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FSA-DS Q&A with Ursula

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If you dance with the Devil, you might as well lead. I didn’t

Chris Froome
2017 top scorer, unknown quantity in 2018

Then I did something I haven’t done before: make those 1-6 pointers dirt cheap. Its like I’m giving them away!

Well, the teams are out and the FSA-DS season is underway. This seems like an opportune moment to bring you the thoughts of the man who ruins our February every year, the diabolic curator of the points-list himsef: Ursula. If you missed last year’s podcafst, this is a chance to get a bit of an insight into how the list comes together and the rationale behind it.

Before we begin, I should take a brief moment to say a sincere thank you to Ursula and to Jens, umwolverine, Super Ted, Chris and all the others who put so much time into producing the best fantasy cycling game there is, and rolling it out to us for absolutely nothing. I should also point out that we wrote this over aweek or so at a time preceding the deadline, so there are some stats and facts that were guessed at in advance, so there aren’t precise numbers attached. Anyway, enough from me, let’s start quizzing Ursula.

Q - In the build-up to the deadline, a lot of the chatter on here was about prices. Lots of us were surprised by how many bargains there were in the middle prices, and at just how hard it has felt to pull a team together. Can you tell us how you decided to structure it that way?

A - For me, the interesting part of this particular cycling game, what makes it unique, is that there’s no one formula for the pricing structure. It varies every year. And it varies every year because we have a ton of people who play this game every year so by varying the price structure they have to get away from doing the same thing every year. The riders have to vary somewhat and hopefully the kinds of riders people pick has to vary every year. I find that important because all of us have our biases- our favorite riders and teams. I want people to have to get out of their ruts.

Wave if you spent 2012 making VDS owners happy!
AFP/Getty Images

That’s how I approach the game every year in November. As for this particular year, um, Andrew, its not the mid-priced riders that are the biggest bargain this year; its the cheapest riders. Ha! The 1-6 point riders are all much cheaper than any previous year. For the 8-18 point riders they gradually scale worse and worse the more expensive they are. 8 pointers are priced like they usually are, same with 10 pointers. 12 pointers are a little less of a bargain, 14 pointers a little less still and 16 pointers: kinda expensive. But affordable. But when you get to the restricted riders, the price becomes serious: you got to really like that rider to choose them. Again it scales up: the 18 and 20 pointers are expensive and I don’t expect most of them will get near the magic 100ppp mark. 22, 24, and 26 pointers: whew that’s quite a mark-up! For riders priced at 28 and up, wow, those prices are crazy like its kinda obvious I am saying ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE. I am really trying to steer people away from those guys.

Why? I think most people know that the expensive riders, besides any other qualities they have, are solid buys even below the 100ppp range because they are rarely busts, especially compared to the mid-priced and cheap riders. So this year I made it so those guys just wreck most teams they are on. Then I did something I haven’t done before: make those 1-6 pointers dirt cheap. Its like I’m giving them away!

The ultimate goal for me is to make it so that there’s a variety of paths to victory in the game; that players don’t have to have that one or those two riders to be competitive. Last year was for me the most satisfying year yet in that regard. The top players did not overlap much with their big points earners. That’s still the goal for me this year except this time players need to take into consideration a group of riders, the 1-6 pointers, that are normally an afterthought to many players. Previously those cheepies were interesting mainly in hopes of finding those very few riders who would blow up in a given year. You know who I am talking about: Van Asbroeck, Theuns, Kittel, Moser, etc. This year players are still looking for those riders but since the cheap riders are so cheap, one could choose ten or more that could score 200-500ppp or more. That opens up another avenue to a high score in the game. The fun part to me is seeing how much will players take advantage of this different environment and have both fewer restricted riders and more cheap riders. The last few days there’s been an interesting, hilarious thread by wannabe scattista about the shape of people’s teams. You can read it and see people wondering if its okay to have so many cheap riders on their teams. The math is checking out but its against what they have done for years now.

And really I don’t know what kind of team will win even though I’ve set up this year’s price list with such a pronounced bias towards the lower middle and working class riders. Perhaps the few players who pick Sagan will get rewarded with another historic season of 4500+ and its those players who will contest the win. I dunno. Historically riders priced say 12-16 points have a high bust rate and with the ruinously expensive restricted riders this year, many if not most players are investing in that scary 12-16 Richie Porte Memorial Point Range.

Q - You must have had some idea, as you pulled the scoring lists together, as to who would be the most popular riders and what players would be saying. Now that many teams are picked, as you look at rider popularity, are you finding any surprises?

A - It is looking like Caleb Ewan will be the most popular rider this year. Again. BORING! That’s not really surprising since he was a fairly cheap sprinter last year, has a high profile for that lower middle class price range because of his yearly success at the TDU, and he’s priced about the same this year. I don’t have him on my team: IMO I want more return than what he provides. I don’t feel he’s gonna rocket up to the top tier of sprinters like Groany or Gaviria have done lately. But he’s popular.

Hyper-popular 8 pointer Ewan - a rare moment of generosity or Ursula-trap?
Getty Images

Benoot is also popular and like Ewan he’s not on my team for basically the same reasons, minus the TDU hype. Uber talented, yes, cute as the dickens absolutely, but I don’t know if he is gonna be dominant ever. Maybe if he were on a different team...

Looking at the expensive riders we see very few of them anywhere near the most popular riders. Richie Porte is the most popular as of February 12th (big, big smile here) but I am scratching my head why an 18 pointer with a 1279 career best way back in 2013 would be among the most popular riders. Yeah, he always makes a big splash at the Tour Down Under. But I’ve sen Cadel Evans, and Richie you’re no Cadel Evans. DO YOU EVEN HAVE A DOG???? Speaking of big splashes, Magnus Cort Neilsen is all of a sudden very popular because of his Dubai Tour feats. Dammit. I had him on my team before that. But we’ll see-last year he had done two races by this time (and none after that) as opposed to just one this year: maybe folks will realize that before they submit their teams?

A couple of other riders are not surprisingly popular (Superman Lopez for one) but overall its a different group of riders who are popular this year. Guys like Toms Skujins or Lulu or Kreuziger or Cruise Ship. I think that’s an effect of pointing players towards the deep end of the pool: once they get there they look for the nearest familiar name to latch onto. Valverde is relatively popular like he’s never been. I wonder if that is partially an effect of no Contador as Bert was always way more popular than the Green Bullet. So I like what I am seeing: a big spread of riders, most of whom I am not picking. Of the teams that have already been submitted I have only 3-4 of the 20 most popular riders, which is fewer than normal.

Q - Something I enjoy about the game is the level of interaction you have with the players. In particular, you pick a team yourself. There’s obviously a specific challenge in that anything Ursula the player knows, Ursula the price-setter knows. Still, I always get a kick out of looking at your team. Can you tell us about your 2018 selections?

A Oh god I hate playing against myself! When I start picking my team its like I undergo a personality change: I get, what’s that word? Nice. Yeah I think that’s it. Nice. ;) Sounds weird...Anyway, at the moment, I still have 30 riders on my team and several more could make their way onto it. But I do have two 18 pointers (yikes! Bad ursula Bad!) in Colbrelli and Chaves. I tend to look for riders who are on teams that will give them free reign as much as possible. I got Sep, I think. Maybe. Sort of. Always scary to pick a Vaughters rider. Sometimes they actually pan out. In general I have more cobbles guys than usual and fewer GC boys. Feels weird. But I tend to stay away from the most normal picks? No Benoot. Yes to Feline. Yes to SKA and Senechal. No to Naesen (which is hard to do and I might change my mind as I had him last year and I have attachment issues) but yes to his new wingman, Dillier. Yes to young climbers like Gaudu, Mas, and Kamna. Maybe Senni. Hmm...no. Hell no to Rolland. Jesus Herrada on Cofidis? Hell yes. He’ll have oodles of chances. Gorka and not Ion? I’m pretty positive about that. Formolo maybe not. Valgren I go back and forth on. Same with Lutsenko who is such a puzzle. I wish both of those guys had sharper elbows, ya know?

Gaudu gets the thumbs up from Ursula and plenty of the rest of us, too
AFP/Getty Images

Q With so many riders representing serious value, there’s been talk about whether the tradition “100 points per point” rule will hold up. Historically, it is often right - in 2017, the “Platonic team” scoring 15,000 would have finished 11th. However, in 2016 it would have landed you 81st, with the winner (TH Whistler) coming in just short of 20,000 points. You’ve talked about the need to “make up” for expensive riders with high returns from cheaper riders - what sort of return would you see as “par” for one and two pointers in 2018, and will you make a prediction for the winning score? I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’ll see our first ever 20,000 score.

A I think so too Andrew. To do that your team needs to average 800 pointers for each of the 25 riders. Last year exactly 58 riders score 800 or more. Most of those were the restricted riders. Another 25 scored 600+ and another 13 scored 500+. 25 of those 38 riders who scored between 500-800 would have been priced at 6 points or below this year. Several people will pick those guys to go along with their couple of more expensive riders who will score 1500+. Its gonna happen.