How to choose your VDS team? Do you put your faith in statistical analysis? How about mere luck? There are tales of bloody sacrifice as Cafésters look for a sign from the gods for which six-pointers to choose. I myself choose none of these, and rather base my selections largely on gut feeling...and the month of February.
A while ago now, I wrote a little piece about the month of August, and my perhaps unfair prejudice against it. Well, if there is another month to which I may give undeserved qualities, that would be February. It embodies, shall we say, the cycling version of “spring has sprung,” as races begin to pop up out of nowhere and form begins to bloom. The luckier riders are sent to warmer climes while the, well, French ones stay at home for a freezing Marseillaise and a hopefully curse-free Bessèges. That’s not to mention the cyclo-cross worlds, which I felt fortunate to have seen right up to the point where Van der Poel showed the exact extent of his superiority on the most important section of the course.
But back to the road, where the month has already started brightly. Marcel Kittel and Tim Wellens began building the foundations of successful seasons in Mallorca while Anthony Turgis will, some may say, be in need of an exorcism if he wishes to take the winner’s laurel any time soon, having done so yesterday in a windy Marseille. Then we had the finish of the infant San Juan tour where Winner Anacona came out on top, although more will be made of the ninth-place finisher, already-anointed world-beater Remco Evenepoel. With Nairo Quintana in front of him and Tiesj Benoot behind, it wasn’t a bad first pro race for the Deceuninck flyer.
His success will of course be overshadowed by more unsavoury dealings in relation to his team this week. My question about this is: even if everyone in the team believed that he’d done nothing wrong (obviously an incorrect belief), from a logical perspective, why was Keisse not simply withdrawn from the race by Deceuninck-Quickstep? Clearly they had no wish to punish him properly, and withdrawing him from the race would have been a nominal chastening with no real consequences that would extinguish the situation, or come as close as possible to doing so. Lefevre’s campaign of dodgy statements in the aftermath of the event are utterly brainless, especially in a sport that relies so much on sponsors. I know the answer to this question, of course, and it is incompetence in relation to PR issues. Also, y’know, sexism. The jobs of the soigneurs, cooks, riders and doctors of Deceuninck are at stake here, and shouldn’t be put on the line by either sexism or incompetence, both of which certainly exist in cycling outside of Deceuninck. But this is a positive piece, so we’ll move on to the upcoming races.
These races start with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, which will see such top riders as world champion Valverde, Tour champion Thomas, Groenewegen, Kristoff and Dan Martin take the start for a hilly stage race that I’d have predicted Tim Wellens to win if he were riding but since he isn’t, I’ll go for Cofidis’ Jesús Herrada in his stead. At the same time we have Bességes, which is always a good indicator of which French guy will score somebody else a load of VDS points this year. Keep an eye out for Romain Combaud, who rides for the always-competitive Delko Marseille outfit and has started the season well.
Then comes the new race Colombia 2.1, with a name that I’d make fun of if I were in a worse mood but will seem to function more in fact as a San Juan 2.0, with most of the same riders and, through pure force of numbers, probably a South American winner. It precedes three races that are particularly close to my heart: Oman, Algarve and Andalucia. They are the season’s real warmup races as the classics guys tune up for Omloop and GC guys, or most of them, decide they might want to start embellishing their palmarés. Andalucia is my favourite. It’s usually televised with a degree of professionalism and it’s full of close stages decided by big stars. Oman is less beloved and worse televised, but I see its charms — a rider can be guaranteed a degree of warmth, from the conditions if not from his competitors. And Algarve has Malhao, so it’s cool.
The month ends with the extended, amalgamated, UAE Tour. It takes in the big sights from the Tours Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a seven-stage race. And I do see the objections to it, don’t get me wrong. I can’t guarantee narrow, snaking roads and fans transplanted straight from the Basque Country. I can guarantee a star-studded cast, most of them going balls-out and one of the best glimpses at this year’s sprint battle that we’re going to get for months. Unfortunately, you’ll have to have your team picked by the time it starts.
That will bring us to Omloop, but that’s in March this year and is beyond my remit. The season does not start then, however. Don’t ignore February like I just ignored the Trofeo Laigueglia, it’s worth paying attention to.