Until two years ago, I knew almost nothing about women's cycling. And okay, compared to Sarah and some other regulars on here, I still know almost nothing. But once I got involved, I discovered that the racing is excellent. More and more race video (albeit still rarely live) is available each year. Just as men's VDS encouraged me to learn a lot more about the peloton, and made the experience of watching racing that much richer, I found that cobbling together (mmmmm.... cobbles) a first women's VDS team was a great way to get invested in following the races and riders.
I'm guessing that there are some of you out there in the same position as I was two years ago. I'll assume that you follow men's cycling and that you already play the men's FSA-DS game. You'd like to put in a women's team too, but you know little about the riders and races beyond Marianne and a handful of big names and events.
I won't be tipping any riders here, and I won't talk about team strategy. My aim instead is to provide a jump-start on where to find the information that you need to make your own decisions. This will be a VDS-oriented overview of the women's sport, with some resources and links that you can delve into as much as you wish. However little time you may have to spend on this, do just go for it with that first team - it's the best way to get involved and enjoy the excitement of the racing.
A sensible place to start is the race calendar. You can get a feel for the structure of the season from the color coding in this spreadsheet, or download the identical pdf snapshot if you prefer. Major one-day races are blue, stage races are green. The mauve bars on the right side show the total VDS points awarded to the race.
The spring classics season of cobbles and hills runs from Omloop through to May, with a few stage races interspersed in later spring. June, July and August are the big months for stage racing. Then we return to one-day racing for the fall classics and finally the World Championships, this year on a hilly course in Florence. I haven't shown the national championships on this calendar - women's VDS scores them just like the men's game.
Since there is not much rider history in the women's VDS database, you may want to consult Cycling Quotient when designing your team. To help make sense of that, the spreadsheet also shows the total CQ points awarded to each race, determined by UCI race category. Whereas for men's racing total annual CQ points and VDS points are about the same, for the women the CQ points average only about 40% of VDS points. Very roughly, if you are looking at a rider's season-long performance in earlier years that are not in the VDS database, all you need to know is that if a rider scored (say) 400 CQ points in 2010, she would have scored about 1000 VDS points in that year.
The women's equivalents to the Monuments are the 7 World Cup races (darker blue "CDM"). The World Cup is also an overall series competition (guess who won last year?), but the overall competition has no impact on VDS. All World Cup races score heavily and equally, like the men's Monuments. RVV is the most prestigious and competitive, whereas the Chongming field is weaker because not everyone makes the trip to China.
1. Ronde van Drenthe = cobbles & hellingen
2. Trofeo Alfredo Binda = climber's circuit
3. Ronde van Vlaanderen
4. Fleche Wallonne
5. Chongming Island = a trip to China, preceded by a short stage race to make the trip worthwhile; all 3 editions have ended in a sprint
6. Open de Suède Vårgårda = circuit with moderate climb, often won by strong all-rounder sprinting from a small group
Only two races are now scored at VDS Cat 1 "Grand Tour" level. Giro Donne lasts 10 days from the end of June to early July, and is an abbreviated but full-featured version of the men's GT. Thüringen Rundfahrt runs for a week in late July, and is a unique race on rolling courses, often won by a strong all-rounder with a decent sprint. A great introduction is Sarah's 2012 preview.
The Route de France has been downgraded to VDS Cat.3 for 2013, and becomes part of an extensive calendar of 18 Cat 3 stage races, most of which last 3-6 days. The quality of fields for these races is highly variable, and there are sometimes easy scoring opportunities for lesser riders.
When beginning to delve into a universe of riders who were largely unknown to me, I found that a good way to start was to go through each major team's roster in turn. (See also the rider list spreadsheet below that can be sorted and filtered by team.) The team spreadsheet above contains links to team websites - well worth browsing, there are usually decent rider bios, often short video clips and interviews, so you can get a good feel for the style of the team - and critical factors such as whether you like the color of their kit. Also, other things being equal, I'll favor a rider with an active blog or twitter feed.
The CQ transfer overview is a useful resource. Roster stability is sometimes good, but don't be too worried about the huge rate of roster turnover in many teams, that's just the usual way of things in women's cycling.
UCI team rankings are shown on the spreadsheet, sourced from here (select "Women Elite", "UCI Ranking", "Team"). A CN story here attempts to explain the arcane details of why the rankings matter. The most important thing is that the top 20 teams receive automatic invites to high-scoring World Cup races. But they don't all have the resources to go.
Given the limited budgets for most women's teams, for VDS purposes it's important to know how many races your rider is likely to start. Therefore, I downloaded CQ results for 2012, and looked at each trade team's participation in VDS races. I then weighted this by the number of VDS points available at each race. For example, Rabobank's 72% means that in 2012 they were on the start line for races that accounted for 72% of the total VDS points available for the year. Of course, not every rider is selected for every race, not every race is suited to every rider, some riders are domestiques, etc., but this gives a first indication of whether a rider is on a good team for VDS scoring purposes. The planned 2013 calendars for at least three teams show that they intend to go to a lot more races in 2013. But I'm not doing all of your homework for you; it's not hard to figure this out from team websites.
I've grouped the UCI-registered teams into several "Tiers", based on race participation rates. Tier 1 all raced about 70% of the VDS points-weighted calendar in 2012. Tier 2 teams raced 50-60%, Tier 3 about 40%. I put the new teams into Tier 3 for now. New teams Wiggle-Honda (Gilmore, Bronzini) and Cyclelive Plus-Zannata (Verbeke) have some high profile riders, but they haven't yet posted any information that I can find about their planned calendars. Polaris is a new develoment team without headline names, but it does aspire to ride 72% of the VDS calendar in 2013, if invitations and budget allow.
Bear in mind an important point that doesn't come up in men's racing. It's common for women to ride additional races for some active national teams. For example, US teams Optum and Exergy did not start any European races as trade teams. But their rosters inlcude some high scoring American and Canadian riders who rode the European circuit for USA or CAN national teams. NED, ITA & RUS also have active national teams, filling in calendar gaps especially for young riders on less well funded teams. I believe that funding for the AUS national team has now been cut, but this will not affect the established Australians with Orica or other major trade teams.
I'd suggest just starting at Tier 1 and working your way down as time permits. There are of course hidden gems in lesser teams, but you'll have to work a lot harder to find them. If you really get into it, you may find some good 1- or 2-pointers in the better development-oriented UCI teams that you can identify based on a good race participation percentage but a low roster point value. There's also Emma Pooley's non-UCI team Bigla, and the non-UCI Vanderkitten team that's popular on PdC, but you'll need to do your homework on how many VDS-scoring races they are likely to start.
I cut this rider list down to a manageable size by including riders on UCI teams that I've rated Tier 3 or higher, plus the big US teams, plus any other riders that cost more than 1 point in 2012 or 2011, plus any riders that have scored significant VDS or CQ points recently. No doubt one or two hidden gems are missing, in which case I've missed them too, but this is better than trying to look through 1,000 names.
The columns should be self-explanatory. Remember that when you are looking at CQ scoring history, CQ points for women are roughly 40% of VDS points.
You will notice that although the VDS points for individual women's races are on the same scales as for men, and the calendar is smaller, the super-elite women are priced much higher than the men. That's because the field of elite racers is smaller, and the top scoring women are all-rounders, so they do tend to show up in the finale of a large proportion of races and score very heavily. 5000 VDS points is within reach for a few mortals, and 7000 or more for the goddess Marianne. Whether it's a good bet that she will achieve that in 2013... you will have to judge for yourself.
http://velofocus.com/ A good site for brief news, information, race previews etc. The "teams" section contains links to virtually every rider's blog and twitter feed that's out there.
http://cyclismefeminin.over-blog.com/ Gwéna's blog
http://www.procyclingwomen.com/ Dormant, but some interesting historical stuf
The PdC archive. If you search back using major race names, the awesome PdC experts will
usually always have provided an extensive preview, live thread, review and/or video highlights. Olympics and World Champs I hope you remember. Here are some links to World Cup classics and the major stage races.
Exergy - and many more
Good luck with your team.