Warning! This post is rather long and... doesn't go anywhere in particular!
Starts out promising but then it just fiddles about, meandering like the Mississippi in late summer without all the levees. Fortunately this post does end and you can go about your lives. Until then...
Tour's over. That means we now enter the red-headed stepchild part of the season. Fully a third of the season has yet to be ridden but try as it does it never reaches that cutting edge of fun that the first two-thirds bring. Let's recap:
1) The first third of the year belongs mainly to the cobbles which have such an orderly build-up from Het Nieuwsblad to Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. As a counter theme to the cobbles are the stage races from Spanish regional races to Paris-Nice and Tirreno - Adriatico to Pais Vasco and Basque week, followed right after by Ardennes week. These week long stage races differ from the later ones in that these aren't directly prep races for Grand Tours. Plus the early season makes for lower elevations, taking away some advantage that the pure climber have for the GC that good all-rounders can take advantage of.
Two compelling themes full of great races that both stand alone and complement each other beautifully. Each week kept getting better and better.
2) The second third of the season was all about the two Grand Tours and they're supporting smaller stage races. If the first third was practically a mosh pit, this second third is a waltz: slower, more choreographed, formal, with each day being but a part of a much greater whole culminating in the Giro and Tour.
Then it all comes to a halt with many fans seemingly letting go of the sport until next year. Even here at PdC we have reports of Hetbecco working out. Off season transfers are already part of the conversation. But, again, there's still a full third of the season left to go! WTF???? Why is it this way? And maybe more important, are there specific riders who specialize in the post-Tour races? Let's look into these things on the flip.
First-why is the last third of season so ignored? IMO It's not enough to say that the biggest race of the year is in July, though that plays a big part. Here's another couple of reasons:
1) No country or region has a compelling series of races that builds to a crescendo. The other two-thirds of the season start out with lesser races then build up to these big blow outs-all in one or a couple of adjacent countries. The first third of the year's main focus is practically all in Belgium and the Hell of the North is basically Belgium too. The stage counter theme is less important because it meanders over France, Spain, and Italy before focusing on first the Basque country then the Ardennes. The second third of the year is first Italian-focused: Romandie then the Giro, then French focused: the Dauphine and Suisse then the Tour. Very tidy; easy to follow.
The last third of the year is a mess. Spain sort of has a focus. There's San Sebastian and the Vuelta but the linking races, the Vuelta a Burgos and Clasica Ciclista a los Puertos, are barely noticed and so the build-up isn't their like with the other two Grand Tours. Italy also has a case for a tightly connected series of races but only the last two are followed much outside of Italy and most of that coverage is on the last one. The other races? Here's a pop quiz: Last year, Stefano Garzelli raced in 13 one day races in the final third of the year, 10 in Italy, 1 in France, 1 in Belgium, and 1 in both France and Belgium, all after the August 9th Vuelta a Burgos in Spain. The last one was the closing season Race of the Falling Leaves. 13 races in 2 months. Name the others without resorting to Cycling Quotient. Answer below*. But the point here is that unlike Belgium in March, the end of season lesser Italian races fail to generate the excitement. They fail to build on each other to reach a climax. Most of those races are strictly local Italian affairs; only the last two races bring in the elite non-Italian bike racers. How many times have you handicapped Lombardia by noting who won Memorial Cimurri?
2) The World Championships hurt the other races. We all know how they mess with the Vuelta as a bunch of high profile riders use the Vuelta as training for the WC's. They drop out of one race to compete in the other even though the dates of the two races don't overlap. We know this. But the WC's also more subtly mess with the other end-of-season races as well just by being what they are: the World Championships. Look at most sports and you see that after they have a Championship the season either ends right then or the later events are much lower key. Events labeled "World Championships" tend to suck all the oxygen out of the sport. IMO Lombardia in particular is hurt by the Worlds. Emilia too-and the rest of the lesser Italian races like Lazio, Sabatini, and GP Beghelli.
3) Then there's the disruption of the Olympics. Last year we saw the Olympics sucking air out of not only Lombardia but the Worlds too (Mr. Grabsch wishes to thank the IOC.) Those riders doing a Tour/Olympics double are tuckered out afterwards and do little as a result.
4) Unlike the first two-thirds of the year, the final third has races that just don't relate much to other races. They just exist in time and space all by themselves. We used to have the Deutschland-Vattenfalls-Poland combo which was always backwards in order (the more compelling Deutschland should have been last). Now we just have Poland and it just sits there on the calendar for no particular reason. Same goes for Vattenfalls. Maybe there should be a Central and Eastern Europe year end series of week long stage races? I don't know. I can't imagine that being compelling. Then we have Paris-Tours which keeps it's relatively high profile while other somewhat similar races like Paris-Brussels slowly fade away. Paris-Tours, GP France Ouest-Plouay and Vattenfalls: they don't relate much to each other even if they are good races on their own and they don't relate at all to the Worlds or Lombardia or the Vuelta. Again, no build-up, just a series of individual races which means that the last third of the season has no defined beginning. Having the Vuelta early on at this time of the year is also a problem. When or where Tom Boonen calls an end to his season should but doesn't have any relationship to when and where Thor Hushovd or Oscar Freire or Mark Cavendish or Alessandro Petacchi shut down. The season gradually fades away...
Screw that. I still like a bunch of the races yet to be run. We'll get to them starting with previews tomorrow of Poland and San Seb but first let's see if there are certain riders who like the late season. As the Tour unwound and as the polemics heated up I found myself wondering about the end of season and started a long and very tedious project. (I chose boredom rather than having blood freely flowing out of my ears from listening to too much Versus.) I took all of the post-Tour races that are in the VDS competition (What? You think I was not gonna mention VDS? What is wrong with you?) and scored them. Don't run away if you don't care about VDS!!!! My intent here is not to talk about VDS; I'm just using those races as they are the highest profile races:
1 Clasica San Sebastian (4)
2-8 Tour of Poland (5)
16 Vattenfalls Classic (4)
19-26 Tour de BeNeLux (5)
23 GP Ouest France-Plouay (4)
29-20 Sept Vuelta a Espana (1)
23 World Champs Time Trial (2)
26 World Champs Road Race (2)
4 Giro del Lazio (5)
8 Coppa Sabatini (5)
10 Giro dell'Emilia (4)
11 Paris-Tours (4)
17 Giro di Lombardia (2)
And I scored them for the last four years. 2005-2008. See-I told you this was tedious and on more than one occasion I fell asleep. I'm sure I made some small errors here and there. Now before I go on, a quick word about VDS scoring. Those who don't care, skip to the next paragraph. If you are wondering if I'll say which rider scores the most in last season VDS races the answer is painfully simple: whoever wins the Vuelta. Probably the top 3 and most of the top five ten scorers late-season are Vuelta riders. If this is confusing as to why then you'll get your reason why in the remaining paragraphs. At the end I will give you the top 10 end of season scorers from last year.
So in looking at the late season of 05-08 I focused on how many races riders scored in. I figured that almost every rider still races after the Tour (even Lance this year in Ireland-which you can catch on Versus!) but since the races are such an incoherent mess of types of races with different riders finishing their seasons at different times I figured that I just wanted to see if a rider was actually competing in a race rather than just going through the motions while waiting to end their seasons. I figured too that most riders are not like Tom "Jens" Boonen who, once he figures he won't win, gives up on the race.
So I started counting how many races in a season riders scored out of the 13 total VDS races. The record was 7-only achieved by one rider in the four years. Davide Rebellin in 2007. (Note: I am not venturing into doping talk here. That's besides the point for several reasons. You can think it but I won't talk it.) What were those seven races Tin Tin scored in? San Seb, Vattenfalls, Deutschland, Vuelta, the Worlds road race, Emilia, and Lombardia. He only started 12 stages of the Vuelta but doing that and Deutschland, well, that's an iron-man schedule even leaving aside the scoring. (Okay. Think your doping thoughts.) To finish with Tin Tin the other three years of this study he scored in five races. No other racer comes close to this mark. Class of his own, that Tin Tin.
Okay that's Tin Tin. Any racers score in six races in a season? Yes, two riders:
- In 2006 Vlad Gusev accomplished the feat: Deutschland, Vuelta, Worlds RR AND TT, Paris-Tours, and Lombardia. Goose also scored in 3 races in 05.
Pictured: Александр Викторович Колобнев
- In 2008 Alexandr Kolobnev did the trick but he had an extra race to do it in: San Seb, Olympic RR, Vuelta, Sabatini, Emilia, and Lombardia. The guy (I'm not aware of a nickname for this guy so here's a picture) also scored in five races in 07, and 3 in 06. He's the one to look out for this year.
Fun fact: None of the three riders listed above won any of their races.
Okay that's six scoring races. How about five? There's a few each year:
Rebellin-SanSeb, Vattenfalls, GP France Ouest-Plouay, Emilia, and Lombardia
Bettini: Deutschland, Vuelta, Eneco, Worlds RR, and Lombardia (won).
Pippo "Ursula" Pozatto: Deutschland, Vattenfalls (won), Poland, Paris-Tours, and Lazio.
Rebellin: Deutschland, Vattenfalls, Vuelta, Emilia (won), and Lombardia
Zabel: Deutschland, Vattenfalls, Vuelta, Worlds RR, Paris-Tours
Kolobnev: Vuelta, Worlds RR, Lazio, Emilia, and Lombardia
Bobo Gesink: Deutschland, vattenfalls, Poland, Emilia, and Lombardia. Bobo is the next guy after Kolobnev that seems to be making a name for himself in the late season.
Rebellin: San Seb, Oly RR, Vuelta, Worlds RR, Emilia
Gesink: Oly RR and TT, Vuelta, Worlds RR, Emilia
Cunego: Vuelta, Worlds RR, Lazio, Emilia, Lombardia (won).
Finally we get to those riders who scored in four or more races in a year. (If you look at riders who score in three races the list gets longer: 10-13 riders each year.)
2005: Bobby Julich and Danilo DiLuca
2006: Zabel, Napolitano, Nibali, Mori, Bodrogi, Kashechkin, Moreni, and Marzoli
2007: Evans, Freire, Ballan, Frank Schleck, Hushovd, Visconti, and Mori
2008: Ballan, Leipheimer, Rogers, Brajkovic, Garzelli
So what's this mean?
Not much. Ha! Really with such a fragmented end of season you shouldn't have many riders scoring in a lot of races. What you see every year is a hot rider emerges and does well in a couple of similar races: Deutschland/Vattenfalls/Poland or Emilia/Lombardia say. They score in 3 or 4 or 5. Most of the time they don't actually win a race so, like the last third of the season, they aren't so obvious to a casual fan. Like I said, it's a fragmented end to the season so th story lines are fragmented too.
Now I didn't look that hard into it but just looking at the rider names, I'd say that no team dominates the final third of the season either. Some teams focus more on a race or a couple of races. Hmm. Wait a minute. Last year I did a VDS scoring of the teams for the post-Tour end of the season. Let me find it here... Okay. Below I modify that table to show what teams scored after last year's Olympics:
Last 1/3rd Rankings 2008
2. Caisse d'Epargne
10. Silence Lotto
13. Credit Agricole
14. Francaise des Jeux
So any conclusions? A couple:
1) In general the good teams from earlier in the year continue to score at the end of the season. If you click on the linky above the table to see the full 2008 season you see that CSC led throughout. So maybe it wasn't so much Cancellara but Kolobnev and Larsson. Whatever-they had a very deep team last year. Columbia was #2 all through the season and continued strong at the end. Grabsch, and Rogers were their top winners. It will be interesting to see what they do this year since they are in the Vuelta.
2) Some teams did do better at the end, Astana being the main beneficiary because of the ASO ban that moved Contador's and Leipheimer's probably big Tour points into the end of the season Vuelta. If Contador doesn't race the Vuelta this team I think will sink or swim based on Brajkovic-who did earn 670 points himself last year, none of it in the Vuelta.
Caisse d'Epargne, meanwhile defended their Spanish home turf well. Valverde, J-Rod, and Rojas were their main guys.
3) Quickstep is interesting here since their M.O. is that they get all their points in the spring. But here they are at #6-and it wasn't because someone had a great end of their season. "Jens" Boonen was their high point earner with 444 points; Bettini had 364. So the rest of their points were distributed among several riders which to me shows surprising late season depth.
Lampre though relied on Ballan (795) and Cunego (785). Can they do it again?
4) When you go down the list of teams they are increasingly affected by the performance of one rider. For example Cofidis' 770 points were 75% Moncoutie (575). Rabobank's paltry (for them) 690 were 66% Gesink (455).
Okay. Here are the top 10 VDS point earners for the last third of the year in 2008:
1. Contador-1650: Vuelta, Oly TT
2. Leipheimer-1425: Vuelta, Oly TT, Oly RR, Worlds TT
3. Rebellin-1080: San Seb, Oly RR, Vuelta, Worlds RR, Emilia (team was not allowed in Lombardia)
4. Valverde-1047: Vuelta, San Seb, Oly RR
5. Ballan-795: Vuelta, GP France Ouest-Plouay, Worlds RR,
6. Cunego-785: Vuelta, World RR, Lazio, Emilia, Lombardia
7. Kolobnev-762: San Seb, Olympic RR, Vuelta, Sabatini, Emilia, and Lombardia
8. Brajkovic-670: Deutschland, World TT, Emilia, Lombardia
9. Gesink-655: Oly TT, Oly RR, Vuelta, World RR, Emilia
10. Samu-650: San Seb, Oly TT, Oly RR
Do well in the Vuelta and you are guaranteed a top placing in the last 1/3 of the year standings.
That's it. Hopefully this was interesting. Oh yeah:
*2008 races of Stefan Garzelli, post Burgos:
19-Tre Valli Varsine finished 5th
21- Coppa Bernocchi finished 8th
31- Giro del Veneto finished 14th
6-Coppa Placci finished 13th
7-Giro della Romagna finished 80th
13-Paris-Brussels finished 82nd
14-GP de Fourmies finished 97th
17-GP de Wallonie won
5-Giro del Lazio finished 10th
9-Coppa Sabatini finished 3rd
11-Giro dell'Emilia finished 14th
18-Giro di Lombardia finished 8th.