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VDS Table Talk: Rainbow Curse... or Blessing?

Virtual-ds-2_mediumAs if my doping rants and Submit-gate decision didn't piss people off enough, here's another run at your buttons: an open and open-season discussion of VDS strategery! But fear not, my goal is to raise more questions than I answer, and I think I can get there.

The primary question is, what effect does the world championships have on the VDS? On the surface, it adds a sixth monument to several people's wish list, enhancing the potential/value of the championship-level stratum of riders who fit the course profile, and in turn decreasing the value of the toppers whose style doesn't fit. The identity of those two groups changes each year, and can remain a mystery right up until race day. It also scrambles the late season lineups at the Vuelta for sure, and some other races to a lesser degree. Figuring out how to mine these dynamics is just one pathway to victory, but compared to guessing who will win the Tour, it's far more intriguing.

Who's Rainbow Ready? 

Rarely do we know with absolute certainty who a Worlds course favors. Last season was notoriously difficult, with opinion swinging back and forth, and the travel-to-Melbourne factor adding another wild card. Two years ago, in Mendrisio, Cadel Evans fulfilled the "climber's course" label with his victory, but that was only a year after Alessandro Ballan stole another "climber's course" from the climbers, a short bike ride away from Mendrisio in Varese. The prior two years Paolo Bettini won, from a mix of climbers (Valverde, Kolobnev) and sprinters (Zabel). You'd have to go back to 2002, when Cipo won on the flat F1 course in Zolder, Belgium, for a dead-certain prediction as to who the Worlds course really favors.

This year's course in Copenhagen is said, with some confidence, to favor the sprinters. A year ago riders were actively disputing the "sprinter's course" description of Geelong, only to see all the road races come down to a sprint, so the current consensus suggests pretty strongly that the fastmen will be involved. Sprinters themselves are making tentative plans, but plans nonetheless. Climbers are likely writing it off. Classics guys are plotting mayhem. Unlike a lot of years, IMHO you can make your VDS plans now with a pretty good idea of who will be active in Copenhagen.

Ripple Effects

The flipside, however, is that the VDS is scored on total overall points, and a rainbow jersey is just a footnote. Should Cavendish win in Copenhagen, he gets 350 points. But in order to score there, he almost certainly plans to drop out of the Vuelta a Espana before the final week of mountains, to save himself from being overtaxed and melting on the roads of Spain. Gone, then, are a possible 120 points for the Vuelta points comp as well as a few more stage wins or placings, worth up to 80 points at a shot.

Meanwhile, among those not dropping out of the Vuelta to save their form are the climbers, who could outscore the world champion simply by finishing on the podium, even before contemplating the necessary windfall of stage points. The Vuelta is tied with the other two grand tours for the biggest pointapalooza on the VDS calendar. So who tempts you more, the guys going to Copenhagen or the ones staying away?

Like I said, there is no easy answer here. But there's a lot to contemplate.