Occasionally I think of new things that might go on to become Podium Cafe traditions, and today is one of those days. We are talking FSA Directeur Sportif -- possibly our favorite subject at this site, or at least neck-and-neck with actually watching cycling. But more on that newfangled thingy in a moment. First, let's check in on the Great Race itself.
Grupo del Lider a Two-Person Affair
A lot of years we get to September and the competition is still pretty scrambled. Even with the Vuelta a Espana out of the way (on the men's side), and with chances to score big dwindling, the competitions have been tight enough that the outcome was still in doubt. Without looking, I'm pretty sure when I did this bell lap column last year I correctly predicted that the ultimate winner of the men's comp would be one of the teams that, at that time, was not in first place.
Not so this year. In both the men's and women's competitions, we have two teams that are clearly off the front and aren't likely to let anyone else in on the pursuit of actual victory. [At most maybe second place could be snatched away.] And even in those duo breaks, there is meaningful separation. Not that the combatants themselves will sleep soundly at night until it's over, but for us neutral spectators there isn't a ton to see.
Men's: Ulissi vs Colbrelli For All the Marbles
Um... maybe. Backing up, we have the following standings:
- TH WHISTLER, Riding with Bigger Knobs, 16501 points
- babay, LOL LA BEBERANCE MA GUEULE 2K16, 15778
- Mur de Huy, Illes Balears - bala, 15223
- Moncassin31, Pédale, 14933
- Mandagger, That's all yolks!, 14832
Apart from the use of all caps, we can see that the top two teams share a position of relative strength heading down the home stretch. TH Whistler was 14th last year, so if you can set aside your stomach full of anger, he/she is probably due a bit of your respect. That's some good pickin. Babay is another repeat performer par excellence, topping out at 27th two years ago and top 100 last year as well. So these are seasoned pros.
Both teams are remarkable in another respect: they got there without Peter Sagan's help. Sagan does ride for Mur de Huy's Illes Balears team in third place, as well as for Moncassin and Mandagger, so if Sagan continues his current rampage, you might see one of those teams move up after all.
But there are a lot of other people scoring points, and both of our top two teams have plenty. The question is what's left to score and who does each team have left to do it. There are the Italian classics, almost always favoring climbers, and there are worlds, which is expected to set up OK for sprinters, though nobody is exactly sure.
For the Italian classics, TH Whistler has Diego Ulissi and Babay has Sonny Colbrelli. Both have Petr Vakoc, so that's a wash. Anyway, Colbrelli and Ulissi started trading blows in the Coppa Agostini and should continue to do so across Lombardia, Toscana and Piedmont for the next three weeks straight. Yes, they'll have company, but these two riders alone should keep our top teams in position.
The biggest difference between the two is that TH Whistler is paced on the season by Alexander Kristoff, and Babay by Chris Froome. The former is setting up for Worlds, where he is a top favorite to win, and will presumably hit a couple races along the way like Paris-Tours, while the latter is done for the season. That's huge, and that makes me think that TH Whistler is in a really strong position, while Babay may ultimately struggle to fend off Mur de Huy if Sagan stays hot. Anyway, it's a pretty finely focused battle at this point.
Women's: Worlds Make the Difference
Let's turn to the Ladeez, where your top five looks like this:
- quarantipuu, DRAGOODERZO RRACING TAYLOR p/b Geo-Plichta, 15482 points
- misterbob568, My ten minute team, 15046
- Crooked Rain, Enchanted, 14425
- Velo Ryder, ***Spinners***, 14295
- Kurt Stoebel, Chickeria, 14040
Third-placed Crooked Rain is a full 1000 points behind the leader quarantipuu, and with just the Euro U23s, two Italian classics, and worlds remaining, there is almost certainly no way to bridge that gap. Even misterbob, with (presumably) his ten minute team only 440ish points down, is going to need help catching up. [BTW, kudos to Kurt Stoebel, one of our regular voices, for a second consecutive top 5 finish, or for being on pace for one anyway.]
Can misterbob do it? Maybe. The good news is that there isn't much overlap at the tops of these teams. Both teams have Kasia Niewiadoma, but otherwise quarantipuu is relying on Emma Johansson, Leah Kirchman, Annemiek van Vleuten (yay!), Claudia Lichtenberg-Hausler, and Florian McKay, while misterbob's squad is led by Americans Megan Guarnier and Evie Stevens, plus Elisa Longo Borghini and a cast of lower-scoring riders. In other words, misterbob's top riders have been better per capita than quarantipuu's, but right now what each team needs is multiple people scoring, and quarantipuu has more stars taking the line right now. That and 440 points in hand might just do it.
OK, on to our new feature...
Welcome to the First Annual FSA Directeur Sportif Airing of the Grievances!
Americans and people who get inundated by our media the world over are generally familiar with the show Seinfeld and one of its enduring jokes, the idea of celebrating "Festivus" instead of the overly commercialized Christmas. Along with feats of strength and something about an aluminum pole, Festivus was a chance to "air the grievances," where the celebrants get to complain about each other. It's something a Seinfeld writer named Daniel O'Keefe actually made up and celebrated in real life. And with Yom Kippur around the corner it's pretty much the inverse of the Jewish day of atonement. Or maybe Yom Kippur is like the airing of the grievances except it's Jews expressing grievances about themselves to Adonai. Anyway, the point is that while Festivus is mostly fictional, it didn't come from nowhere.
While listening to most people express their grievances about daily life sounds as appealing as watching a sequel to Eddie and the Cruisers, it occurs to me that airing of grievances is actually a huge part of the FSA Directeur Sportif experience -- and a huge part of the enjoyment. Since most people's grievances are tongue-in-cheek, and aimed at themselves, it's both cathartic and fun to let them out. So, with the competition drawing to a close for 2016, now is as good a time as any. Let's have at it.
But before we start, two things. FSA, our sponsor, did nothing to hurt you. Yes, they help us produce the game each year, and we are very grateful for that. But they didn't make you pick Mikel Landa or drop Dylan Groenewegen. Also, neither Mikel Landa nor any of the other top priced guys, or the riders who are still holding on to their donut, or any other athlete remotely connected to this game, responsible for your misery. These are professional athletes who (mostly) went about their business as professionally as they could, and did their best to shower you with points... at least until they clipped a sidewalk or their DS called them back for bottles.
No, if things went wrong, the fault lies entirely with you. But that said, if you want to temporarily transfer the blame to a rider, or if you want to fault yourself in detail by referring to the riders who lured you in, robbed you of your dignity, and left you for dead on Ursula's doorstep, well, go ahead.
Oh, and you can complain about Ursula too, but I don't recommend it. Your venom is like oxygen to him. It only makes things worse. OK, go!