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A Quick Look at Giro d’Italia Prop Bets

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Most of which we had to make up on our own... and (fake) bet on them!

Tim de Waele

If you listened to the podcast you might have heard the One Take Wonders conjure up a few prop bets as part of our year-long fake betting scheme. Prop bets are “proposition bets,” and the term refers to all the novelty wagers people tend to make in life, particularly in sports, but also in things like politics, the Academy Awards, and so on. The fake betting scheme, in case you missed it, is one where Andrew, Conor and I pretend to have $1000 (or €1000) that we then place in dribs and drabs on the outcome of cycling events all year long. I’m not really sure what we’ll learn, but I think it’ll be something along the lines of how I shouldn’t bet real money on cycling.

Anyway, while it was fun to try to pick the winners of the classics — without losing actual money — it’s a little less fun in the Giro where we all basically bet on Nairo Quintana, because grand tour general classifications are by far the most predictable of the major races. On the other hand, the three week procession of the Giro d’Italia offers about a million opportunities for prop bets. So here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • We have a few running prop bets that would be interesting to check in on; and
  • It’s not too late for any of us to think of more props that could work at the Giro. In fact, if you guys will come up with some, I promise to pick the top three and wager $75 (fake) on them.

Here is what we came up with so far. We discussed them on the podcast, but I know not everyone listens to podcasts, so I’ll recap here, with a bit more hindsight to see where this is going.

Number of Finishers

This is one where there was an actual market on the gambling websites, which are not overly crowded with cycling bets besides picks for each jersey of the Giro and a few other major races. The over/under was set at 160.5, so if you pick the over and 161 riders make it to Milan, you get paid. [/gambling101] My guess is that the bookies looked at the last four Giri and just did the math, which would show that an average of 160.75 riders finished. Since bets are in round numbers, because the unit of measure is humans, 160.75 = 160.5.

All three of us picked the over. It was after the three Sardinian stages, which were devoid of big pileups that sometimes deplete the field early on. Today 190 riders finished the Blockhaus stage, down from the 195 who started the race, so combined with the mild, dry forecast for the next week, the over is still looking pretty good. But anything can still happen.

Again, this one was an official thing you could bet on. The rest of the props are ones I made up.

Gaviria takes it Tim de Waele

Number of Points by the Points Jersey Winner

As we talked about on the pod, the Giro changed its scoring format in 2014 to shower flat and transitional stage winners with points, so as to exclude the mountain guys from claiming the points competition along with everything else. The points is often viewed as a sprinters’ thing, and even though that’s a grossly simplistic view, the point remains to get them involved, even if the fastest guy might not win. The problem at the Giro has been that a lot of the top sprinters might not bother finishing the race, if they aren’t Italian and are expected to win stages of the Tour two months later. Sweetening the points comp pot is one way to maybe keep some around.

In the three years of data post-rule change, the points winner has had 291, 181, and 209 points (after several years of mountain guys with fewer than 200 points taking the win). The average of that data is 227 points for the maglia ciclamino winner. Is that the right way to set the over/under? Or is it better to recognize that the two low numbers both belong to Giacomo Nizzolo and the high one to Nacer Bouhanni, and just cut the spread between the top and bottom numbers in half? That would get you to 236. I set the over/under for this year at 230.

After some discussion of how Nizzolo came in third in a finale with two sprinters on stage 3, we all still managed to take the over. At that point André Greipel and Fernando Gaviria each had a stage in their pocket but a long way to go. Now the standings are as follows:

  1. Gaviria, 191 points
  2. Jasper Stuyven, 160
  3. Greipel, 129
  4. Caleb Ewan, 100

Hmmm... On the plus side, Nizzolo is 10th overall, behind several Italians and other riders with no reason not to make it to Milan, so we won’t face the dull prospect of another Nizzolo win, not yet anyway. Also Stuyven is an interesting prospect, since he’s going for all the sprints (never mind he’s Nizzolo’s teammate) and as a classics guy he’s got a few other tricks up his sleeve as well. He’s got zero reason to stop racing, and he’s well behind on the GC so he can join breakaways at will. Stuyven could easily top 230. Gaviria will be over 230 by sometime next week, so it’s simply a matter of him getting to Milan. With Marcel Kittel on the same roster, methinks Quick Step won’t bother sending him home early to rest for the Tour, though they might pull him out for some other reason? I dunno, him being there is enough to make me feel good about the over. Nobody else does, but it only takes one.

Nibali seals the deal
Tim de Waele

Day on Which the WInner Will Take the Maglia Rosa

This was a pretty fun one to ponder. Recent history has seen the jersey taken (and held onto for good) after stages 8, 9, 14, 16, 20 and 21. That averages out to 14.66, and maybe you can set the over/under at 14.5 on that basis. Stage 15 is a nothing-burger as far as GC goes, but stage 14 is the Oropa stage, which could be big. So the average sounds right(ish).

The problem, apart from laughably small data sets, is that having an average is to say that there is an average level of aggressiveness in winning riders, and that there is an average level of back-loaded-ness to Giri d’Italia. Maybe there is, but does 2017 look like one? Since you are betting on someone from a small group of known characters to do something on this year’s course, it seems like you have to toss out the averages and just look at where you think the deal will go down here, with some guess as to who will play the winning hand.

Quintana is the big favorite, and he’s won once with a moderately patient approach — his 2014 win is the “16” in the data. He also won the Vuelta last year, and put it away early. But on the other hand he’s trying for the Double and might not want to dig too deep too soon, or so you would have said before today. As usual there are some inviting stages in week three that a pure climber would be thinking about, be it Quintana or someone else from the favorites list.

On the other hand, those stages are not classic ultra-high MTFs, they’re a bit toned down across the board. And the two time trials, on stages 10 and 21, will have a big influence, as well as spreading out the days where the race can be won, and by whom.

I set the over/under at 16. Not 161/2. That’s because the stages where a big mountain or a time trial could upend the GC are as follows:

9: Blockhaus

10: 39km ITT

14: Oropa MTF

16: Mortirolo/Stelvio/Umbrailpass

18: Multiple Mountains

19: Piancavallo MTF

21: Milan ITT

WIth seven chances to take control, I made 16 the choice. If you make it 161/2, that’s giving Oropa, the Blockhaus, the big ITT and the Queen Stage to the under, versus the long march, Piancavallo and shorter ITT to the over. But if you make it 151/2, then someone has to win by Oropa, which doesn’t seem that likely, and didn’t even a week ago when we made our bets. So 16 is the fairest pick, even if we get a push (if it happens on 16 and nobody wins or loses because there is no declaration of an over or an under having happened).

Andrew went under. Conor and I went over. So far that’s looking OK, in part because Dumoulin seems like a strong bet to take the overall lead Tuesday from Quintana, but Quintana remains the favorite in Milan. But there’s still just so much that can happen.

Hesjedal stalks Quintana
Bryn Lennon

Number of Stage Wins by the Winner

This is a purely fun one, since grand tour winners are often unfairly judged for how many stages they won along the way. (None is derided; one is looked askance; two merits polite applause, etc.) The last five years produced wins by the maglia rosa of one, zero, two, three, and zero, averaging 1.16 wins. I set the over/under at 11/2.

It was tempting to think about some of the people involved. If Quintana wins, he already took two stages the last time he won the Giro. Dumoulin could take two ITTs. One of the other climbers could get hot. Nibali is the guy who won three stages the year of his first triumph (2013). Hesjedal and Contador failed to win stages as part of their victories, but neither is here this year.

We didn’t want another push at 2. But 2 12 was simply too high. To beat that you’d need three — done once in the last five years — or four, which is a true outlier number. That would leave other scenarios totaling close to 80% probability for the under.

With 1 1/2, you can take the under with zero or one win. Those scenarios account for three of the last five victories, so it’s a strong play. But you could also believe in this year’s riders enough to think 2 or 3 wins is definitely in play (it is), and take the over. In other words, one side is not dramatically more attractive than the other. I took the over, and I believe Andrew did too, with Conor going under. Quintana’s win today makes the over look pretty good indeed, but if anyone else wins the Giro, then the under will look pretty tasty in hindsight.

*****

And with that, I’m out of props. But you guys are creative thinkers. Get busy in the comments making up some additional props (if you have the inclination) that are still legitimately in play, and I will pick out the three best props for me to wager on. Go!