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Thursday Thoughts: Lessons from the Drafts

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Looking across the four men’s FSA-DS drafts

EuroEyes CYCLASSICS 2018
Number One... but not for Pablo
Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images for EuroEyes Cyclassics

This is the last Thursday Thoughts to come out on a Thursday, but there’s a bonus final edition coming this weekend. Expect something shortly after the (men’s) FSA-DS deadline.

Many of us have found the pressure of not submitting teams too much to cope with and have pushed the fateful button. Others are hanging on hoping to avoid injury to their chosen crew. However, some of you are still out there, paralysed with indecision and crippled by choice. Today, I’m joined by Shawn as the two of us try to make your lives even harder. What lessons can we take from the various draft leagues to inform the selection of our main teams?

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Shawn is running three draft leagues this year, as well as a young rider’s draft and a women’s draft. Thanks, Shawn! Additionally, Ewoud continues to run an editors’ league draft (thanks, Superted!). You can see the three men’s drafts on Shawn’s spreadsheet and the eds league on the FSA-DS page.

I like to have fun with spreadsheets, so I’ve tried to pull these four leagues together, and compare them against the “rankings” that are implicit in the pricing system of the main game. To deal with a few questions up front: I know that four leagues isn’t a meaningful sample. I know I’ve played fast and loose with the points to derive an average ranking, and I know Group C hadn’t finished drafting when I did this. For that reason, I’m not going to publish the full data sheet, just comment on the highest picks and a few other observations.

The table below shows the average draft position across the four men’s draft leagues (I haven’t worked with rounds, because the editors’ league has 22 teams in it). I’m going to kick things off with a few observations on the overall shape of the drafts, and then Shawn and his merry band of drafters have their own thoughts to bring into the conversation. First, the top 20 draftees.

Average Draft Position

Price Rider Rank ADP ADP - Rank
Price Rider Rank ADP ADP - Rank
40 Peter Sagan 1.0 1.50 0.50
34 Alejandro Valverde 2.0 3.50 1.50
32 Simon Yates 4.0 4.00 0.00
32 Tom Dumoulin 4.0 5.00 1.00
30 Julian Alaphilippe 6.0 6.00 0.00
32 Chris Froome 4.0 7.00 3.00
28 Elia Viviani 8.0 8.25 0.25
28 Primož Roglič 8.0 8.75 0.75
26 Miguel Angel Lopez 10.5 10.50 0.00
28 Greg Van Avermaet 8.0 10.75 2.75
26 Jasper Stuyven 10.5 11.00 0.50
24 Thibaut Pinot 13.5 12.75 -0.75
24 Romain Bardet 13.5 13.00 -0.50
22 Michal Kwiatkowski 17.0 14.25 -2.75
24 Geraint Thomas 13.5 17.25 3.75

In the table, “rank” is the position on Ursula’s price list, whilst ADP is the mean draft position across the four leagues. As you’d expect, there was relatively little movement against the rankings among the top guys - at this level, race programmes, talent and opportunity are fairly well understood. I was surprised to see Froome dropping, and I wonder if that’s a reflection of drafter boredom or Sky ennui, or whether it is a response to him swerving the Giro this year? Meanwhile, our drafters were sweet on Michal Kwiatkowski, suggesting that his single-restricted score might prove a carrot for plenty of players.

Lower in the table, there’s considerable excitement about the coming cobbles season and the development of the cross stars. Ted picked Wout and Mathieu in rounds one and two of the eds’ league (21st and 24th) but Wout was off the board by the 39th pick - a steal for JohnnySteeler - in every draft. That suggests the twelve pointer’s upside is apparent to plenty of players.

Road Cycling - European Championships Glasgow 2018: Day Eleven
Trentin, flanked by the future of cobbles racing?
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The confusion about the pecking order for sprinters flowed into the draft. Kurt Stoebel took Ackermann with the second pick in draft B, but he was still there at pick 40 in the editors’ league (a nice bonus for Ant) and at 19 and 21 in the other leagues. Meanwhile, Viviani was taken at 5th, 9th, 12th and 7th. There was agreement on Groenewegen, who went between 25th and 29th in all four leagues (the person who overspent on him was, uh, me). As a 14-pointer, he’d be expected to go in the mid-thirties so he appears to be perceived as a value pick.

Lots to pick over. With that, I’ll pass the baton to Shawn.

Thanks, Andrew. And to follow up your reasoned statistical analysis, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’ve found 8 denizens of the unwashed masses that make up our draft(s) and are willing to speak to what they’ve learned from the experience. You’ve been warned. Many of these opinions are filtered through the haze of fortified wine and pilchard intoxication.

Seemsez’s Draft Picks

Shawn: Readers may know you as the treasurer of the Society of Nairo Quintana Apologists. You picked Quintana in the second round. Was that your heart getting the better of your head?

Seemsez: As president-elect [ed note: referring to the president-elect as treasurer resulted in Seemsez’s remaining Night Train Express(c) wine being thrown in my face] of the SNQA, I am very pleased that I was able to get the Condor in the second round. I think he’s poised for a big year. Mikel Landa’s injury and Valverde’s age probably take some pressure off of him in terms of team leadership (although look out for all the youngsters...). Plus it’s a contract year, not that I think he ever particularly lacked for motivation. Basically, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he finds himself on two grand tour podia this summer. Add another one-week overall, and that’s a pretty damn good return on investment (I’m also high on Zakarin for a similar possibility). And now I don’t feel obligated to take him for 20 points, though I might still.

The average quantity and quality of beverages consumed by a drafter in Group A during one round of the draft

Shawn: Drafters, on the other hand, know you as Nico Roche’s biggest fanboy. Getting Roche in the 19th round seems like a steal. How do you see the wild Irish rose doing on the strict Sunweb team this year?

Seemsez: As for Nico, I woke up hungover next to him one morning a few drafts back and I’ve regretted it ever since. But I can’t turn my back on him now. I don’t see him seeing too many opportunities this season, and he’s getting a bit long in the tooth. I can’t see any reason anyone should take him beyond irrational loyalty...

Shawn: Besides your regrettable indiscretion with Nico and your 3 day long Night Train hangover following the draft, are there any other choices that had you scratching your head the next day?

Seemsez: My biggest regret is definitely Matej Mohoric in the third round. I don’t see any chance of him replicating his performance last year, not with the type of opportunistic rider that he is. Those opportunities are sure to be less plentiful as he becomes a bigger name. I took him ahead of Adam Yates and Wout Van Aert who I think will have better years.

Larrick23’s Draft Picks

Shawn: Looking at the Group A and Group B drafts, what pick do you believe was the biggest reach?

Larrick23: Trying to pretend that there’s an “emergency” at the Mexico-US border is a reach. Picking Pascal Ackermann at 2nd spot is certifiable. That wasn’t the shock for me though. Kurt Stoebel choosing Ackers over Sagan showed that his choice didn’t allow the brain to partake in discussions. Over in Hobosville [Ed note: I believe this is Australian slang for the United States] though, Mr Sneaky took Flower as one of his 12/13th picks. Some might point out that Group B took his name off the board 14th but like Kurt, vlady was having their heart strings pulled. It’s hard to knock a World Champion and don’t be shocked if Kwiatkowski picks up early season points in the UAE but I find it difficult to believe he can perform much better points wise than he did last year. The opportunities to win stage races will be lessening and he seems happy to build his form around not just his one day targets but GT support as well.

Shawn: Conversely, which rider were you surprised fell further than you expected?

Larrick23: At the other end of the spectrum, I was surprised how far through the draft we were before Majka got the call up. I took him at 71st and he consistently scores around 40th in VDS. At the time I mentioned that I felt that VDS pricing can affect people when it comes to the draft. The draft isn’t about value, it’s about choosing the guy on the list that should get the most points of those left.

Shawn: Your first three picks-- of Valverde, Gaviria, and Kristoff-- look strong, and it would have been unfathomable to have all 3 available last year. However, those are two old, moldy pieces of ciabatta with some young jamon between them. Valverde has to tail off at sometime, right? Could this be the year? Also, Kristoff may end up being Gav’s leadout at UAE. Do you think that Kristoff will be able to handle that and still perform for himself in the Spring?

Larrick23: [I think my last answer succinctly answers] this question about picking two old farts and a faller.

Firstly Valverde. As soon as I hit that button nearing the end of February 2018 that finalised my VDS team, I regretted not taking AV. I should have played with head over heart but I didn’t. The AV team had a completely different price structure with far more one and two pointers. The tab is still there in the excel spreadsheet. “AV Team”. Schachmann? Tick. Ackermann? Tick. Jakobsen? Tick. I could cry. And I probably will later on... So this time I wasn’t going to skip the balding bastard just because I’d like him to ride off into the sunset. Is this year he starts to fade? Possibly, but I think we all know there’s things at play when it comes to AV that just can’t be explained. After Sagan, I believe along with Ala, that he’s the most likely to top 3000 points. To regret once is enough. He was a no brainer.

MotoGP of Spain - Pre-Event
Just a pic of two good buddies enjoying a day trip from the retirement home
Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

Second of the triumphant to be trio was Gaviria. I simply picked him because of the riders left, I had him outscoring them all by a mile. All except one. Team mate and ‘ally’, Alexander ‘Mine’s a Large One’ Kristoff. A man who in 3 of the last 4 years scored in the top 5 and here he was still free at number 26. Will he and Gav make it work? I think they can. Gav chose to tell Molano to sprint into Gavs home town on Wednesday because he knew he wasn’t up to it. I don’t think he’s got an ego problem. Kristoff has a contract to find next year for top dollar and that means performing this season. He’ll do what’s best for him and that will be to take his chances in the spring when they present and pick up points at the Tour. Will he be in Gavs leadout train? Early races maybe but it’s not a viable long term strategy. I think people have looked at UAE and rightly feel they’ve been disappointing. I suspect that that view will change once Peiper and Stephens get things sorted. My hope is it happens asap.

Shawn: If you regretted not taking Valverde last year, is there any rider you regretted including in your team this year?

Larrick23: My biggest error was probably taking Konrad when I did. I’d decided to take him and Rigo only for Frans Verbiage to jump in in between. It’s the difficulty in being at the start or end of the draft. 20 plus picks between turns sometimes means you have to take a risk. I also took Philipsen early. That I’m happy with though. He might just well be this years Ackers... hey Kurt…

m_m’s Draft Picks

Shawn: One pick that surprised me this year has been Sergio Andres Higuita, whom you took in the 14th round. Before the draft, he wasn’t on my radar. So, what kind of rider do you think he is, what do you see him doing this year, and, most importantly, should I pick him in VDS?

m_m: A risky pick, but a one-point risk so who cares. He’s had a great early 2019, so let’s see what happens next. He climbs and has some speed at the finish line. Riding for Mazana-Postobon so not that many chances to get lots of points. Like Damien Touzé, I picked him mostly because he is an interesting young rider to follow. Albasini was still available and will score way more points.

Shawn: You also picked Moscon in the 2nd round (which I did also). What do you see him doing this year and how do you rationalize having to root for someone that let’s say has a certain antiquated belief system?

m_m: I took him for two reasons: 1) I think he could really do well in all kinds of races, and he’s still quite young (24); 2) he is willing to take risks during races and try things that may not work, so a fun rider to watch. But he is a rather risky pick (you never know what stupid thing he’s going to do next, and the other thing is that he who lives by the sword also dies by the sword).

Shawn: Any picks you regret?:

m_m: Picks I (sort of) regret: Boubou and le Coq are always complaining when they don’t win and way too happy when they win. Sprinters you’ll say. But that kind of attitude is emotionally draining for their teammates. I don’t want my young happy-go-lucky riders like Madouas, Touzé, Chaves and Vendrame to get contaminated.

yeehoo’s Draft Picks

Shawn: Anything stand out to you that you learned from the draft?:

yeehoo: Uh, you know, I’m not one of the youngest people on here, and I barely remember the draft. I did learn that if someone asks for Spanish riders [Ed note: Pablo employed an all-Spanish drafting strategy and told us just to pick the highest ranked Spanish rider for him while he was out riding up the Angliru], we’ll all assume (myself included) that he really means to say “Mexican” riders, and we all know that “Mexican” means basically anyone who speaks Spanish. Hell, we’ll even throw in a Portuguese rider for good measure - sounds kinda like Mexican when they talk.

Shawn: Besides the uncovering of all of our unconscious biases, did you have any other regrets during the draft?

yeehoo: I think my only regret is Michael Matthews at the 17th pick overall. Sebastiandeluded also took him here, so already you have to wonder (I love Mr. Deluded, by the way). Actually i don’t regret it so much scoring wise, but I’ve never been a fan of Bling - nothing against him, but not sure why I never seem to pull for him. Overhyped in my view, but that’s not his fault. So I had all kinds of choices here - Gav, Pinot, Bardet and Mas - all guys i do like to cheer for - and they might all outscore Mr. Bling - but I had serious doubts about Pinot and Bardet with them both focusing on the fucking Tour de fucking France this year. And Gav always seems to fall off his bike and get hurt, and Mas - well it seemed early - I kind of wish I’d taken Mas. I’d be more excited and happy about my team if I’d taken Gav or Mas here. I think if I’d taken Pinot or Bardet, I’d be feeling like I’d screwed up - at least for now, anyway. They might have great seasons. But Matthews is a very consistent scorer, so i should be ok scoring-wise with this pick, and it was in that boring, accounting type spirit that the pick was made.

You didn’t ask for what I thought was my best picks - or the picks I was happiest to get, but, for no extra charge, I’ll tell you anyway. I was really happy that Doom fell all the way to me at 8th overall. Again, not a huge Doom fan, but not an anti-fan either and he seemed like a good value here. I’m also liking my Naesen pick in round 3. And having some hopes for Carapaz and of course Pogacar should win at least one grand tour this year.

Shawn: Let’s discuss that last pick. You picked the 20 year-old neo pro and last year’s l’Avenir winner, Tadej Pogacar, in the 11th round. There are a lot of talented climbers that have struggled on the former Lampre team. What do you think will be different for the young Slovenian?

Yeehoo: Well, first as to the pick, I just wanted to get at least one of the hot names, and I saw some people were doing lists at that point, and i thought he might not last long - he seemed like a guy likely to be on lists. Back to your question, i leave the below two photos as evidence of why i think he’ll do better than his predecessors.

First Pogacar:

More Pogacar:

and former Lampre riders:

I rest my case. I mean, we are talking grand tours here. (I admit, that’s some low fruit, but you did ask for it.)

P.S. By the way, I really really regret that we no longer have those great Lampre kit’s in the peloton anymore

P.P.S. For the first time, I actually thought about the actual person in that Lampre kit - probably a guy who is actually getting out on his bike and riding in that kit. Fucking hell! I say props to that guy! Always a ton of respect for people who have that kind of courage. (both the physical part of getting on a bike and riding at that weight, and also just to not give a shit what people think of you and walk around in your Lampre kit in public). Love it, bravo to Mr. Lampre dude!

vlady’s Draft Picks

Shawn: You managed to get Richie Porte in the 6th round, right between picks of Jasper Philipsen and Sep Vanmarcke. While Richie was the butt of many jokes, this may end up being a steal. What are your expectations for him this year, and are you prepared for the come down after the 9th stage of the Tour- I can recommend a good shrink?

vlady: This is not my first rodeo with Richie. I had him in VDS last year and he cost me 18 pts. That still didn’t make him the worst restricted rider on my team as I also had Chaves. I think for a 6th round Richie is a very good pick up and he is likely to outscore a lot of riders picked before him. I don’t expect him to win the Tour though, in all honesty, even if he makes it to Paris in one piece. I think that ship has sailed, and I will be happy with a top 5 and very excited if he gets on the podium.

2018 Tour Down Under - Stage 3
Such a hot vds commodity this year, he had to take a dip in the ocean to cool off
Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Shawn: You also picked Phil Bauhaus in the 9th round when there were still quite a lot of higher priced riders available. Do you think his popularity this year is due to trying to pick the next Ackermann or is there something more to it?

vlady: Phil Bauhaus is another guy that I can’t seem to get away from. Like Richie, he was one of the disappointments of my 2018 VDS vintage. I am not sure if he is that popular among others, but for me he’s just a guy that impressed me back in 2017 and I still haven’t given up on him. Also I really wanted a sprinter and WzK was hogging all of them, so there was not that much to choose from.

Shawn: Any other picks by players surprise you?

vlady: I think the biggest reach may have been Ackermann in second overall. I mean, when fate gives you the opportunity to take Sagan second overall, you don’t let that go. But I know why Kurt picked him, it has nothing to do with reason. Jasper Philipsen in round 6 was another pick that raised some eyebrows. I am a Jasper believer myself, but even I was stunned by that. On the other hand, I was really shocked that Nibali went in round 4. I know why I didn’t pick him, but I thought there would be someone who still had faith in him. Not sure what he did to deserve this fate. He was picked after a certain 19-year-old neopro for crying out loud. Talking of Remco, I’m not sure what he can do in the 50 race days that he is scheduled to do. Sagan did 52 races days in his first season and collected 697 VDS points. He was a year older than Remco is at this point and he drew his fair share of Merckx comparisons.

sebastiandeluded’s Draft Picks

Shawn: You picked Primoz Roglic before Greg Van Avermaet and Elia Viviani. Now we all love a good ski jumper to cyclist story, but how do you see him improving on last year’s performance where he won 3 stage races and took a stage at the Tour while finishing just off of the podium?

sebastiandeluded: My work requires an ever shifting balance between logical and illogical thinking, and that carries over, for better or worse, into practically everything I do. My logical brain tells me GVA is past his peak, if only slightly. Illogically, I have a greater affection for Roglic. It’s not really that I think he’ll score more points than GVA, or Viviani for that matter. As I go further down the list, logic dictates that the best approach is selecting the ‘best available’ rider. And to a point, I do that. Honest self-assessment though, dictates that I don’t really know enough to have a great deal of confidence in this approach, less and less so as we go down the list. I read about some of these guys, I like something about their story or their talent or their style and through that process, I create narratives I would love to see happen and choose riders accordingly. Mix that with irrational and pie-eyed optimism, a lack of impulse control, and a somewhat rebellious nature, and viola! we have a team.

Wannabe Scattista’s Draft Picks

Shawn: Your strategy this year seemed to be to take all of the young climbers that you could find-- Enric Mas, Richard Carapaz, Ivan Sosa, Felix Grosschartner, David Gaudu, Ben O’Connor, and Gino Mader all made it on your team. Out of those riders, besides Mas and Carapaz, who do you see in line for a breakout year? Also, what are your expectations for Sosa on a Sky team that is stacked with talent and potentially folding at the end of the year?

Wannabe Scattista: I did not go into the draft looking specifically for climbers. My strategy is always to pick the best available rider, and it just fell out that way. That also means that I tend to pick up some of my VDS team in the early stages, as the best available at a given price point is probably someone that I already took. Of course, sometimes they are gone. My first pick was tough -- it was between Doom, Simon and Ala, and tbh Doom is my least favorite of those three. However, as I said somewhere else, you can’t win the Draft in Round 1, but you can definitely lose it there (Hi, Kurt!), and I thought Doom was the safest bet. When it came back to me late in round 2, the top two riders on my draft board were Wellens and Mas. I had a feeling that Enric wouldn’t last, so I took him first, and it worked out, I got both of my guys. If I have regrets, it’s that there were probably better guys available when I took Tao and Meintjes, but some of my picks were autodrafted from a list, so it is what it is.

For part two of your question, I am not sure what to expect of Sosa, but I can see him doing something similar to Bernal last year, so it was worth a shot. And I dropped him in VDS (for now). Of the other young climbers, I’m big on Ben O’Connor, who I got in the draft, and Mark Padun, who I didn’t. Both are showing consistent improvement and are ready to make noises this year. Gino Mader is a wildcard, but should get chances on that team. Perhaps less of a pure climber, but a strong rider. He might be a Moscon type, but hopefully a nicer person!

Shawn: Besides Kurt’s infamous Ackermann pick, any other picks surprise you?

Wannabe Scattista: Biggest surprises seemed to come mostly from Group B. That’s even ignoring Kurt and Pablo, who were picking to a plan. How did Doom drop to 8? I can’t see him scoring less than MAL, that seems a pretty wild pick so early. MAL is good, but not top 5. Same with Froome, I don’t see him scoring big in 2019. Even if he wins the Tour again, he probably won’t do a second GT this year, so he will be capped under 2000 is my guess. Wellens at 13th has been mentioned, I got him at 27th in Group A. I was surprised at Matthews falling to 17th in both groups. I think he will score more than Bardet, Kwiatkowski or Moscon. Also in group B, Carapaz went quite low. I was very surprised to see him picked after guys like Oomen, Kruiswijk, Sam Bennett, even Teuns. He just finished 4th in the Giro, and is going to have a big year.

Seemsez: It’s interesting wannabe talked about his strategy: best available rider. Another strategy, that I unintentionally tend to employ is to have a balanced squad. I like having options for points at every type of race. So I’ll take the best available rider in the early rounds (in this case its Stuyven, Quintana), which will dictate who I value down the list. For example, had I taken Viviani instead of Stuyven with my first pick, it’s unlikely I’d have taken Sam Bennett over Niki Terpstra (though as it turns out, Terpstra stayed on the board long enough to get him anyway... are we low on Terpstra this year or something? he did very impressively win Flanders last year and is now out of the QS-talent-quagmire). The makeup of my team also led me to reach for some fliers like Laurens De Plus and Amaury Capiot, that I probably could have afforded to wait on and not lose any sleep if I were scooped. This is another alternative strategy for VDS: building a healthy balance around the best valued riders. I think Daniel Martinez is a great 4 point value, which makes me less likely to go fishing for Climbians elsewhere.

th whistler’s Draft Picks

Shawn: Oli Naesen was on your FSA DS winning team last year. He didn’t do great, but did score about 1,400 points. This year you picked him in the 2nd round, which some might consider to be a bit of a reach. Any reader would be happy winning VDS once. You’ve won it two times. Can you share with some of us mortals your secret and why you are so high on Oli?

th whistler: I think I’m dealing in a VDS haze this year. Haven’t focused on it enough I think. Too much champagne. I’ve said it before but I am no expert...so how I have won twice...really just luck. But I do think I’m good at calculating good returns on riders. And also avoiding traps. I love Michael Matthews but he was never value at 30 or 32 and maybe still isn’t at 22. His best year was 2000ish. Thus my pick of Oli. Talented guy and strong. Lots of bad luck. He is a couple of punctures away from a 2000 point season. And as we saw in late season races he is strong. So is Lampaert. Could see those 2 having big years. Oli just needs to put together a couple of clean weeks. Taking him ahead of Gaviria was tough...but I had Gav in the draft last year and he sunk me. Oli feels like a safe bet. Like Colbrelli maybe as well. Mas, Mohoric, Maxxy Schac, too rich this year. Love them. Have a trophy because of them but too rich. Bummed to have missed out on Ala to Shawn by being late [Ed note: First rule of the draft is to not bogart the Night Train. Second rule is that if you don’t show up for your pick in the first round, you get Froome]. Froome probably outscores him, but I love cheering for Ala. Really like Groany at 14. Usually stay away from the teenage wasteland but the 12-18 point guys are intriguing this year. Lots of good value at 2 again (and some traps ). Sagan this year...maybe. My wife says I should just quit while I am ahead.

21st Santos Tour Down Under 2019 - Stage 2
You heard it here first— 2x vds champion says this guy is good value at 40 points
Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Shawn: Some interesting insights. Most apparent, if I didn’t know you were Canadian, I’d be able to guess after that answer — polite and modest and 2 time vds winner. I don’t know, but if I had won 2 times, I’d probably have a pair of underwear marking the accomplishment that I would wear outside my pants.

th whistler: I did wear my Ursula undies that way for a while but too many weird looks. Folks in the real world don’t understand VDS or its glory. They think it’s sort of a disease (it prob is).

wannabe scattista: I’m still bragging about the year I came 26th.

yeehoo: I brag (and wear my underwear on the outside) about my participation trophies.