With the grand tours in the books, we are in the zone of the FSA Directeur Sportif season where you can start placing your bets on who will win. [Note to self: start a gambling ring around the FSA DS.] Much of what is going to shake out this year has already happened... but to the top teams, the finish line is still uncomfortably far away. So yeah, not done, but there are plenty of conclusions ripe for the draw. And the overarching conclusion is, if you wanted to win either the men’s competition or the women’s, there was one country (in each) you needed to cozy up to.
On the women’s side, to speed things along here, it was painfully obvious to pretty much everyone that the Netherlands is the sport’s powerhouse, and if you didn’t pick a couple of the six Dutch riders who are currently ranked in the top ten on overall score, you were choosing a high wire act instead. And one team did just that, rather expertly: chapeau 15 Gloriosas Bethinhas! But the rest of the top ten is pretty chalk, including one Neapolitan squad that went the extra polder to Dutchify its way to success. It’s far from over, and I suspect the teams on the current podium are pretty nervous about Saturday. They should be.
Anyway, that was all as expected. Where things get curiouser is on the men’s side, where the only country you needed to know anything about is... Slovenia. And there are some problems with that.
First off, a lot of the people playing this game are Americans, and we know nothing about Slovenia. Some of us have learned not to confuse it with Slovakia, which pretty much all of us (cycling fans) are aware of now. But after that, it gets a little hazy.
First, the name. Yes, Slovakia and Slovenia aren’t hard to distinguish, but if we screw it up some times, all I can say is that I never yelled at anyone for confusing America with, oh, Ameristra. Because there is no Ameristra, there is only America, a nation in the western hemisphere named after an Italian guy that almost nobody here remembers.
If there were an Ameristra, would I abuse people for confusing them? Probably not. And if Ameristra’s flag were the Stars and Stripes where the stars looked almost the same as ours unless you really looked closely — on a full size flag because the difference can’t be spotted on anything less than 5000p, well, in that case you can count on my good graces to not give anyone too rough a go for mixing those up.
And yet, that’s pretty much what has happened with the Slo-Blank-ias. In order to tell them apart from a great distance you have to not only listen to the name, but then squint very carefully at the pan-Slavic horizontal white-red-blue striped flag and its tiny shield. For the Slovaks it’s some medieval-looking cross, and the Slovenes it’s a mountain landscape. Commit this to memory and you won’t catch shit from Slovenian Twitter when you cross this up.
So that’s what you need to know about that, but the reason this is happening will be familiar to anyone who watched Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar form a Valverde sandwich on the GC leaderboard. The victory moved Roglic into the lead for individual points, a full 600 points clear of spring/summer sensation Julian Alaphilippe. And the third place of Pogacar made him almost certainly the single most valuable commodity in this year’s competition.
Before we crunch more numbers, let’s go over a few facts about Slovenia. It might be the most naturally beautiful country in Europe. That’s a lofty title and I’m in no position to decide such things, except to say that nothing is more beautiful than the Canadian Rockies. But a quick search of Slovenian landscapes is nothing short of jaw-dropping. It’s mostly mountainous, wedged between Italy and Austria, so I guess lovely mountains are just a given in that neighborhood. But if it’s a less crowded version of the Dolomites, sign me up.
Other than that, bordering as it does on Italy there is a long history between the two countries, partly involving the city of Trieste, which is no longer part of Slovenia but probably serves as a symbol of both nations’ heritage. Somehow the Slovenians have mostly warded off Italian influence, including food, and the internet suggests that maybe potatoes are a really big deal there. Have fun with that. Still, you have to believe you can get a decent espresso in Ljubljana.
That’s enough dropping knowledge on you guys. Now for the numbers. Roglic is one of the year’s big gainers, going from 1882 points last year to 3215 so far this time— a shot at doubling his output. That’s big for an 18-point buy. But it’s nothing compared to Pogacar, the all-time greatest one-pointer at 1716 and counting. Last year Max Schachmann had set an FSA Directeur Sportif record of 1261 points, besting a couple jamokes who barely cracked 1000. But now Pogacar has blown them all out of the water. You might even go so far as to say he’s Ursula’s biggest pricing calamity.
Not only is Pogacar setting absolute records, he’s reaching new relative highs as well. Namely, he is on nine of the top ten teams right now. Basically, scooping up a one-pointer who will cash out at over 1700 is going to do nice things for your team, and not scooping up those points is pretty much curtains for you. So there are two kinds of teams in this year’s competition: people who picked Pogacar, and losers.
A robust 351 figured this out in February. As one of the losers (though, again, see my women’s team), I will point out that there were other big bargains to hit on. Really, as long as you didn’t pick Elia Viviani, you could have a respectable season by feasting on the somewhat conspicuous picks like Alexey Lutsenko (4 points, scoring 1525) or Mike Teunissen (2, 1357), and obviously some people can’t stop congratulating themselves for spending 8 points on Mathieu van der Poel (1728 and counting).
On the women’s side, Dutch superduperstars Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos top the leaderboard, but the single most important rider for your FSA DS team is probably Lorena Wiebes, who has so far piled up an astounding 3248 points at a cost of only 18 shekels, half the price of Vos and barely a third the freight paid for van Vleuten. The leading team, South Shore Cycling, has neither of the two bigger names, spending his/her budget on upper-table contributors Kasia Niewiadoma and Amy Pieters, plus Wiebes and Lisa Klein, probably the #3 bargain at 10 points. The title of best value seems firmly in the grip of Soraya Paladin, a four-pointer currently sitting ninth overall with 2021 points, but Wiebes’ point haul is more impactful, as she’s on 7 of the top 8 teams.
Long way to go on the men’s side, but a mere six events for the women’s competition. Will your team finish strong? Will I sneak on to the podium of an FSA DS competition for the first time ever? Will Mathieu van der Poel cost more than Remco Evenepoel next year? Many questions left to be answered. Stay tuned!