Too many choices, too much on one's plate, the obsessive working and reworking of your team. Or maybe you barely even know where to start. Obviously there are better and maybe even more important things you could be doing with your time. I won't sugarcoat it though; I won't lie to you and tell you it's easy. If you want to do well in this game, it is going to take time and effort. Too much time, to be honest. But I think I can help you or at least put you on the right track. Why should you trust me? 87th percentile two years in a row, and last year, a stunning 9th place. Stunning to me, I mean. Plus I have a garden and I bake bread.
Before we start looking at riders, ask yourself one question. Do you really want to win? You do? Well you won't. There are players here that never bother to comment, but they know more about cycling than you or I ever will. They can tell you the podium of Paris-Nice every year dating back to 1946 - and how it was won or lost. They can tell you the average power output measured in watts, of Ramunas Navardouskas on a training ride in December because they know someone who knows someone on Garmin. There are people like this in the world. You can't do anything about that. Congratulate yourself on seeking, finding and maintaining a healthy and balanced perspective. Still though, a respectable showing is well within reach provided the following:
- You don't choose eight people from one country. Honestly, you can't live with three or four? You probably shouldn't have Klöden on your team either.
- By which I mean, there is no room for sentimentality. None. That beautiful boy with the dark, soulful eyes? Nope. Not if he's not cutting it. This is the bridge we all must cross, each in our own way. Winning, yes, but at what cost? No one will fault you if you turn back now and choose the beautiful boy with the dark, soulful eyes.
- You're going to need a cobbles guy. Preferably 2 or 3. If you're behind by 1000 points by the time Dwars door Vlaanderen rolls around, you're done. It's so early but it's already too late.
- And you're going to need some GT guys and sprinters. (Hint: 1-2 pointers are a nice place to pad your roster with fast men.) Rouleurs are nice to have, too. They're the multi-skill guys, all-arounders.
- When you're picking riders, keep an eye on the calendar and who is riding what. GTs count the same, so it makes sense to find out who's riding two of them. It's also good practice to have a team with representatives in as many races as possible. It makes watching the races more fun.
- You do your homework. Here's a link to help you get started. It's three years old but most of the listed links are still valid I would think. http://justcycling.myfastforum.org/JustCycling_s_New_Net_Biking_Biblioteca_about3622.html
- You hit the lottery with the 1-2 pointers. You'll want to focus on the young guys, neo-pros and find the handful that are going to pay off big. If you're a casual fan you really have no idea who they are, but if you know where to look, you'll find the same names cropping up time and time again. Here's one place. It's in German though, put together by serious lovers of cycling, but fans, just like you and me. Anyway, I love these guys whoever you are. They used to do an English version, but it's hard to blame them for bailing on that. http://www.cycling4fans.de/index.php?id=5772
- You don't submit your team early. Things happen. Bad things happen to good people every day. Illness, crashes, love affairs... Sure, it's nice to have a love affair but it will affect your life and not always for the best. It's fine to admire those who cavalierly submit their teams 20 minutes after the opening bell. It demonstrates an admirable level of panache. Or a self-destructive compulsive disorder. It's none of my business.
Next, if you're new here, some general guidelines intended to keep your relationship to the community here at Podium Cafe on solid footing. And by community I mean your competitors, almost all of whom would very happily condemn you to 600th place this very instant if they could.
- If you should ever find yourself in a high position in the FSA-DS standings - or even if you just scored a boatload of points in some race or another, go ahead and boast. If you don't, no one will ever, ever even notice your great team.
- When someone complains their riders are somehow jinxed or cursed for whatever reason, feign sympathy. This solidifies your standing in the community. People will think you're cool.
- Things do go bad and when they do, blame Ursula. That part's easy. And blame Jens while you're at it just because. And you may as well blame Chris too, although that's harder; he'll most likely be way behind you in the standings.
Moving on then to what really matters, your team. OK, but first you should have been here last year. It was beautiful. Points rained down like cherry blossoms in May except that they started in February and never stopped. Good, more than good - great riders - were low hanging fruit, there for the taking. Imagine Tom Boonen at 14 points. Clearly things have changed; this is what austerity looks like. And clearly too, a different approach is necessary. Now, more than ever, we're looking for bargains, riders with upside, riders coming off injuries, still barely affordable youngsters on the rise. That's not very solid footing so far, I know, so let's find some. Sagan. Take him.
And figure this: 15000 points will win this thing. I came up with this number because your 150 points allowance fits into 15000 exactly 100 times. Nice. That's math a 2nd grader could do and that's all the math we need.
If you took my advice you already have Sagan, but there are a few other equally reasonable alternatives. The point is that you have to have a major point haul from someone, and this year they're all up there at the top of the list. I think Degenkolb looks sweet at 26. We'd be looking for 2600 points from him. See how easy the math is? And ja, it's possible. I may go that route myself. Gilbert too, if you prefer. Or Contador. Beyond that, I just don't see it. Maybe Jrod, sure. But if you looked, I bet you'd find that lately anyway, incredible seasons just aren't repeated. I know. Jrod has had two or three in a row already but no one is getting younger. Although I still look good.
Here's what's different this year. I don't see the restricted riders, 18-22 pointers, as being much of a bargain at all and it used to be where I put all my chips. 16's either, for that matter. That makes sense because this year, with Ursula's price inflation, the ones I might have chosen are all double restricted so I can't have them. Sure, there are two or three that might be worth a shot, but the odds of them coming good are no better than the cheaper group the next tier down. And further down than that. And obviously, there's more upside down below, too. Let's take a closer look.
Rui Costa - 22 points. He'll certainly get his opportunities. He'll ride the Ardennes, where I assume he'll share leadership responsibilities with Valverde. The run-up to to the tour offers further opportunities; remember, he won the Tour de Suisse last year. The hard work he'll be doing for Valverde in the Tour won't help, but there's Canada, the Worlds and Lombardia. Points galore. I think that's a reasonable scenario.
After writing that I'm almost tempted to buy him, but I won't. Because sitting at 14 points is his more talented teammate, Nairo Quintana. It's difficult to find anything definitive, but his route to the Tour will no doubt be different than his aforementioned Movistar mates. In all likelihood, we'll see him defend his title at Murcia and continue on in other stage races including the Dauphiné. He'll have more freedom at the tour than Costa and I'm guessing he'll be Movi's leader at the Vuelta. Who they're going to throw at the Giro is anyone's guess. Cobo? Eros? It pays to keep an eye on that sort of thing but in any case, I say yes to Nairo.
A word about Henao and Uran. I think they're great. I had them both last year, and watching them together was the best thing about 2012. But I've learned in life that trying to repeat great things is foolish. Sky are very much invested in Wiggins/Froome this year and I think that's going to swallow a fair number of Uran's points. Henao is the better of the two though, and he might escape the Sky Double hoopla. Look for him to lead Sky at the Vuelta. Now that I think about it, having both Henao and Degenkolb on your team seems like an attractive option. But it's still a risk because Sky. Did anyone else notice Netflix nixed the Gary Shandling show? I was right in the middle of the 3rd season. Bastards.
Cunego, old. Evans, old. Sammy Sanchez, old, Gerrans, old, Chavanel, old. When I think of trying to put a word behind Andy Schleck, I have to laugh. All of that may come off a bit harsh, and if so, I apologize. God love ‘em, but I'm not picking them.
I'm not picking Ryder either, but Taylor Phinney. Wow. There is so much to love about Taylor Phinney, starting with his mom. I believe in his greatness. He'll have to win on the cobbles to justify his cost and this seems to be only a question of when, not if. 2014 is my guess.
Lars Boom is ready now though, and he's 4 points cheaper. He's demonstrated he can go the distance, he's in his prime, and has a quietly impressive cobbles season behind him. And reports indicate his training is going very well. What gives me pause is a healthy and ready to go, Matti Breschel and he's 10 points cheaper. That's like finding Nacer Bouhanni behind door #3.
Here's a thought that has never once entered my head: I wish I had Greg Van Avermaet on my team. He seems to be a guy whose perceived talent level surpasses his actual results.
I stay away from high-end sprinters because they don't justify their cost. Greipel's sweet spot seems to be around 1200-1300 points, and you can rely on that if it's what you want. You can rely on him to pull you out of a burning building too, but if you're in to win, he doesn't fit the picture. Remember door #3?
There are a lot of young kids down there in the 8-14 point range with plenty of upside. They're the rising stars of cycling. Moser, Pinot, Quintana, Demare... the list goes on down the page. It used to be that one could afford two or even three elite riders. This year you get one. But there are others. You just need to know where to look. Have fun and good luck and as Willj says, never regret your picks. Words to live by.