This being mid-January and the first two races of the pre-season are (almost) in the bag, discerning VDS players are looking at the races for clues on which riders to pick for stocking their team. (Note: we've published a proposed rider cost sheet and probably there will be only minor changes to it.) So has any trend shown itself? Yeah, one: high priced VDS riders beat low priced VDS riders as a rule.
Both at the TDU and at San Luis, the VDS prices for the year are predicting the races quite nicely. Example #1: the TDU. Before the race if you had to handicap according to the VDS prices, you had Greipel as the serious favorite priced at 18 points. The second choice would have been Allan Davis (VDS cost=10) , last year's winner who won to some extent because Greipel crashed out. After that you had Brown (VDS cost=6), Greg Henderson (VDS cost=4), Robbie McEwen (VDS cost=6), Sutton (VDS cost=6), Vigano (VDS cost-4) all of whom pretty evenly rated by VDS. The biggest question wasn't, baring injury who was gonna win as we knew the pecking order of the sprinters, but two other things. One was if any of the non-sprinters could make a decisive break on the leader and steal the win: i.e.could the likes of Lulu (VDS cost=12 or Elmiger (VDS cost=4) or even Valverde (VDS cost=32) or Evans (VDS cost=28) prove able to hold off Team HTC's attempts to control the peloton.The second question was how would the Sky sprint train unfold and thus who among equals stood the greatest chance to land high in the final GC: we weren't sure of what Sky was gonna play out. So what happened?
The race played out exactly as predicted except that Davis didn't come into the race in shape and was not a serious factor. As long as there was no big escape that stole the race, it was Greipel's to lose- and Greipel had the benefit of having a solid team: Rogers (VDS cost=8), Goss, Grabsch, and Eisel (all with VDS cost=4), Roulston and Sieberg ( both with a VDS cost=2). HTC was the only team with no riders who cost only 1 VDS point, meaning going int the race that we could expect a solid effort from everyone in defending Greipel's lead thus making a successful breakaway unlikely. I seriously doubt that any other team could have defended like the y did on stage 5.
I won't go into the same depth in talking about San Luis but here again there was one expensive VDS rider (NIbali, VDS cost=16) who was the pre-race favorite and who (probably) will win. There were a couple other expensive riders in the race both from Katusha (Pozatto and Kolobnev with VDS cost=18) but this race (climby and time trialy) was not one that they were in position to win so you could discount them from the start. Thus you had to go all the way down the VDS ladder to the four hole to find The Shark's chief competitor, Jose Serpa. And that's how it looks like the final GC will shake out with one flat stage to go: Nibali 1, Serpa 2.
There were a couple of twists in this race. One was the fact that Andro... (Serpa's team-what a great name! Maybe Mark McGuire can be their mascot!) ) was a lot deeper in the climbs than what Nibali's Liquigas outfit fielded so in theory they could have worn him out on the climbs. But a) the climbs weren't that big and b) there was the balancing time trial that Nibali used to blitz the field and eliminate all but Serpa from his worries.
The other factor was ~:> (Rasmussen): was he back to his form in the Tour when we last saw him? (Buyer's note: Chicken is not available for purchase in VDS this year.) No, he wasn't that good and those great chrono efforts that he pulled off in the 2007 Tour did not resurface in Argentina. He did climb well though, but really are you surprised at that? And he wasn't a superior climber here, though again this is pre-season and we'll see what he really has in a month or two. Or not. He's on a small Continental team and won't be invited to that many races against the big teams. But I digress.
Nibali won just like VDS predicted. Serpa was second, as VDS predicted. After them and well back for this race, were a bunch of mostly one pointers with a couple two pointers thrown in. That Kolobnev was as high in the final GC as he was (is) 13th, showed that the quality of this race dropped off dramatically. Some folks here might be excited about say, 3rd place Rafael Valls, but be careful there as who did he beat but several other cheap riders. When he lines up at Pais Vasco or the Vuelta it will be another thing all together.
Am I saying that you can bet on any race this year based on VDS cost? Are you nuts, or worse: Jens? Of course some riders will blossom into better riders, and some old guys will drop off in quality, and some riders will get injured. There is always the possibility that the leader bonks, like Contador did at Paris-Nice last year. (But that bonk was the exception that proved the rule.) Most races will have a few pre-race favorites that will probably have VDS costs within 2-6 points of each other. (Several races won't as they will have one big favorite like if Greipel races mainly B grade sprinter races again.) TDU and San Luis were easy to predict as there was one rider in each with a much better pedigree and thus much higher VDS cost.
Quality does win out and VDS is one measure of quality. All this may seem obvious but notice as you make your VDS team how much you hope your cheap riders will actually win races (or at least place high to give you lots of points). A good VDS team does not over-project and over-rely on their cheap riders. Am I saying that no one or two point rider will get a bunch of points like Fuglsang or Haussler did last year? No I am not. But you have to be careful with your rationalizations with these cheap guys. Haussler had been around for a few years and transferred to a team with better management and everybody saw that in the pre-season. Fuglsang wasn't as obvious (and he cost only one point as opposed to Haussler's two) but he had shown promise the year before after Saxo brought him into the team. Both had been put into a position to succeed by their teams and many many riders do not get such treatment. So look carefully at the histories of these cheap riders. Even Peter "Carl" Sagan has a history. (Billions and Billions! You just have to read it right.