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FSA DS: Random rambling about women's cycling

If you're looking at your FSA Directeur Sportif team and wondering whether to go Vos or non-Vos, or you're not sure if you know enough about the women's peloton to enter a team (of course you do! You'll be fine!), I've got some thoughts that might help.... or maybe not, but damnit, I'll try! And if you have any questions or thoughts about your team, put them in the comments, and the collective hivemind of the Café can help you out.

Conversation before Stage 2, 2014 Tour of Qatar
Conversation before Stage 2, 2014 Tour of Qatar
Francois Nel - Velo/Getty Images

If you're new to the game

If you've never played the women's game before, make sure you read the introductory post, and have a careful look at the rules.  In the men's game, you might be thinking about building your team around the Grand Tours, but with the women it's a little bit more different, as there's only one GT equivalent, the Giro Rosa, and the other top category race, Thüringen Rundfahrt, starts the day after the Giro finishes, so it will be very interesting to see how teams deal with this...  The big thing, though, is that we don't have as many climbing races on the women's side as the men's, so make sure you have the Classics-type riders and sprinters - especially for the stage races in the Netherlands and Belgium...


To Vos or not to Vos? 

This is the biggest question every year, and every year there's been a different answer.  Of course Marianne Vos is the best rider out there, but should you spend 80 points on her? In my first ever team, back in 2011, I went non-Vos, with a brilliant combo of Judith Arndt and Emma Johansson and was doing really well, until Vos surprised us all by winning the 2011 Giro Donne. In the 2012 game, 7 of the teams in the top 10 were Vos-teams, including Straw Dog's winning team, while 3 were non-Vos.  Last year Vos had said she was riding a reduced programme so she could have some fun with MTB, but she still was the second highest scoring rider, ending the season with 5,081 points to Emma Johansson's 6,104 - and in the 2012 top 10, only 1 team had Vos, while 4 had Johansson....  and interestingly, Straw Dog's winning team had neither.  I'm not sure what that teaches us, except maybe that we should listen when Straw Dog speaks!

But if you're still not sure about Vos, here are two factors to think about.  Firstly, Vos' race calendar, announced this week, has her not returning to the road until the Flèche Wallonne, and she says she's taking things easy in the build-up to the Rio Olympics.  Secondly, in an interview at the start of the year, while she said her 2014 goals are to win three World Championships titles (in cyclocross, which she's achieved already, and the road race and Team Time Trial), she also wants to work to support her team-mates this year.    We saw in 2011 how great she was riding to support Annemiek van Vleuten's Road World Cup series win - including superb team-work that supported Van Vleuten's win in that year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, and GP Plouay - so it could be worth spending some points on one of her Rabobank-Liv team-mates...  but which one?  Van Vleuten has been suffering from leg problems caused by scar tissues in her arteries, but hopes operations over the off-season will have fixed that, and has a history of working very well with Vos....  while Vos cites new Rabo signing Anna van der Breggen's support in the 2013 World Champs as key to her win - will the season be a way to repay her?  While the clear conclusion is that Rabobank are going to be damn hard to beat on the road, it doesn't make your team decision any easier...  You could have Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, but that's 65 points of your 150 spent....


What about Emma Johansson?

Last year, Johansson raced a lot more than Vos, and it paid off in her points, both for our game and in the UCI rankings, where she ended the year at number 1, the first rider to knock Vos off the spot since 2007.  But Johansson is 60 points, so that limits your team.  You could have a combination of Johansson and Evelyn Stevens, or Johansson and Van der Breggen...  or you could have a combination of 3 or 4 big name riders.  I think this year's big decision is "Johansson or not?" and it'll be very interesting to see what people choose....


Riders back from maternity leave

One of the things you don't have to think about with your men's team is maternity leave, and there are two riders back this year who you might want to pay attention to.  My first definite pick was Olga Zabelinskaya, who I think is an absolute steal at only 6 points.  She had a pretty quiet year for her in 2012, but more than made up for it with bronze medals in the Olympic Road Race and Individual Time Trial. She then took a year or so off to have a baby, her third child, and while you might think maternity could be a problem, remember the Olympic Time Trial Champ Kristin Armstrong won gold after having her son - and last time Zabelinskaya came back from maternity, in 2010, she had podiums in the Giro Donne and won the Thüringen Rundfahrt, despite missing a lot of the spring through injury....  She's a former Junior World ITT Champion, the daughter of 1980 Olympic road cycling champion Sergei Sukhoruchenkov - so if her children turn up in the DS game in 16 or so year's time, sign them up!

Another rider who's back in the peloton after having a baby is Monia Baccaille.  Baccaille's also a 6-pointer, a sprinter with a palmares that includes podiums at the ChongMing Island World Cup, the Giro Donne and a load of the top sprinting races and stages.  She's back with Alé-Cipollini, and there are 2 questions about her - what will her form be like, and how will that team work, with Shelley Olds and Barbara Guarischi, two other very strong sprinters, on the roster?


Commonwealth Games

If you're looking at your draft team and notice it's full of Australians, Brits and trackies, take a moment to consider that this year are the Commonwealth Games, with the road cycling on 31st July and 3rd August, and the track events running from 24th-27th July.  It's not just which races these overlap with, it's also thinking about riders who will be skipping summer road races to focus on the track - especially the British and Aussie riders, because the GB v Aus rivalry is deep and abiding, and the Canadians and New Zealanders are in the wings ready to pounce....


1- and 2- point bargains

Looking down the list, there are some riders I'm definitely picking in the 1- and 2- point zones.  I'm not sure I should be sharing these with you, but I've got a short-list that includes, from the 2s, Charlotte Becker (Wiggle Honda), who's had a couple of less-good years, but if she can get back to her previous form, should be good for podiums; Elena Cecchini was great in Qatar, but Faren isn't the most stable team out there; Inga Cilvinaite is an attack-queen, and RusVelo are likely to go to the smaller races and eat the points for breakfast; and I have no idea what to think about Grace Verbeke.  She deserves her 2-point slot, what with injuries and team instability, but I always remember how she won the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen solo....

Among the 1-pointers, Barbara Guarischi had a podium in the Giro last year, and a load of top 10 places - but will she be able to race for results, or be part of a sprint train? Rossella Callovi is only 22, but she's the 2009 Junior Road World Champion, and racing for a little team, might turn up in the .2 races to get points while the superstars are battling in the .1s.  Peta Mullens is a former MTB rider turned Wiggle roadie who was 2nd in the Aussie Crit Championships; Evelyn Arys is a former Belgian road champ who should be entering all the Belgian races; and seeing as Rabobank try to get all their riders winning something big each year, Thalita de Jong and Anna Knauer are young, but might be worth a punt....  De Jong already surprised us by coming 8th in the CX Worlds this year....



If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, please take all that with a pinch of salt, because I have no clue, really.  Here are some of the dilemmas I'd love your advice on....

Emma Pooley

Pooley took 2013 off to work on her PhD (if commentators insist on SIR Bradley Wiggins and SIR Chris Hoy, should we be referring to her as DOCTOR Emma Pooley every time?) but she's back with Lotto Belisol.  The big question about Pooley is will there be enough races that suit her?  She was the 2010 ITT World Champion, and is a mountain goat and escape artist who has won World Cups like the Trofeo Binda and the GP Plouay solo - and she has two second places in GC at the Giro....  but will there be enough hilly races for her to shine in?  If I was sure that the Emakumeen Bira had the uphill timetrial, the Giro Trentino had those glorious "all day climbing an Alp" stages, and the Giro Rosa had stages like this year's Stage Five and Stage Six, I'd sign her like a shot... She's been doing marathon running and insane Alpine triathlons in her time away from the road - is that a good or a bad thing?  Decisions, decisions....

Thüringen and the Giro

I'm so intrigued about what teams will do about the two races overlapping - especially since Thüringen clashes with the traditionally-much-lower-level Tour de Bretagne, and the brand-new BeNe Tour.  All those delicious points....  and if, for example, the Giro is going to be mountainous, will Emma Johansson choose Thüringen instead?  Will teams ride both?  Where's my crystal ball?

What to do about the USA?

I never know what to do about the USA races....  do I pick a rider from a USA domestic team and hope she'll clear up, or pick a Specialized-lululemon who I hope will ride some of those races as well as the European ones?  Will United Healthcare, the new USA women's pro team, be mostly riding in the USA or in Europe too.  Their calendar says they're riding the Giro, but is that confirmed?  I'm tempted to put Alison Powers on my team, and is 1 point worthwhile to see if Hannah Barnes' UK crit success will translate to the USA? So many questions, I wonder what Straw Dog will do....


If you have any questions about your team, answers to my Qs or tips for newbies, please please add them to the comments - we've got about two weeks to work all of this out before the deadline hits....