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The 2008 Final VDS Team Grades: Read 'em and Weep!

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At long last!

Late summer and fall brought some interesting team shuffling as you can see- but certainly not at the top: last time we checked, CSC was just way too far ahead to be worried about any team composed of mere humans.

So on the break you'll see the final 2008 Team Rankings followed by commentary for the 10 best late season teams. If ya want read what I said about all the teams post-Olympics go here.  Without further words...

So the table below has three rankings of the teams:

- The right hand contains the rankings up through the Swiss Tour.

- The middle rankings update through the Olympics

- The left rankings contain the whole season, thus including the Vuelta, Deutchland, Vattenfalls, GP Plouay, Worlds, Emilia, Paris-Tours, and Lombardia: a nice assortment of races if I don't say so myself.

 

Final Rankings Points Post-Olympic Rankings Points Post Swiss Rankings Points
1. CSC 9050 1. CSC 7262 1.CSC 3562
2. Columbia 6642 2. Columbia 4855 2. Liquigas 3422
3. Astana 6212 3. Rabobank 4324 3. Rabobank 3409
4. Caisse d'Epargne 5649 4. Liquigas 3952 4. Columbia/HR 3265
5. Rabobank 5014 5. Quickstep 3255 5. Quickstep 2700
6. Liquigas 4697 6. *Lotto 3215 6. Astana 2502
7. Quickstep 4601 7. Caisse d'Epargne 3229 7. Caisse d'Epargne 2309
8. *Lotto 3910 8. Astana 3017 8. Lampre 2250
9. Lampre 3820 9. Lampre 2285 9. Silence! 1980
10. Gerolsteiner 2946* 10. Gerolsteiner 2156* 10. Gerolsteiner 1791
11. Cofidis 2571 11. Eusketel 1839 11. CSF 1415
12. Euskatel 2304 12. Cofidis 1801 12. Cofidis 1241
13. AG2R 2111 13. AG2R 1746 13. Saunier DV 1095
14. Credit Agricole 1862 14. CSF 1415 14. Credit Agricole 1085
15. FdJ 1730 15. Credit Agricole 1410 15. AG2R 1035
16. Garmin 1535 16. FdJ 1295 16. Barloworld 974
17. Scott American Beef 1300^ 17. Garmin 1155 17. FdJ 900
18. CSF 1380 18. Scott Amer Beef 1145^ 18. Euskaltel 814
19. Bweeg! 1295 19. Barloworld 2490 19. Bweeg 810
20. Barloworld 1234 20. Bweeg 1045 20. LPR Brakes 630
21. Milram 1125 21. Milram 730 21. Garmin 617
22. Xacobeo Galicia 815 22. LPR 630 22. Milram 610
23. LPR 780 23. Tinkoff 505 23. Tinkoff 505
24. Tinkoff 585 24. Karpin Galicia 400 24. Karpin Galicia 400
25. Mitsubishi 540 25. SDA 385 25. SDA 385
26. Serramenti 425 26. Collstrop 270 26. Collstrop 270
27. Landbou... 340 27. Agritubel 230 27. Mitsubishi 200
28. Collstrop 285 28. Mitsubishi 200 28. Topsport 165
29. Agritubel 285 29. Topsport 165 29. ACS 150
30. Acqua & Sapone 280 30. ACS 150 30. Skil Shimano 135
31. Skil Shimano 220 31. Skil Shimano 135 31. Agritubel 95
32. Symmetrics 200 32. LT 60 32. LT 60
33. Volksbank etc. 60 33. Andalusia 10 33. Andalusia 10
34. Ceramica... 60
35. Vlad Gusev+ 60
36. Preti Mangimi 15
37. Andalusia 10

Notes:

*Gerolsteiner has a * since I've taken out Kohl's and Schumacher's points. Those points haven't been taken out in the official records yet though.

^ Similarly I deducted Piepoli's points from the Beef team even though its not official yet. BTW, Ricco's Tour points are officially wiped out.

+Vlad Gusev placed 10th in the World's ITT so he gets singular mention here since he's not on a team.

Whew! And Cincinnati- Home of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, even 8 way chili! is beating South Florida 17-7. I don't know about you but it says here that the New School of the University of South Florida is one of the most unknown top colleges in the US. But its never produced a top cyclist. Shame. Let's try to move on to the commentary.

Top 10 Late Season Teams

1. Astana- 3195

Astana at flood tide. I grew up in Maryland, spending much of my youth in Ocean City. For those that don't know, the tourist trap of OC exists on a low lying barrier island and like most of the barrier islands on the east coast of the US, it's subject to the occasional hurricane or tropical storm ripping it in half. Now that hasn't happened in OC since 62 because it's protected from many of the worst storms by Cape Hatteras sticking out into the Atlantic more: it rarely gets a direct hit. As such the town has allowed itself to overgrow to an absurd degree. A hit like it had in 62, when the storm wasn't especially big but aligned perfectly with the full moon, could inflict huge damage. Sooner or later its gonna happen.

Yes this relates to Astana in a hazy way. Between the ASO/RCS ban (remember Astana couldn't race RCS races until the Giro and Kloden was the defending champ at T-A) and injuries to Horner and whatever happened to Brajkovic, Astana had few chances to fully implement its full team. But post-Olympics, nature aligned itself as if the 62 full moon and storm nailed Ocean City. Start with the Vuelta, where Contador and Leipheimer combined for 2210 VDS points. I mean that;s crazy as I'll show further in a future post. Then you add Brajkovic sorting himself out for 590 points. Add in Navarro assisting @ Deutchland and Horner assisting @ Lombardia after finally healing up and you have a team that more than doubled its entire season's production in four races (Vuelta, Deutchland, World ITT, Lombardia).

And like the 62 storm, it could have been more if Horner had been healthy by the time of the Vuelta. Think about it: in both the Vuelta and Giro, it was Kloden who assumed the duties of Horner the super-workhorse instead of being given a freer hand and thus his overall production suffered. 

 What might not be so obvious is the late-season emergence of Janez Brajkovic. He's had a weird season; it looked like a lost season frankly. But then he scored 590 VDA points- 200 @ Deutchland (3rd place on GC) , 90 @ Worlds ITT (8th), and 300 for 2nd place @ Lombardia. He also finished 11th @ Emilia, 16th @ GP Beghelli, and 18th @ Coppa Sabatini to complete a solid late season run and set things up nicely for next year. HWMNBN of course will suck all the publicity for Astana next year but keep an eye on Brajkovic, including in the Ardennes and Giro.

2. Caisse d'Epargne- 2420

But I want more!!!!   By most standards CdE had a great finish to the season as shown here by them getting the 2nd most number of points in this time period. Geez- any time you beat CSC you're doings something right. Right? Right? Asking for more cant be right.? Well that's what I'm doing: I am looking at CdE and thinking they should be doing so much more. Ungrateful bitch I am.

Well how could they have done more? Here's the rub. This team is super talented but in my mind they make poor use of that talent. Outside of Valverde, and J-Rod, look at the seasons various major riders have had.  Look at LL Sanchez,  Rujano,  Moreno,  ArroyoJJ Rojas, even baby Uran.  Look at 'em. I'll wait.  Okay- do you see what I see? That you have a group of talented riders who most of the time are producing crappy results, often riding in the wrong races with poor preparation. Every once in a while they pop out with a great race but too much of the time they settle for a top 50 or even top 100 placing and with these guys, that's just wrong. Basically I am saying their coaching sucks. And I'm not even discussing Karpets or Pereiro.

So I look at what the team did post-Olympics...

Valverde's 727 in the Vuelta, J-Rod's 467 combined Vuelta and World ITT, and Uran's 225 (3rd place) at Lombardia stand out but that still leaves about a 1000 points for the rest of the team: Moreno's 142 points (12th place on GC) at the Vuelta, JJ Rojas finishing 5th at both GP Plouay and Vattenfalls (200 points total), Rujano's 6th on GC at Deutchland (80 points) Drujon's 11th at Paris-Tours

... and I think what if they really had a plan on how to attack Deutchland, what if they truly supported JJ Rojas in the sprints, getting him to peak for GP Plouay, Vattenfalls, and Paris-Tours, what if Uran had some real help at Lombardia like Brajkovic had. They did well in their home Grand Tour and had brain farts the rest of the fall. Its like they can't pay attention to more than one or two riders and one or two races at a time. Drives me nuts watching them. I need a shower.

3. CSC- 1788

Okay I'm clean now. And now I sing the praises of CSC, who, outside of sastre in the Vuelta went with mostly second stringers and...GAH! HERE'S ANOTHER TEAM THAT OUT STRATEGIZES CAISSE D'EPARGNE!!!! CSC here at the end of the season produced results much like CdE without Valverde: lots of talented but middling riders getting results. Unlike CdE, CSC knows how to do this through the entire season and so they win the VDS championship with ease. 

Another thing that's remarkable about CSC is that outside of laying waste to the Tour and Sastre's 3rd place in the Vuelta, they pretty quiet in the Grand Tours. But that's the thing: great teams don't waste valuable resources (riders) on chasing 20th place finishes. When they race you can expect their main riders in that race to place high in the standings. If that doesn't happen its because they are experimenting and aren't throwing all their resources into he race. (Think Giro.)

Here's another way to put it: Earning more than 100  VDS points in a season almost always means that the rider in question had at least one race where he placed very high in the standings. CSC has more riders who earned more than 100 VDS points (15) than any other team. They race to win, and they often do.

 

4. Columbia- 1787

Looking back I know I've criticized this team for its tactics. But strategy-wise this is another great team. That 1787 points earned since the Olympics (one measly point less than CSC!) is all the more remarkable given they didn't race the Vuelta AND their two top riders this year, Cavendish and Kirchen, didn't ride any VDS races during this time period. But Gerdemann and Lovkvist dominated Deutchland, Grabsch won the Worlds ITT (with Martin 7th) and they got decent results in the other VDS races to rack up this fine score.

Columbia had more riders scoring VDS points than any other team- even beating CSC 23-22. They out-teamed CSC. They know how to spread the wealth around.

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To my mind, I just wrote about the four best teams of the year. All the rest are at least a cut below and its no coincidence that the best four teams also had the best records at the end of the season as they have deeper benches and know how to use them (even CdE) at the time of the year when everybody is tired. No disrespect to the cobbles but its easy to get up for them at the beginning of the year then do squat after April. Peaking a whole team for one or two months is relatively simple and its much harder to strategically plan for a 8, 9 even 10 month season, which is what these teams above have done. Notice that 5th ranked Rabobank is not even in this commentary of the 10 best late season teams, even with Gesink's late season efforts. [sarcasm]Great DS they have there.[/sarcasm]

5. Lampre- 1535

The Damiano and Alessandro Show! Guest starring Marzio!

Seriously, Lampre this year has been all about Cunego (1395 points) and Ballan (1335) with an able assist from Mr. all three Grand Tours Bruseghin (630). Together they account for 88% of Lampre's points and for the close of the year 95% (1465 of 1535).  Now if they only had a sprinter with two eyebrows they'd be aces. Again seriously, if only they put together some good support for these three... actually make a team.

6. Quickstep- 1346

Yeah I'm surprised too that they score so high in these end of season races. Let's see why: 

-Boonen (274), Bettini (184), and Garate (129) all scored nicely in the Vuelta.

- Visconti scored (250) at Lombardia.

-Plus you have new signee Alan Davis, who I read is a Quickstepper since September 1st making his 3rd place at Vattenfall (100) count, if not his 4th place at GP Plouay 19 days earlier.

What this means to me is that, how boring they are as a team after Paris-Roubaix, especially if the road has a hill on it*) they are interesting in that they are probably having the biggest makeover of riders who actually are counted on to score VDS points (win races) than any of these other big teams. (Milram, etc. I am not counting here.)

Let's see: of the five riders I mentioned above, four of them are either on their way out or are just arriving (Bettini, Visconti, and Garate out, Davis in). Add in Gertrude Steegmans, Carrara, and A Efimkin out you have 1594 VDS points leaving the team (35% of the year's total) while you have Davis, Sly Chavanel, Cornu, Pineau, and Velo reporting for duty (1236 points). It will be interesting to see how the new chemistry works out. One thing to note: Cornu, and Velo, domestiques extraordinare, earn no VDS points as they bury themselves for their masters, leaders. Maybe such a definition between aristocrats and plebeians will help the team. Or not. Anyways that's what I'll be looking at next year.

7. Gerolsteiner- 790

Okay. we just crossed the cycling equivalent of The Mendoza Line. Or, to use another baseball analogy, Quickstep is Mr. May and we are talking about teams that are worse than Mr. May in late summer and fall. Not good.

Its not that Gerolsteiner scored 516 points less than Quickstep since the Olympics, it's that Gerolsteiner scored 516 points less than Quickstep since the Olympics.

In other words, outside of Tin Tin, they suck.

How much do they suck? Well the best of the rest are now at Milram and yesterday Milram announced its 09 lineup noting specifically that the team will be led by two Columbia ex-pats.

8. Cofidis- 770

See what I mean. We are now getting to teams that are either folding completely or are downsizing to the equivalent of those little Shriner cars you see in parades.

9. Liquigas- 745

WTF???? Why is Liquigas here? If you look back at the table above, you'll see Liquigas is a team that has continually dropped in the standings from the spring to the summer to the fall. You can see that as a result of no Di Luca and if you are a fan of theirs you hope that Basso can return them to late season relevance.

But still, what with Emilia and Lombardia, not to mention several other good fall races that Americans never get to see on the slate, you'd think Liquigas would have some, er, gas in the tank for end of season campaigning in front of the home crowd. But no!

- At Lombardia their best finisher was ancient Andrea Doria  Noe, 17th place.

- At Emilia (won by Killer) their highest finish was Nibali, 25th place

- At mid-week GP Beghelli, Carlstrom, a pert 27th place

- The day before Emilia, the less prestigious Coppa Sabatini, saw Pozzato finish 2nd. Why did he race there and not Emilia? 

I must now apologize to dumber-than-dirt Caisse d'Epargne. At least they know how to put on a show for the old folks at home. Liquigas is a team directed by zombies. Sheesh.

10. *Lotto- 695

Well *Lotto gets a pass for falling below the Quickstep line since Evans was not in great form (and he normally scores well at the end of the season). After all,  they usually come after Quickstep in every other race...

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There you have it. The complete team scores for the year. Next week I'm gonna re-jigger the table to show what the teams would have scored with all the transferred riders on their new teams.