What can I say, I am a sucker for spring classics, cobbles, frites, dark ales, mud, and pretty much consider Belgium as the epicenter of the sport. I know there are flaws in my thinking as racing is essentially a 10 month affair, with beautiful races occurring in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Lux, the Netherlands and pretty much all over the world, but it's that 6-week stretch in March and April that I enjoy the most. As such, I have always felt that from a VDS standpoint, let me be leading after Roubaix, and I'm happy. I just do not have the inclination to try and predict who will win the Ardennes or the GT's. Last year my entire team was Belgian and I finished 148th (mostly on the good fortune and legs of Philip Gilbert's magical season) and had a pretty high standing until the GT's kicked in. So, does the 1-country strategy work? Perhaps, but which country should you bank on. If my strategy was all Italian, or all French, would I fare better? (After the flip).
Let me start by saying my research is not entirely complete since I based it on the results through Lombardia and there are still points to be had, but the lion's share of the points have already been scored. End results could change, but it's a rainy day in Boston, and I have nothing else to do, so please indulge me. Using the FSA-VDS rider page and sorting by country I looked at which country scored the most points. I have ranked the countries based on what I call the VDS Adjusted Score (VAS), which takes the top 25 riders, their cost, current score but I had to make decisions in order to adhere to the VDS rules. For example with Spain, you could not have J-Rod and Contador on your team together. At 26 and 30 points respectively, you would violate the one rider over 24-point rule. But I had to make similar adjustments to other country teams, and essentially I dropped the riders who were bad deals. In other words, if I was 8 points over the 125 budget, I would have picked the highest scoring 2-pointer that missed the tp 25, and dropped a 10 pointer that was doing little. Not a perfect science, and I am aided by hindsight, but close enough. So, who came out number 1 in VAS through Lombardia?
1. Spain. The top 25 riders have scored 16,063 points to date. Of course the cost of the top 25 riders was a whopping 175 points so adjustments needed to be made. This was an easy one, since I had to drop Alberto or J-Rod, and based on the numbers I say adios Alberto, buenos dias David De La Fuente. VAS 14,603 points, rider cost 147. Spain is stacked with great riders, but if one was to go with an all Spanish team, they will be forced with a decision between Alberto and Purito, (and maybe Valverde too). Also, Oscar Freire and Juan Antonio Flecha had nice years but are getting long in the tooth. I suspect Oscaritos 2013 cost will be adjusted to better reflect a guy scoring 1,100 points. That being said an all Spanish team would be fun since they race early, late and often. Not much of a cobbled presence, but March would still be fun, and watch out for the Ardennes. As a whole, the Spanish team consists of 129 riders scoring 17,083 points with a total VDS cost of 302 points. Based on their total points scored and cost, a Spanish rider will net you 56.57 points per point points spent. Good return on investment.
2. Italy. Huge team and although their top scorer to date is Nibali who currently sits 9th overall with 1,530 the Italians have 192 riders costing 374 points who have scored a total of 19,474 points, (return on investment 52.07 points scored versus point spent). Of course you can't have 192 riders on your team and with all that depth the choices become difficult. As far as the top 25, Italy was the second of 3 teams that I had to make adjustments for since their top 25 scoring guys cost 160 points. This one was easy, Marco Marcato at 12 points (versus 345 scored) was sent packing and Fransesco Reda (1 point cost, 245 scored). The Italian team VAS 14,217 at a rider cost of 149. I would add that picking an all-Italian team would be like throwing darts at a board while blindfolded. Nibs is about the closest thing to a sure bet on their team, but guys like Scarponi, Pozzato and Ballan, had wide variances from prior years scores. Cunego is a safe bet though as long as you set your expectations at about 950 points. By comparison though the 26th ranked rider Reda is sitting at 245 points compared to the 26th Spanish rider De La Fuente who has 100 points. So for Spain the hard choice is really Alberto or J-Rod, but they are more top heavy and easier to pick than Italy which is loaded with depth. Picking the right Italian is the key. I had an all-Italian team a few years back and it was in unmitigated disaster. They all decided to have their worst years on my dime.
3. UK/Australia. Disclaimer: I realize the only thing these teams have in common is that they speak English, and I certainly do not want to start an inter-continental war of words, but UK and Australia just do not have enough riders alone to compete with Spain and Italy (or Belgium.. coming up) and based on the performances (only) they made a nice synergy. VAS 13,047 points, total of 70 riders returning 14,665 points at a total cost of 236 points with a return on investment a whopping 62.14! The top 25 came in at 14,136 at a cost of 169, so I needed to make some changes. Dropped were Mathew Hayman (8 point cost for 175 points scored), David Millar (8 for 80) and Stuey (4 for 208). Added were low cost (and low scoring) guys Sutherland, Tanner and McEvoy. Ted could probably come up with a program that might produce a better score by a few points, but on the surface this looked like a sound adjustment. Observations. Cav had an off-year but Wiggo had a season for the ages. A few dogs in there, but at a ROI of 62.14 lots of safe bets in this field.
Note: After this point I will still refer to the benchmark as VAS even though adjustments were not needed as the top 25 riders came within the budget and did not violate the (3-for)18 or (single) 24-point rider rules.
4. Belgium. Ok, now we come to the root of my flawed team strategy. Very big team (127 riders) but costly at 265 points with an ROI of a rather average of 41.05. VAS 10,203. In fairness, Phil had an off year, Leukemans was a huge disappointment and Roelandts was injured so his points are down (but that could change still). Boonen was a great value this year essentially tripling his points from 2011. The Belgium team scores early but not often after that save for Phil and JVDB. 2013 I predict will show a return of Phil G as the top rider on this team, but Boonen may not repeat his 2,007 point total this year which showed him winning everything under the sun in March and early April. He will be a marked man and will see stiff competition from Sagan and Cancellara. As your broker, I would say avoid an all-Belgian team. Of course, I probably wont heed my own advice here (I suspect the same holds true for the Waffler).
5. France, VAS 8,775. This was a bit of a surprise to me, but the French team is huge (155 riders) and relatively in-expensive (ROI of 40.71), and they have guys like Tommy V and Chav who spend a lot of time near the front of the races. Some potential here, especially seeing that their top 25 riders came in at a very cheap 98 point cost. You could parlay neighboring countries of Lux and/or Switzerland (neither team was large enough to make the list) and have a France/Schleck or France/Cance (that's catchy) strategy.
6. The Netherlands, VAS 8,218. Small team though and a very healthy ROI of 49.2 (based on 66 riders, scoring a total of 8.462 points at a cost of 172). The cost of the top 25 riders was a rather inexpensive 109 points, so you could possibly come up with an All Dutch or Rabo team (Chris, Ted). An off year for Gesink likely keeps them out of the top 5 this year.
7. North America (ok, Canada and US), VAS 8,145. Very interesting numbers here. Very small and inexpensive combined team (78 riders, cost of 143) with a second overall ROI of 57.29. Taylor Phinney and Ryder Hejsedal wont be the same bargains they were this year (or Teejay for that matter), but other than Tyler Farrar not too many bad investments here.
8. Germany, VAS 6,639. With three riders scoring over 1,200 points there is strength at the top, however only 21 riders scored points. Small team though (could be combined with a neighbor) at only 47 riders at a cost of 131 points (ROI a healthy 50.68). If you are a fan of sprinters this could be a fun team to watch.
9. Scandanavia, VAS 5,450. Small combined squads from Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Some strong performers like EBH and Kessiakoff, but at 14 point cost and only 60 points returned, Thor kills this teams ROI which comes in at a paltry 36.17.
Glaring omissions to the list are Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland, Russia, Slovakia, Columbia etc. Teams either lacked the numbers or results to be considered although a combined team "left-off-the-list" especially with Sagan, the Schlecks, Fabian and others could be fun.