As the World's most beautiful stage race humps along, through rain, hail, and towards the snow, so too does the progress of the World's Awesomest Cycling Fantasy-like Competition, the FSA Directeur Sportif!
What's At Stake? Let's break this down a bit, separating the expected from the unexpected. And if in the process I get to talk about what's coming in the Giro? Well, nobody will be harmed.
Regarding the guys expected to do something in the Giro, none of the top-ten scoring riders are presently participating at the Giro d'Italia... but that has more to do with the fact that points have largely been given out to riders who would never do much at the Giro. A better way of looking at expectations for the competition is that nine of the top thirty most expensive riders (18 points and up) are at the Giro, but of those nine, Kittel, J-Rod and Dan Martin have all gone home, the latter two in vastly reduced condition. It barely needs to be said that these two injuries have already killed the chances of about 100 teams. Kittel's departure was also tremendously disappointing to his owners, since he looked like the hands-down top sprinter in the race and an easy maglia rosso passione winner if he stuck it out til Trieste. Not that he was planning to do so, but even a return to Italy would have at least meant two or three more stage wins, worth 80 points a pop to your team. Given his Tour stature you perhaps don't want the guy to finish the Giro, but another week would have paid dividends. Assuming he didn't get stuck in some horrible crash. So yeah, consider yourself lucky.
Among the six expensive guys remaining, strike Edvald Boasson Hagen from the list of big scorers, though without a strong GC guy he could go chasing stages. That leaves five big names in pursuit of major results: Don Nairo, Ulissi, Majka, Dani Moreno and Scarponi. Um, well, it did, until Moreno and Scarponi tossed away the better part of an hour each. That leaves Ulissi, at more than six minutes down, and Quintana similarly on the outside looking in (for now), and only Majka truly paying off.
This is a pretty BFD, because when you spend 20 or 30 points, you really really need good value in return. And if your guy is riding the Giro, you can count on him to be worthless for at least the next month, though of course the Giro-Vuelta double, in theory, is the motherlode. Easier said than done, but that's what the maths tell me.
Quintana and Majka are peas in a pod: they are 1-3 in the young rider comp, worth a steady drip of points, and both are looking to make moves up the GC in the major mountains. With Majka, it's semi-critical, since he hasn't done much yet and needs to make those 18 points pay off. With Quintana, well, you spent a whopping 30 on the guy, but if he podiums at the Giro and stomps the field in the Vuelta, I guess that works. Movistar will have a very different posture come September. Still, the 30 point investment was all about the Double, and for a team to win with having spent those points, they need Quintana to come as close to winning both as possible. With stages and secondary jerseys to boot.
Regarding Ulissi, his performance is raising questions about whether he can mount his first successful general classification campaign at a grand tour. But you picked him more for stage wins, which he's delivering, and late-season classics, which we'll get to in September. If he cracks the top five in GC, that's at least 300 points worth of gravy. If he comes back to win the KOM jersey (he's second now), more gravy. TBD...
The Giro is perhaps the most fertile ground in the world for scoring unexpected FSA DS points, if only because the race attracts a peloton all its own, not on loan from Le Tour, and the collection of potential winners is hard to predict.
One who stands out, for a number of reasons, is current maglia rosa Rigoberto Uran, the rare straniero who has made little secret of his Giro ambitions, and looks primed to capitalize on them. At a mere 12 points, an overall win would present a massive payoff for his owners, whereby he would probably double his point total from last season. He scored 685 points last year, and he's up to 158 now, a total that rises by 20 points for each day in pink, and will eventually include stage points plus up to 600 for final GC standings, meaning his score will go north of 1000 pretty quickly. If he wins.
Wilco Kelderman, a ten-pointer, is in fifth overall, a nice surprise considering his 17th place last year -- though not unexpected for his age. Should he continue leaping and bounding, he's a rare Dutch progeny who is actually worth his Cafe-inflated price. Ahead of him, in addition to Majka in third, are a pair of slightly more expensive and interesting riders, Cadel Evans (14 pts) and Domenico Pozzovivo (12). Sitting second and fourth overall, both bring their share of potential and concerns. Well, Evans does anyway, given his age and lesser status as a pure climber, the one trait people will need most in the coming nine days. Pozzovivo, meanwhile, is on fire and may be closing in on that elusive breakthrough Giro effort... but at age 32 it's fair to take a wait-and-see approach on that. But Pozzovivo has racked up 585 points already this season, after a solid spring, and Evans is only 10 points back for the season, after edging Pozzo for the Trentino win and holding pink for a spell. In other words, of all the top interlopers on GC right now, these two have nearly paid their bill for the year, while the rest had damn well better do something.
Two other riders have paid all of their bills in Italy: Michael Matthews and Nacer Bouhanni. The former, an 8-pointer, is 50% over his 2013 score... though it's not clear where his next packet of points may be. Bouhanni, meanwhile, is up to 752 points for the year, already enough to bump him up from the 12 he cost his owners, and he is by no means done. Bouhanni seems set on returning to France with the sprinters' jersey, and need only keep tabs on Giacomo Nizzolo and the daily time cut to do so. [Nizzolo, at 8 points, hasn't actually scored much, but he's a mere 25 points back of Bouhanni, half a stage-winner's daily haul, so if he can somehow get past the Frenchman, he'll quickly pay back anyone who had faith in him.]
Special note to the owners of Elia Viviani, who are contemplating self-mutilation as this column goes on. Remember, much of his 14-point value came last year after the Giro. All hope is not lost. A lot of it is, but not all of it.
Gli Bonus Babes [Ragazzi delle Indennite?]
Easily the happiest people out there so far are those who filled out the bottom of their roster with Julian Arredondo, the Trek 2-pointer who has already nabbed 385 points on the season, 95 of which have come at the Giro. Another 60 points awaits him if he holds the KOM jersey, plus 10 more for every day in blue, putting him well past 500 on the season... a brilliant return on that minimal investment. Stefano Pirazzi is still a donut, and no doubt the 31 teams who chose him had this competition in mind. So there's the flip side.
Oh, big props to Anaheim Dreamers, the only team to spend a point on Marco Canola. He's up to 140 on the season, meaning he'd already chucked his donut before today's lovely win. Similar props to the eight teams in on Pieter Weening... at eight points. Well, your donut has been eaten at least.
Be Well, Fabian Wegmann
This isn't an FSA DS note, but I didn't have anyplace else to put it. Among the nasty injuries sustained at the Giro, it's hard to believe one this year has been worse than Wegmann's complete hamstring tear. Just typing it makes me cringe, but a bit more investigation by me (and all of the lack of credibility that statement implies) suggests that such complete tears can take a full year to heal. Even when it does heal, it's severe enough to make you wonder what it'll take to get all of his power back. I'm not saying he's done, but I am saying, at 34, he has a long road back. This is a brutal sport, and it's hard to watch a reputedly solid teammate and classics climber like Wegmann go down this way. Heal up fast Fabian, and come back soon.