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Thursday Thoughts: No breakouts here!

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Three guys who definitely won’t be on my 2019 VDS team

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There’s a decent chance that if you met me, you’d think I was a miserable sod. If you only get to know me slightly you see the grumpy and cynical exterior. There’s a little secret that I’m going to let you in on, though. I’m actually a positive and optimistic person. Grumpy and cynical, sure, but really not that miserable. I believe the glass is half full. Still, a man has his limits.

It is dark, cold, and wet in Edinburgh and I am scraping ice off my car every time I use it. At this time of year, four straight weeks of being positive about guys who are going to make a breakthrough is all I can manage. Let’s take a week off optimism and bring some negativity.

Here, then, are three guys who I think are going to be considerably worse in 2019 than they were in 2018. In order to make this interesting, I’ve limited myself to guys who finished in the top 25 of VDS scoring (the full list is here). Therefore, we’re talking about productive and high-quality cyclists. I’m not saying they’re going to suck. Just that they won’t match their 2018 performance and I won’t be picking them.

I looked at my trio and worried that I was being unrealistic in planning marked deterioration, but if you look at a comparable list from 2017, four of the top ten (Froome, Kristoff, Nibali and Gaviria) all dropped more than 1,000 points in their 2018 returns. They went from places 1, 5 6 and 8 respectively to 20th, 21st, 57th and 81st. Bad luck? Sure, but that doesn’t explain all of it for any of them.

Enough build up! Let’s get to the first name.

Elia Viviani

2018 VDS Performance: 4th, 2,396 points

2018 major results: Won four stages of the Giro and three of the Vuelta, as well as the Italian Nats, Hamburg, and the Dubai overall among 17 wins. That would have placed him 13th among World Tour teams in 2018. He was active on the track last year, too.

Why I won’t be picking him: This is, admittedly, a bit of a departure for me. It isn’t too long since I anointed Viviani the championship belt holder among sprinters. On 2018 performance, I stand by that. I pointed out at the time just how fungible those rankings can be, and I think he is benefitting from a quiet period between the era of Greipel, Cav and Kittel, and the era of… whoever comes next.

Viviani again

I suspect that Viviani will line up more often against the biggest sprinters (a justifiable criticism of my ranking of his ’18 performance) next year, and he’ll also face tougher competition from emerging sprinters in his own team. A big year from a resurgent Kittel, or from Groany, Gaviria, or any of the myriad other stars would also eat into his points total rapidly.

The discussion on my breakout sprinters piece was informative, and I took from it two lessons: first, it is a good idea to pick VDS sprinters but they aren’t reliable returns at high points level; second, the gaps between brilliance and mediocrity are perhaps the smallest of any speciality (hence some promising riders end up driving trucks, apparently, whilst others can suddenly breakout to become mega-dominant). So, I’m staying away from the most productive sprinter of 2018.

Romain Bardet

2018 VDS Performance: 8th, 2100 points

2018 major results: His only win was in the Ardeche Classic, but podiums in Liege, the Worlds, Dauphine and Strade Bianche were allied to a Tour 6th for a season that was consistently productive.

Why I won’t be picking him: 2018 was Romain’s highest scoring season to date, but he’s been extremely consistent, and you have to go back to 2013 to find a year when he didn’t crack the 1,000 point mark. I’ve also been an advocate for his abilities as a one-day rider. So this pick might come as something of a surprise. What gives?

First of all, did you know that, of the 7 Grand Tours he’s started, he’s finished all of them in the top fifteen, with five top tens (and two podiums)? That is pretty remarkable, and whilst he isn’t “due” bad luck, his consistency has been helped by some impressive July returns every year. Even if he does complete the buckle again in 2019, the competition may well be tougher than it was in 2018 when he could only finish 6th.

Second, it is always worth thinking about the world courses when picking a VDS team, and his 300 points from Innsbruck are very unlikely to be replicated in Harrogate. There simply isn’t a hill in Yorkshire steep enough to put him back on a podium. You can make a case that he’s unlikely to have the sort of luck he got in Liege or Strade, either.

I like Romain and I’m confident he’ll pick up some results. 1,000 points worth is possible, but [Ursula’s score goes here – 24? 28? 136? 12 * π?] points worth? I don’t see it.

Niki Terpstra

2018 VDS Performance: 23rd, 1,426 points

2018 major results: Won Flanders, as well as E3, Le Samyn, and the World TTT. Threw in a Roubaix podium and one in Paris-Tours, but only scored on 11 days in the season, which speaks to the importance of that high winning percentage.

Why I won’t be picking him: After I picked his offseason move as a transfer I hated, this is probably not a surprise pick. He is going to struggle to replicate his 2018 season and even if Ursula prices that in, I won’t be interested in him as the Direct Energie classics stud. Speaking as someone who owned him in the draft and standard leagues, doesn’t it feel like his 2018 return was kind of weak for his performance? Also, isn’t it tough to see him managing that again? Yeah, I thought so too.

Terpstra Wins