell, I bet Ivan makes almost 800 points out of the Giro alone.
Cons: Cons? What are you talking about? I guess you could choose to abstain because he has a tainted past, but I forgave Ivan for that long ago and think he's totally clean now. And if you lack a Y chromosone, you probably did too.
*Moms who are fans of cycling, that is.
Uran and Schleck photos by Michael Steele (Getty Images Sport); Basso photo by Bryn Lennon (Getty Images Sport)