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FSA-DS Update – mid-season awards!

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As the calendar ticks toward August, we hand out fantasy awards for the season so far

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FSA-DS. We love it and we hate it. We win and (more often) we lose. For all the frustrations, it is a rare denizen of the cafe who doesn’t indulge in a little fantasy cycling. I know you’re all looking for a chance to rant and to gloat, so let me give you that chance - as well as my own thoughts on the awards for the action so far.

As well as the awards, there’s a quick update on the state of the three main competitions so far (men’s, women’s and editors’ - the last of which is a draft league and not a third gender) and on the fake betting competition between Chris, Conor and me.

Most points for the season

This first award is pretty self-explanatory. If we accept that topping the VDS rankings makes you rider of the year, who looks like they’ll achieve it this season?

Women – Annemieck van Vleuten is having a career year and leads the competition by very nearly a thousand points (978, to be precise). After the horror crash in Rio, that is not a sentence I thought I’d be typing, and it makes me incredibly happy. Van der Breggen has also had an extraordinary season but AvV is not for catching.

Men – Greg Van Avermaet is top of the list by 422 points, with Tom Dumoulin his nearest competitor. Neither ride the Vuelta, but there are potential points aplenty for each rider, as they’ll thirve in the likes of the Canadian races and the Worlds (Doom is focused on the TT, which has a hill he’ll enjoy more than his competitors). Expect Van Avermaet to hold on to his lead, given the cushion. Valverde (in third place) is out for the year and Gilbert is probably too far back, but Sagan could still make some noise. He’s 541 points back, and that should just be enough to keep GVA ahead of him.

Value pick of the year

We could award this mathematically, as there are always ultra-cheap riders who score very well on a “points per point basis”. To be my idea of a winner, however, you need to have delivered lots of points, as well as value. The “mid-priced star” award, if you will.

Women – With apologies to Cecile Uttrip Ludwig, who has turned a four point investment into 1315 points and 11th place (as well as consistent scoring, which does a lot to make a VDS owner happy) this prize has to go to Coryn Rivera, present on almost all of the top teams. With a 1670 point return on a 12 point investment this diminutive sprinter has been the season’s revelation, and I suspect she isn’t done.

Men – Primoz Roglic is on 995 points for an 8 point price, delivered far more cheaply than the 19 riders who’ve finished above him, and would be a worthy winner at this stage of the season. However, I’m going to go with Phillipe Gilbert. At 35 he’s hardly a young breakthrough star, but he’s delivered 1444 points for a cost of just 12, and could easily score more in Canada or the Italian autumn series.

Popular pick that paid off

We all like to look at the top ten lists, right? You hope that the riders you chose to ignore are the elephant traps, and the ones you picked up really were the bargains they seemed to be. This award (and the evil twin, below) reflect those emotions.

Women – Between them, the Barnes sisters are a candidate here. Hannah has been good for her 90 owners, but not exceptional. Meanwhile Alice has scored 610 points for a single point investment, but with 53 owners she narrowly missed out on the top 10 most popular list. This means, pleasingly, that we can give a virtual gong to Cecile Uttrip Ludwig, who really has been extraordinary, and has made her 84 owners very happy – on a points per point basis, even happier than Coryn Rivera’s 94 owners.

Men – Pierre Roland is on 316 teams, second-most. He’s picked up 310 points for a 2 point cost. That’s just what 34% of VDS owners were looking for. Lilian Calmejane, though, picked up 592 points for the same price, including a Tour stage win, as well as the best nickname the Cafe has come up with for a long time. He’s a winner, and so are the 219 owners that included him.

Popular pick that didn’t pay off

You’ve probably figured out what this award is for…

Women – An easy pick here, with Pauline Ferrand-Prevot focusing on mountain biking, to the considerable frustration of her 97 owners, who’d have wanted far more than 200 points to show for their 14 point investment.

Men – Very few weak performers on this list, but Louis Vervaeke has only picked up 20 points for his 200 owners. That’s not the diamond in the rough anyone was hoping for, but Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin has been less effective, and has thus far managed only 15 points for his 229 teams. At a cost of one point, either or both of these guys could still turn their seasons around.

Turkey of the year

A cruel award, this, but it is only right to look at the expensive riders who’ve disappointed us as well as the riders who’ve thrilled. Why? Because this is VDS, and most of us are bitter most of the time.

Women – Emma Johansson has yet to score a point, but that’s because she’s not really riding (though at 20 points, she’s an expensive donut). Leah Kirchmann, however, has ridden a full schedule for Sunweb, and picked up just 395 points at a 30 point investment. I suspect all 32 owners who picked her up would rather have invested elsewhere.

Men – Whilst Esteban Chaves (at 24 points, our most expensive donut) deserves some attention, he has injury excuses and could turn things around at the Vuelta. Diego Ullissi’s owners don’t have the same excuses and can’t be pleased, but he’ll pick up points throughout autumn. With just 245 points for the 22 point cost, he’ll need to.

The award goes to the man I described as “the most overrated rider in the peloton” in a preseason podcasfst, so it is with a sense of some vindication that I hand this award to Giacomo Nizzolo, reflecting his 80 point return for the 20 he cost. Only 23 buyers, and whilst he might pick up some late season points, it isn’t looking good for them.

Seriously… well done for finding that one

This final award is given to riders who offer a combination of great value and near-total obscurity, and thereby a chance to tip the cap to the owners who got clever or lucky.

Women – Not only had I heard of Arlenis Sierra, I’d seen her ride on the track at the Glasgow World Cup round a few years back and remember her. I have no excuse, therefore, for not knowing that she’d joined Astana’s road team. 1125 points (for a one point cost) later, I know better. 11 smarties knew that when adding her to their teams. Chapeau to those owners.

Men – Just four teams found room for Jasper de Buyst, who has picked up 400 points for a single point investment. Even more impressively, he’s done it by picking up points in seven different events, and with no sign that he’s finished yet. Can’t claim I know much about him, but he is a 23 year old riding for Lotto Soudal, and he looks like a tough Belgian sprinter. Lots to like.

What’s left on the schedule?

Women – The women’s season does run to a close much earlier than the men’s, unfortunately. There will be major races in Vargarda, the Bretagne Classic, and at the World Champs, but enjoy the women’s racing when it happens, because there won’t be much. Ride London is next.

Men – Plenty left on the calendar, with the Vuelta top of the bill. The World Championship races and Il Lombardia are category 2s, and there is the usual chance to score points in bunches in the run of autumn races in Italy. Next up are Poland and San Sebastian.

One rider to watch for the rest of the year

This is a pure piece of speculation on my part, as I seek riders who I think are well-positioned to add to their current score. Definitely not an award.

Women – Not an imaginative pick, but Kasia Niewiadoma finished last season strongly and is in with a chance at all the races left on the schedule this year. The World Championship course will suit her (and there’s no confusion over who’ll lead the Polish team, something you can’t say for the Dutch). Lizzie Deignan looked tremendously strong at La Course and will be another to watch.

Men – Sonny Colbrelli hasn’t set the world on fire since moving to Bahrain, but he’s a rider who’ll go well in the Italian season if he has anything left after riding the Tour – he’s on a very different schedule from previous years and I fear he’ll struggle to repeat his late-season heroics from previous years.

Instead, I’ll take a big risk and put forward Miguel Angel Lopez. He’s been beset with injuries since for the last year or so but made an encouraging return in Austria in July. The end of the season will be busy for him but his combination of time trialling and climbing is, essentially, a combination of the two most significant skills in GC racing. He needs to get through a three week schedule but he can go well in the Vuelta and perhaps nick a few points in Italy. Still to prove he belongs at the top table, but I think he changes that in the next few months.

One nugget from my own team that makes me laugh

I did a lot of FSA-DS previewing this season. In particular, I wrote about the potential changing of the guard among sprinters. About the gradual decline of Greipel (which looks about right) and the unreliability of Kittel (which backfired during the Tour). I then pushed a few names as potential emerging stars, and boy, did I suck at that. Even worse, I followed my own advice, and my team has suffered. Dan McClay has picked up 20 points for an 8 point cost. Barbier 230 for 6, Bonifazio 130 for 6, and Ewan 415 for 8. Sondre Holst Enger is an 8 point donut. An. 8. Point. Donut.

The performances of Enger and McClay, in particular, should have made me very sad. However, one of the peculiar things about prognosticating in public - apart from it leaving you with myopia and hairy palms - is that Ursula reads all and sees all. Of course, he overpriced the pair of them, but then, joyfully, he picked them anyway. Good picks in those spots and he’d be near the top of the rankings. Ha!

The battle for the win

We’re a very long way from the finishing line, but who are among the leaders at this stage?

Women – It is tight at the top of the women’s competition. There are 22 teams on more than 10,000 points, and 7 on more than 11,000. Of those, former winner frans verbiage is breathing down the neck of FransV (yes, I know the names are similar, but we’ve checked and these are unrelated teams). Kitty ZF is close in third. All of these teams have Coryn Rivera and Kasia Niewiadoma in common, but frans verbiage has Elisa Longho Borghini whilst the others have Annemiek van Vleuten. That might prove significant in the final shuffle.

Men – In the men’s competition, Jule leads by 38 points from m_m, with Cacaramus joining them to make up the three who’ve scored more than 10,000 points. There’s a greater disparity of riders than on the women’s lists, though some of the value picks you’ve read about are, unsurprisingly, shared - Calmejane and Roglic feature for all three. With a team led by Matthews, Gaviria and Degenkolb, Jule is demonstrating how effective a tough and consistent sprinter can be in VDS.

Perhaps the most distressing sight in VDS at the moment is the presence of Jens atop the combined rankings. I think I speak for all of us when I say this: bah.

Ed’s League - The news doesn’t get a whole lot better when we turn to the Editor’s draft league, where bloody Jens is in second place. Thank goodness for Majope, who is ahead of him. With a nicely balanced team, she’s going to be tough to catch, and it isn’t obvious where the threat is coming from. This competition is basically my only chance of glory, though, so I hope I’m wrong.

Betting update!

We normally do betting updates on the podcafst. However, this time I have a problem with that. I sound smug all of the time – that’s just something my voice does, however much I seek to control it. At the moment, I’ll be unbearable, because, you see – I am smug. So very smug.

I’m now in the lead, thanks to a $10 each-way bet on Macej Bodnar to win the stage 20 TT in Marseille, at 80/1. For those of you not familiar with the intricacies of British gambling conditions, that means $10 on Bodnar to win at 80/1, plus $10 on him to finish in the top three, at a quarter of those odds (20/1). It means I turned $20 into $1,020. Which was nice, though unfortunately not backed up with real money.

Other recent wins include Conor picking up a place for Dan Martin in stage 3, and me picking one up for Boasson Hagen in stage 14. The full standings of our mini competition are here.

When we started this, we set out to investigate whether it was possible to make money from cycling betting. My contention was that betting at long odds requires patience and a steady temperament, as well as a combination of skill (nobody else was picking Bodnar) and luck (the weather, the one-second victory, the fact that he had the ride of his life that day). I’ve always believed that across all sports, occasional long-odds victories are the key to a profitable ledger. Whilst the plural of anecdote is not data, it is nice to have some anecdotal support for that theory.

Chris, Conor… come and get me! Let’s all finish this season in the black!

What’ve you got?

So, with the spring season and two grand tours in the rear window, what VDS awards would you offer, and to whom? Which ones have I got wrong? What are you joys and regrets from your team? Who is going to shine for the rest of the season?