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Its VDS Eve! Start Shopping!

First, read Chris' post right below mine. Done that? Follow along...

Can you feel it? The magic in the air? With the deadline for entering the VDS competition only four three days away, can't you feel the frantic last minute fretting in the air? The hand-wringing, the second guessing? Maybe you're one of those who can't decide between Fabian Cancellara and 25 maids a milking one pointers? If so you're not alone! You're in luck too! I'm here to help soothe your furrowed brows, your irritated bowels, your tension headaches, your wild mood swings. Below I'll lay out some basic rules of thumb to guide you closer to the team of your dreams.

Rule #1- Don't listen to what a team says. Almost everything a team says about their riders at this time of year is pure smoke that's meant to be blown up you know where. Ignore it. And when I say “team” I mean everyone associated with that team, especially the DS and the riders. Look, this is the time of the year when practically the whole season has yet to be ridden and everyone has hopes of doing better than ever.  In late winter the teams will spew the most outlandish predictions for their riders, all of whom make up the Best. Team. Ever. And now that the first races have been completed they'll say they lost because they are just training and/or the opposition killed them because those guys are peaking for this part of the year we we aren't. When you start reading such drivel its best to put down the computer and pour yourself a large beer. Seriously. It will be a much better use of your time.

Actually I will qualify this Ignore Rule by noting that if you read that a specific rider is racing a specific set of races, then bookmark it. But be careful! You will read things like, “Valverde is REALLY targeting the Tour this year” (ahem...), or Lance is racing practically every big race from now until the Tour without noting what exactly he's racing. Ignore those useless pieces of information. You need specifics, woman!

But what do you do if you can't rely on what the riders and DS's say? Several things:

Rule #2- Look at histories. The majority of riders, especially the more expensive ones, get into a groove. They ride the same set of races each year. This is important to note for several reasons. First, and most obvious, you can see how they did in several previous years and thus get a rough estimate on if they can get the same results this year, or was last year an aberration. For instance, Tom Boonen will race the same races this year as he has for most of the last several years. (Last year's cocaine bust being the exception.)

Riders like to repeat themselves if they feel they've been successful and if their DS likes how they race certain races. IMO they follow this rule too closely but what can you do. That fact brings up the next rule which is on the flip.

Rule #3- Because the season is so long, riders usually try to peak two or even three times.  As an aside, this is one of the things I like most about Pro Cycling. Most other sports have a season ending Championship, which means that during the regular season the plaers more or less coast. That's not the case with Cycling where the riders and their teams choose which races are the Big Races for that given rider.So all races have some riders (at least) who think of that races as the biggest race of the year. Cool.

The rest of the time they are either resting (not racing) or if they do race they aren't trying for results- which is for all intents and purposes for your VDS team like not racing. Why this is important is that it basically does away with the. “So-and-so is peaking now so we can discount his results” line. The poster boy example is of course Levi Leipheimer, the now three time winner of California. Now if you look at his history you will see that doing well in February does not affect the number of VDS points that he'll pick up later in the year. Why? Because he has two or three peak races that he targets. He's experienced enough to know how long he can peak and plan accordingly. Thus don't think his California win takes away from his point haul later in the summer.

Another, simpler example is LL “Lulu” Sanchez. Because he's a good but not great rider in the eyes of the Caisse d'Epargne management, he has one major season- now. He starts at the Tour Down Under, lays low for a bit, then gets another peak at Paris-Nice, finishing with the Criterium International. After C.I. he becomes a domestique and any points he gets are gravy. He'll ride the Tour for others and basically shut down for the year after that. Look him up and you'll see that pattern.

Of course there are complications to this rule and they happen a) when a rider changes teams, and b) when a new young rider breaks onto the scene. What do you do in those cases?

Rule #4- For transferring riders you look to see how they are handled by their new team now, in the preseason.
This rule is complicated and if you don't want to deal with the complications here, DON”T PICK ANY TRANSFERRED RIDERS! Seriously- you can make a great team without them. If you are one of those skip this section and move to rule #5...

Okay. You still here? Good. With most of these guys you can already see if they are being handled differently by their new team and that goes for the stars and the yanagans (domestiques). A simple example is Carlos Sastre. His M.O. Is to race only a few stage races a year, target two Grand Tour races leaving the other stage races to be strictly for training purposes (i.e. not VDS points).  So far that's exactly what we've seen from the guy, meaning that Cervelo is handling him just like CSC did. You can lay huge amounts of Elvisgoat's cash that Sastre will ride the Dauphine in June and suck at it because he'll be just riding for training purposes. So the main question of how many VDS points to expect out of him is to judge how good is his support from his new team as opposed to his old one. (Hint: he doesn't have the support that he got last year in the Tour but he does have the support that he got in the Vuelta. In other words he's mainly (but not completely) on his own.

Sticking with Cervelo, you will (or should) note how their sprinter teams have done this year, specifically at Qatar and California against top notch opposition. Do that and you'll eventually note (from looking at some of the individuals who make up the Cervelo sprinter teams, that practically all of them don't specialize so much in stage sprinting, but in cobbled Classics. At this point your eyebrow (either one, but only one, as you are pretending to be a Vulcan) should be raised. So you do more research not only on Hushovd but Hammond, Klier, Haussler, etc. Hmm. Interesting. This should be quite a good cobbles team.

What you are looking for is if the new team will be a better or worse fit for the transferred rider. You don't want to take Popovych when he transfers to *Lotto, but you would look more kindly on him now that he's transferring back (sort of) to Astana.

Very young riders present their own complications, which even more than transfers you need to make a conscious decision on weather to take to the time to find the diamonds in the rough. Most of you won't, and again that's okay. Just remember though if you are tempted to pick a young rider based on something a team member or DS said about them remember Rule #1: Don't be a sucker.

Rule #5, the Mr. Van P Memorial Rule- Don't load up on cobbles riders. The cobbles races are possibly THE most exciting races of the year. True. What's also true is that most of the cobbles riders do little the rest of the year, the main exceptions being the expensive ones, Boonen and Cancellara. Given that way more VDS points are awarded to non-cobbles races you need most of your riders to be competitive after mid-April. This doesn't mean you should shun Nuyens, Van Avermaet, Chavanel, \o/, etc. They give decent amounts of points. Just don't put all your eggs in that basket.

Rule #6- Otherwise don't worry about the type of rider you pick.  It's not true that you need a spread of sprinters, mountain goats, time trial specialists, hilly classic riders, and Grand Tour specialists. If your team bends toward one or two of these specializations, you will do fine, mainly because these different groups of riders overlap each other. In picking a rider you want to know one thing: the rider in question will deliver you points at a particular (set of) race(s). This is especially important with aging 8,6,4, and 2 point riders. Where are they gonna deliver for you? If they are a sprinter, which races will they pick up points? Considering a goat? Which mountains will they come through? I'll get more into that a bit later.

Rule #7- Make sure the rider's team is invited to races.  We'll call this the Killer Rule as Di Luca once again won't be riding in several races that he could win because his team isn't invited. Mostly we are talking about non-Pro Tour teams here. If you pick a non PT rider make sure he'll be riding in the races you think he'll score in. Definitely there are great non PT riders out there. Just be careful.


Now I'm gonna change gears for the rest of this post and give a stock market evaluation of various riders to explain how some of these rules work. I'll list a couple riders and say, “buy”, “hold”, or “sell” depending on how I think they'll perform this year for VDS purposes and then explain my thinking. But before I start let me say how I'm evaluating them. Majope in her posts came upon a useful yardstick: If you hope to have one of the best VDS teams this year, meaning at least 10,000 VDS points earned, they will need to average at least 67 points earned for every, one of the 150 points you have to spend. Get it? 150 x 67 = 10,050 points. That's the rule I am looking for here: I want to think that all of my riders have a good chance to earn 67 points fer every point they cost. Thus if I want to pick Mark Cavendish, I want to feel reasonably good that he'll earn me at least 67 points x the 20 points that he costs or 1340 points. Are we clear? If not, please say so below in the comments and I'll clear things up for you. To me VDS is not so much a competition but a mutual appreciation exercise of the sport we have in common.  To the riders!

Mark Cavendish- Hold (1340 points)
Thor Hushovd- Hold (1072)
Tom Boonen-  Sell (1340)
Oscar Freire Hold (1206)
Daniele Bennati Buy (1206)

These are the elite sprinter types going today. They are also the most expensive sprinter types going today.

Cavendish- I have a Hold on him because while I do think he could make his target of 1340 points , he won;t greatly exceed it.  His problem is hills, so can he find enough courses where they aren't a factor? Let's look. Last year he scored 922 points so I start with that number and those races as given, and look to other races that he might score. The two most likely are a) Gent-Wevelegem with a winners purse of 250 points, and the Green Jersey competition at the Tour, worth 120 plus a few more days as the points leader at the Tour, say 60 points. That brings his total to 1352, just over his 20 point cost threshold of 1340.  He could do more but everything else is a little less likely: more stage wins in the Tour, a place in MSR, maybe a prologue win somewhere. Basically until he learns to negotiate hills better he's limited in the races he can score in- unlike all the other top sprinters.

First though he needs to master winning wide open Classics races. Winning a stage in a stage race is easier than winning a Classic like Gent-Wevelgem. Why? Because in a Classic all of the riders are geared towards winning that particular race (either by winning outright or by supporting a team member) while in a stage race at least half the field aren't interested in sprint finishes as they are more interested in the GC and/or KOM contests. Cavendish is still inexperienced in Classics racing. I'm sure he'll become great but he still has a learning curve. So, bottom line for Cav is that I think he'll meet his goal of 1340 points but not by much and so I have a Hold on him.

Hushovd and Freire also have Holds as I think they'll make their targets but not by much. Freire will heal up and in his own unique way will find points. I'm a little nervous because of his age though. I also wish he'd win a points jersey at the Vuelta but he says he'll chase another World Championship- which with that course he won't get. Tsk.

Hushovd I'm very tempted to put a buy on because I really like the support he has for the Classics races, particularly Paris-Roubaix. Right now he's my dark horse pick for that race and if he does pull that off- or MSR- he will easily go over his VDS target of 1072.

Benna? Besides being cute as the dickens, with his health issues behind him he'll be over 1300, easy, IMO. He's a big reason why I don't have Cavendish automatically winning more Tour stages.

That leaves big Tom Boonen. The Tornado is very predictable in his race schedule and unfortunately also predictable that his scoring will not go up from last year. To do better he'd have to really hit the Classics hard and he hasn't done that for what three years now. Oh I expect him to win a Monument, maybe two, but because he's no longer The Sprinter I don't favor him for the Tour green jersey, and so his score will get limited in sort of the opposite way Cavendish's score has a ceiling. He needs 1340 points to hit his target but I don't see it happening. He'll get over 1000, probably 1150-1200, but that doesn't make him cost effective.

I could be wrong: if he wins Het Bad News because he left California a day early to recover for jet lag than my assessment will be wrong because he's taking a more serious 'tude. Perhaps Cavendish beating him twice in California and two more times in Qatar has pissed him off and he goes back to the 2006 Boonen. But perhaps he left California because he just didn't feel like schlepping over Mt Palomar. We'll know in a week, but I'm predicting more complacency. Great guy, just not hungry.

Kim Kirchen- Sell (1206)
Mick Rogers- Buy (670)

Rarely do you see such symmetry. Columbia has three riders who are good for hilly classics and GC Grand Tours (sort of) and its these two guys plus Lovkvist. Rogers has been hurt the last couple of years but he's fine now. That alone should, based on his history, make him good for 670 points. But now with Kirchen hurt until probably after the Ardennes, Rogers is in even more demand by his team. Neither Rogers nor Lovkvist exactly replace Kirchen in the Columbia hilly Classic lineup but they will both have a shot now.

Kirchen. Its be interesting to see how Stapleton handles the injury. Last year Kirchen scored 510 or his 1257 points by the time the Ardennes ends. The question then is will the team basically move back Kirchen's schedule so its backloaded toward that late summer and fall? If they do Kirchen would see several races that he'd do well in: Lombardia, Worlds, Vuelta, San Sebastian. Somehow though I don't see the team changing his schedule too much though. He'll still be able to target the Tour. The Vuelta? Columbia didn't ride it last year so its unknown what resources they'll throw that way. Kirchen missed San Sebastian last year. So I'll leave it to you: he's still a Buy IF AND ONLY IF you think he'll ride competitively post Tour. (By “competitively” I mean no Tours of Missouri or Britain, where Columbia has interests. I mean San Sebastian, Vuelta, Worlds, Lombardia.) I don't think he'll do it.

Alejandro Valverde- Sell (1675)
Most of the rest of Caisse d'Epargne- Buy

I'm figuring he's gonna be suspended. If not he'd be a Buy. The guy's money.

I'm not gonna get into if he should be suspended here. I do want to get into what might happen to this team that's so focused towards its leader, without said leader. Its a fascinating scenario. The team has all sorts of hilly Classic and probably sub-Alpine riders who could blossom if they become protected riders. Take Joaquin Rodriguez. Please- take him. BUY BUY BUY!!!!!! He'd be their #1 rider in the Ardennes, the Giro, and the Vuelta. He should easily make his target of 1072, with a couple hundred to spare.

After J-Rod, it becomes interesting. Who gets the love in what races? Will the prodigy, Rigoberto “Big Rig” Uran get some serious support? How about oh Daniel Moreno, a 2 pointer who was 12th in last year's Vuelta? David Arroyo, who was 17th in the Vuelta? Jose Gutierrez? Lulu Sanchez? The new guy, Vasil Kiryienka? These guys all have quality but the dynamics of the team seem to have flattened their development at the expense of Valverde.

George Hincapie- Sell (536)
Levi Leipheimer- Buy (1206)

Big George and Little Levi are examples of Rule #6 in action. Both are aging riders so you need to know where they are gonna score for you.

With George the answer is muddy. He'll score, yes, but only a little here and there. The boat containing his chances at winning Flanders or Paris-Roubaix has long since sailed, his sprint isn't good enough against real sprinters, he isn't a true chronoman anymore, and he isn't the mountain goat that he was in his youth schlepping Lance around to another Tour win. Don't get me wrong. He is good at all those things, just not good enough that you can say he'll score big in some race. To me the last stage of California sums up George these days: a strong sprint to nab 3rd place over a non-sprinter. If this were a VDS race, he'd score 10 points for that effort and that's typical of George's performance these days. So if you pick George it's only because you love the guy ( a lot to love there) and not because he's gonna deliver VDS points. That's okay.

What's that? He'll win Paris-Roubaix? Fat chance. For most riders getting a flat or a mechanical is a random act of bad luck. But the number of times that's happened to George points to George being the problem somehow. Don't know what he does or how he does it but he breaks bikes way too often for it to be bad luck.

Levi is also tricky. Look at his record last year. He only won three stages that scored VDS points: the two TT's at the Vuelta and the prologue at the Dauphine. Yet he scored 1520 points. How? Because he was almost always in the running, the Giro being the exception. Levi is the classic example of good preparation for the season, meaning good training plus picking the right races. Since he's getting older you had to wonder if he was gonna slip in performance but I think his California win answered those questions, particularly the way he hit Bonny Doone Road. Going into this season you won't pick him to win any of the stage races he'll race but top fives in all of them is a pretty good bet. He'll meet his target of 1206 VDS points easy.

Greg Van Avermaet- Hold (938)
Thomas Lovkvist- Hold (938)
Bauke Mollema- Buy (268)
Stefano Garzelli- Buy (268)
Marzio Bruseghin- Sell (670)

The first three are young riders; the last two graybeards.

Take Van Avermaet and Lovkvist first. What's in their favor is their youth, meaning they should, all things equal,  perform better this year than last. But then you look at their schedules and you wonder where the extra VDS points will come from. For both riders it feels like even though they had breakthrough years last year, they still haven't broken through all the way. Its like they are in a chase group halfway between the break and the peloton. Yeah Van Avermaet won the points jersey at the Vuelta but he's no Cavendish in the sprints. What you hope for him is that he has the strength in the cobbles to move him up a notch, and my Hold on him says he can make a small step forward this year and meet his goal of 938 VDS points.

Lovkvist is more problematic because he got a bunch of points at Deutschland, which no longer exists (as a bike race). But I think he can do better at some of the other small stage races plus with Kirchen out he'll get more support over the next two months. So I say Hold.

Mollema this year will get into a lot more VDS races than last year and from the quality he showed at California he should score in several races. He also benefits from Thomas Dekker leaving the team. Bauke could be this year's Kreuziger or Gesink.

Garzelli? Small non-Pro Tour team hurt him last year, especially by being excluded from the Giro, but it doesn't look like it's hurting him this year. It looks like he'll get the races to score and score he will. Age could catch up to him but so far this season that doesn't look to be the case.

Bruseghin snuck into the lowest step of the Giro last year, a career highlight. He'll need to do that again if he hopes to score enough VDS points to justify buying him. Will he? Nah. He's a good rider, very strong and durable, but he reminds me of Hincapie: he'll be hanging around but he won't be the one to score big points.

So okay. That's all the time I have now. If you want in the comments ask about specific riders or rules and I (and no doubt others) will be more than happy to answer your questions.