Welcome to what I hope will be a bi-weekly column on the pro-conti ranks and upcoming shit small races. I had a lot of fun last season previewing the SSRs that don’t get a lot of coverage in the SSSRSSP (Shawn’s Shit Small Race Shit Small Preview) series and want to continue highlighting these races and what’s happening in the pro-conti (and continental) ranks without necessarily doing a big preview for each race.
WITHER SSR RACING?
I’ve now spent approximately 2,326 hours writing about vds, 47,248 hours conducting vds drafts, 2.2 x 10 22nd power years researching my vds team, and today, while watching Le Samyn, and then wondering why Florian Senechal only scored 100 points for his first professional victory, was the first time that I realized that Ursula lowered the categories downward for many of the SSR races. All of these races, once category 5, are now only category 6-- Classic Sud Ardèche, Royal Bernard Drôme Classic, Le Samyn, GP Miguel Indurain, Tour du Finistère, Tour de l’Ain - la route du Progrès, Tour of Norway, Grote Prijs Jef Scherens, and Omloop van het Houtland Lichtervelde. These races have been apparently removed altogether from vds-- GP Kanton Aargau-Gippingen, Elfstedenronde, Tour of Austria (which makes sense now that there may not be an Austrian cyclist left by the end of the year), and Famenne Ardenne Classic.
So, those 20 virtual directeurs sportif’s hoping to ride the Lars Boom train to victory might have their hopes derailed. It’s not all bad news, though, as Three Dogs gets a bump up to category 4, though it’ll continue to really only be one dog.
And you can’t really blame the She-Bear for this. Say what you will about the evilness of Ursula, but at least it’s an ethos— these races are drawing less World Tour teams, resulting in their downgrade based upon Ursula’s category rankings. LINK. For instance, last year the Royal Bernard Drôme Classic drew French cup stalwarts AG2R and Groupama-FDJ, but also Trek, Quick-Step, and Astana. This year, it drew just the two French teams. It’s an unfortunate consequence of more races being added to the World Tour, with participation mandatory, and the shrinking of team rosters. Unless your team is racing under the colors of the flag where the race is hosted, there’s simply no justification to stretch your resources even thinner and send a group to these SSRs. The financial situation of many of these SSRs are already perilous and the lack of World Tour team availability is going to make it even worse. And I wish I could say that if more people started watching these races, there’s a chance that they will stick around, but unfortunately I don’t think firing up a Tiz-cycling stream is going to make any difference to the bottom line of these races.
In other SSR calendar news, the Handzame Classic has not disappeared, but has just changed its name to Bredene Koksijde Classic, which just rolls off my ‘Merican tongue. (Also, the race is listed both under its new name and old name in vds, and as 2 different categories, so if you’re strategy was to kill Handzame this year in vds it’s about to start paying off handsomely).
Norwegian fans will no longer have a Smorgasbord of racing in their home country, as the Tour of Norway ate up the Tour des Fjords like Alexander Kristoff eating herring at an all-you-can-eat buffet (I’m sorry, Andrew, I know it’s wrong but I just can’t help myself). The Arctic Race of Norway is still around, though, as a digestif.
A few new races join the SSR calendar this year. The Giro di Sicilia is a 2.1 category stage race with 4 stages and starts on April 3rd. Hopefully, the race is going to be better than the website design-- which is straight out of Geocities in 1998. Also, the logo of the race is laughably bad. I would put it in this post, but unfortunately the website informs me when I try to click on it and save it that it’s protected by copyright. Now, I’m pretty sure that the Sicilian organizer wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court as it would be covered by fair use, but I’m also pretty sure that taking action against someone in Sicily has a much different connotation than bringing someone to court, so I’m going to do what’s best for myself and my family and steer clear.
After skipping a year, the Vuelta a la Rioja was supposed to be back this year on April 7th after a one year hiatus. However, it was announced on March 7th that the unusually sprinty one day Spanish race will not be coming back due to financial issues. The race was supposed to be part of the inaugural Copa de Espana, the Spanish answer to the French, Belgian, and Colbrelli cup races. Lots remains to be sorted out regarding the Spanish cup, though every Spanish race save for three, including the Vuelta, Catalunya, and Pais Vasco, count toward points, which makes it hard to see anyone but Valverde as the winner.
Back this year after 7 years is the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen, last won by….. Theo Bos. Prior to 2012, some big names did win the race in the beginning of their careers— including Boonen and Van Avermaert. The race will be part of the rebranded and reconfigured Belgian cup this year (formerly known as the Napolean Cup, currently known as the Bingoal Cup), which only will include 8 Belgian 1.1 races— GP Monsere, GP Marcel Kint, Circuit de Wallonie, Dwars door het Hageland, Halle Ingooigem, Schaal Sels, Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen, and finishing with the Memorial Steenbergen on October 13, 2019.
Races not returning this year include the Dwars door West-Vlaanderen, which after 72 editions went from a multi-day race, to a one day race, to a no day race, and the Colorado Classic, which went from a stage race to a no-men-allowed race.
UPCOMING SHIT SMALL RACES
GP Industria & Artichokes
When: March 10th
The course: same as last year. If you want more
helpful information more knowledgable analysis more words and bad jokes, you can look at last year’s preview. Here’s the profile:
Who’s there: 7 WT teams, 10 Pro-Contis, an Italian team, and a few Continental outfits. Bah-Meh is not back this year, so Matej Mohoric will not be able to defend his crown.
Who’s going to win: Thibaut Pinot is here, but a win probably requires better descending skills than he has. David Gaudu, if given the opportunity to not work for Pinot, could take the victory. Tadej Pogacar is the new Remco and could win by 10 minutes if he wanted to. Mitchelton-Scott always do well here, but don’t have their A team. While I’d like to see Robert Stannard get a shot, they’re probably riding for everyone’s favorite racist uncle, Michael Albasini. Richard Carapaz is probably the favorite (he did have a 2nd place here in 2017) but Carlos Barbero could surprise for Movi. Can Max Schachmann succeed away from the Quick-Step dynasty? We’ll see, and this race is not dissimilar to the Classic de l’Ardeche, where he finished 2nd to Bardet last year. This feels like a race that Giovanni Visconti has won before, but surprisingly he didn’t (though he did win the similarly-themed but discontinued GP Industria e Commercio Artigianato Carnaghese in 2011). I’ll go with Visconti adding another artichoke to his palmares.
Ronde van Drenthe
When? March 17th
The course: There will be Dutch mountains and Dutch cobbles. Those mountains are intimidating and look like this:
The riders will have to do 3 ascents of the VAM-berg, which is less taxing on the legs than the nose as it is literally a trash mountain. The cobbles, while not of the Roubaix quality, will provide the main difficulty for the riders. This is always a fun little race that deserves a watch.
Who’s there? CCC and Trek from the World Tour and the usual pro-conti suspects.
Who’s going to win? Not much announced in terms of the startlist yet, but let’s go with Guillaume van Keirsbulck.
PRO-CONTI POWER RANKINGS
Every other week, I’ll update a definitive list of the top 10 pro-conti teams based on a highly objective and complex proprietary formula (okay, it’s actually just my mind grapes soaked in 2 or 3 Belgian beers and my thinking cap, which is a commemorative Chi Chi’s sombrero) and check in to see how they are doing in vds.
1. Direct Energie
Overall vds ranking: 8th (330 points)
Pro-Conti vds ranking: 1st
Lilian Calmejane won the Classic de l’Ardeche while Niki Terpstra has looked frisky in Belgium, with a podium in KBK and Le Samyn. The team already has 6 victories to its name, almost half of their haul last year. They look like a team that is proving that they should be at the World Tour level, where they are interested to move up to soon.
Overall vds ranking: 18th (60 points)
Pro-Conti vds ranking: 4th
Christophe Laporte looked great in Besseges while Jesus Herrada was strong in the silly season Spanish races and Oman. They were quieter on opening weekend, but even with the millstone of Bouhanni hanging around their neck this season, Cofidis is looking good.
3. Wanty - Groupe Gobert
Overall vds ranking: 16th (120 points)
Pro-Conti vds ranking: 3rd
No wins yet, but they’ve rarely found themselves outside the top 10 in a race. Aime De Gendt looks to be a great addition to Hilaire Van Hitchcock’s squad after his 2nd place finish in Le Samyn.
4. Arkea Samsic
Overall vds ranking: 15th (140 points)
Pro-Conti vds ranking: 2nd
The Warren Barguil-Andre Greipel meet cute has so far been going unexpectedly better than expected (how is that for tepid and redundant praise?), while they were able to get a surprise 5th place out of Elie Gesbert in Oman.
5. Neri Sottoli - something - something
Overall vds ranking: T25th (15 points)
Pro-Conti vds ranking: 9th
We’ll put them in these power rankings for probably the only time this year based upon Simone Velasco’s impressive victory in Trofeo Laigueglia. Giovanni Visconti has also looked frisky for a grandfather.
6. Roompot (21st overall w/ 45 points, 6th PCT)
7. Vital Concept (0 points)
8. Israel Cycling Academy (20th overall w/ 50 points, 5th PCT)
9. Androni (0 points)
10. Corendon - Circus (0 points, but with MvdP dominance imminent)
PRO-CONTI RIDER OF THE WEEK
If there’s one rider that I regret not picking for my vds team, it’s Baptiste Planckaert, as I always like to have a rider that has the potential to sweep up points on the Belgian SSR circuit. So far, his results do no look impressive- an 11th place in Le Samyn and 24th in the Omloop, but anyone that has watched those races knows that Planckaert looked like a beast. He hasn’t really had a chance for a sprint finish at any of the SSR races he’s entered, but I expect him to come close to replicating his breakout 2016 season. As everyone knows, leaving Katusha is like finding the fountain of youth, and Planckaert’s poor seasons on the ostensible WT team have more to do with their race schedule than his performance. He still managed good results in the smaller Belgian races during his Katusha stint, but didn’t have enough opportunities to participate in those races. Now that he’s back in the smaller Belgian pond, he’s the sprinter that I’d be afraid of in the upcoming SSRs.
The original master of the SSRs and subject of Cav’s coining of the SSR phrase, Andre Greipel finds himself in the pro-conti ranks for the first time in his career. Riding on Arkea Samsic, we’ll follow the Gorilla’s exploits and hopefully burgeoning shit-small win total throughout the season. Also, in homage to the OG (original gorilla) cycling rapper (that’s right, Astana ain’t got nothing on Andre), we’ll have a rap dedicated in his honor.
Shit small wins: 1
The Gorilla got to race in La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, and one would assume he would clean up in the silly season’s answer to the Tour de Langkawi in the every-day-sprint-opportunity stage race. One would be wrong, though, as he only managed one victory, racing against the likes of Lorenzo Manzin, Niccolo Bonifazio, Matteo Pelucchi, and the Eritrean teenager, Biniyam Ghirmay. Greipel was quoted after the race as not enjoying the “disorganized” racing style and looked to perform better in the more organized climes of Oman… where his best result was finishing 22nd on a stage.
On a personal vds note, the Gorilla was the last rider dropped from my vds team and replaced with Soren Kragh Andersen. I’m already regretting that decision, as I was thinking that if he didn’t like the sprinting in Amissa Bongo then he certainly wouldn’t like the sprinting in the chaotic French cup races. What I didn’t count on, however, was that the Gorilla has tried to refashion himself as a hardman for the classics and, as such, looked quite good in KBK. He’s likely to justify his 6 point investment with 600 points by the end of Roubaix. Meanwhile, SKA is yet to start a race outside of the silly season.
Shit small rap:
I came to get down
I came to get down
I came to get down in the country of Gabon
I came to dominate the Amissa Bongo
like I was Borghini, Elisa Longo
But instead I lost my way
to a teenybopper named Ghirmay
but you catch that 8th place at KBK?
And at least I’ve won a race
Which is more than can be said for Mark-what’s-his-face.
No diggity. No doubt.