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Sea Change

Vds2_mediumCobbles? What cobbles? With Scheldeprijs in the books, the cobbles/Northern Classics season closes. Rumors are rampant that Quickstep will somehow hang around till next year, but they are just rumors at this point.

Seriously, what other sport in it's midseason totally transforms itself, demanding a whole different skill set among it's participants?What sport takes it's biggest stars of the beginning of its season and consigns them to Filene's basement?  Every year I marvel at this for a few days and since those few days now and I'm armed with a computer I thought I'd throw a table at you to show how big those changes are. Perfect Wednesday fare to keep you from doing any constructive work while our Canadian overlords consolidate power!

The table's on the flip and I'm using VDS numbers in them. Now for those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of VDS, the ultimate purpose here is to use those numbers for more a more general understanding of what's about to happen once the Ardennes Classics hit us.

The table has three pairs of columns: 

A) The left hand pair have the top 15 VDS point earners this year with their points earned. This column gives us a general understanding of the best riders this year to date.

B) The middle pair, top 15 VDS point earners last year at the same time with points earned.

C) The right hand pair, top 15 VDS point earners at the end of last year with points earned, which should show a very different group of riders.

Okay-get ready to flip but be careful if you see McEwen leaning against you!

The first column here was complied by majope in an earlier post. 

The names below that are in bold are riders who earned more than half of their points in the Northern Classics. Italics means they earned a substantial portion of their points in those same races.

Top 20 09 Rankings thru Scheldeprijs Points Top 20 08 Rankings thru Scheldeprijs Points End of 08 season VDS Rankings Points
1. Heinrich Haussler 985

1. Fabian Cancellara

952 1. Bert "The Accountant"  Contador 2765
2. Thor Hushovd 960 2. Philippe Gilbert 700 2. Alejandro Valverde 2481
3. Tom Boonen 925 3. Tom Boonen 675 3. Davide Rebellin 1991
4. Alberto Contador 861 4. Pippo Pozzato 635 4. Cadel Evans 1690
5. Pippo Pozzato 815 5. Stijn Devolder 615 5. Fabian Cancellara
6. Sylvain Chavanel 618 6. Alessandro Ballan 605 6. Levi Leipheimer 1520
7. Stijn Devolder 565 7. Oscar Freire 571 7. Damiano Cunego 1395
8. Mark Cavendish 515 8. Nick Nuyens 545 8. Alessandro Ballan 1335
9. Lulu Sanchez 488 9. Davide Rebellin 526 9. Oscar Freire 1322
10. Marcus Burghardt 485 10. Enrico Gasparotto 511 10. Kim Kirchen 1257
11. Juan Van Der Flecha 455 11. Juan Antonio Flecha 455 11. Carlos Sastre 1207

12. Alessandro Petacchi

415 12. Alberto Contador 405

12. Sigh...Bennati

13. Fat Toni Colom
390 13. Sylvain Chavanel 376 13. Phil Gilbert 1090
14. Tommy Lovkvist 365 14. \o/ 350 14. Bobo Gesink 1077
15.Big Ed Boasson Hagen 330 15. Thor Hushovd/GVA tie 330 15. Tom Boonen 1019


Fun stuff in that table.

- So next year when Paris-Roubaix rolls around, will you, dear reader, bet the house on Flecha finishing at whatever place in the standings that gets him to 455 VDS points?

- More to the point, 9 of this year's top 15 VDS points earners to date earned them in the Northern Classics- plus 2 more earned a good part of their point haul there too. That includes the top 3 and 7 of the top 8. Amazingly, this year pales compared to last year where the Cobbles riders were even more dominant.

But then you get to last year's season's end where just 2 of the 15 were cobbles warriors, 3 including Spartacus who earned most of his points elsewhere, including 2 of the bottom 3. Not shown here is that #16 on this list is Joaquim Rodriguez, another non-cobble guy, just 2 points away from Boonen's point total. The point here is not to show that if you have a cobbles heavy team you'd better crow now because we non-cobbles teams are gonna bury you soon. Well actually it is but back to my main point, it's almost like there are two totally different sports going on using the same bikes and riders. Look again at the 08 season end's rankings and Cancellara is placed high not just because of his cobbles prowess but also his amazing time trialing. 

Looking more that the 08 columns and the non-cobbles guys, just Bert and Tin Tin were able to crack the top 15 this time last year. Of the other riders in the season's end column,  #2 Valverde had just 50 points at this point of the season. #3 Evans had 245, #7 Cunego 235, #10 Kirchen 180, and #14 Gesink 222. #6 Levi? Zero points. #12 Bennati? Zero points too (he was injured). #11 Sastre? Zero points.

- Ballan, Cavendish, and Freire (and probably Benna) are straddlers- getting some cobbles points (a lot for Ballan) but ultimately most of their points outside of Belgium. So for the cobbles guys you can see four futures for them, four scenarios for the rest of their seasons:

1) Oblivion. Grunt domestique work with no chance at glory. Van Summeren pursues another lanterne rouge. \o/ probably is throwing up his hands all the time but he's so far back in the peloton that no one notices- except Evans who wonders why is this guy on his Tour team. Flecha guides Gesink and Menchov over the flat parts of the Grand Tours. Almost all of these guys will never get close to another VDS point this year.

2) Bunch sprinters. Interestingly, except for Boonen, who's lately speaking of his lack on interest in sprinting, the Cobbles guys who pack a sprint are more peripheral to the Cobbles season, mainly riding in the few flat races that aren't hard-core Belgian racing. Some of these guys like Pozzato might try for breaks.

4) "Climbers" either Ardennes-style or Devolder, who fancies himself for the Tour. Funny guy that Devo. The problem for him though is that the tactics that he uses to win Flanders look stupid in a hilly stage race. His rivals just wear him out. But besides him there are few who can make the bridge to any kind of hilly racing. Ballan is one and it will be interesting to see how he does when he gets back as he'll have fresh legs. Oscarito is another but he actually doesn't get results. You'd think he'd notice that. Two other names: Gilbert and Gasparotto, both on new teams and both being primed this year for the Ardennes after mostly skipping the cobbles.

5) Then there's Cancellara, a category all his own. Chrono man. Sprinter from 2K out. Looking to becoming competitive in the hilly races. Wonder if Boonen will follow him?

So say goodbye to all the Cobbles races that we came to love. In a way it's cool how Pro Cycling so transforms itself:


1) Pre-season prep races

2) Classic & Cobbles Season

3) Ardennes April Interlude

4) Grand Tour Spring and Summer Smackdown

5) Fall Classics close


Time for Part 3.