Earlier today, Ineos Grenadier Tao Geoghegan Hart easily outpaced his rosa-clad rival Jai Hindley of Sunweb to win the 2020 Giro d’Italia. You probably already know this. It will live on in legend. People will sing songs about him for all eternity. Italian fans will root for Geoghegan Hart’s favorite team, Arsenal, because they cannot suppress their love of the maglia rosa winner (and anyway English football is pointless, so why not?).
But back here in the real world of fantasy cycling, a very, very different story is being told...
Final @YourFSA Directeur Sportif overall scoring at the Giro d'Italia:— Podium Cafe (@PodiumCafe) October 25, 2020
1. Almeida 1,055 pts
2. TGH 960
3. Hindley 720
4. Demare 670
5. Ganna 510
João Pedro Gonçalves Almeida, the 22-year-old rising star of Portuguese cycling and the first Deceunink Quick Step rider in forever to look like a possible grand tour winner, accomplished something truly historic and memorable to a certain somewhat obscure class of people — his FSA Directeur Sportif owners (hi!) — by dominating the competition, notwithstanding his lack of recognition in Milan. Almeida not only defeated the actual winners today, he did so from the lowliest spot in the history of FSA DS grand tour scoring, at fourth overall, outside the podium.
This has never been done, and in fact, it’s pretty rare for the overall winner to not take home the highest point total. We’ve structured the competition to track pretty closely with reality. Very closely. And yet, reality has slipped through our grasp on a handful of occasions. To wit...
Ten of the 11 editions of the Tour in the entire recorded history* of the FSA DS have gone to our points winner.
[* We ran the competition off long-lost spreadsheets for maybe three years before going SuperTed Style as of 2010.]
The only time the Tour de France winner has ever not taken home the lion’s share of the points, was 2010, when Andy Schleck outpaced Alberto Contador on the final podium by 980-810 points, even though Contador was awarded the maillot jaune in Paris. But even then, the Cycling Gods expressed their displeasure with such a messy result, including CHAINGATE!!!, knocking Contador down from the actual top step with a bad steak so that Schleck could be recognized as the true winner.
The Vuelta has seen two of its ten scored editions (with the 11th in progress) go to the non-winner, and in consecutive years, no less, 2011 and 2012.
At the 2011 Vuelta things got somewhat out of alignment. The official winner is Chris Froome, followed by his countryman and teammate Bradley Wiggins (polemica alert!). However, not only was Juan Jose Cobo the top point-scorer — we didn’t do retroactive disqualifications at the FSA DS if the case wasn’t settled before the end of the competition — but the second-place scorer was Bauke Mollema, who ended up third overall behind the two Brits.
The 2012 Vuelta is even more notable though, at least since it doesn’t involve nullified results: Joaquim “Purito” “J-Rod” Rodriguez thoroughly outpaced both Alejandro Valverde and overall winner Contador, a complete reversal of the podium finish order. Shocking? Not terribly. J-Rod was known for two things: not actually winning grand tours no matter how many times he came close to doing so, and scoring boatloads of points year after year. He was a rider for multiple seasons and courses, kind of great at everything involving a climb, except for the occasional mega-mountain stage. And while not a Schleckian time triallist, he was just poor enough in that discipline to keep his streak of overall futility alive. So it makes sense that Rodriguez would pile up stage points, mountain and points jersey points... and fall short of the final victory.
Before today, only one of the previous ten Giri had gone awry on the scoring side. The last time the maglia rosa walked away an FSA DS loser was 2012, when Ryder Hesjedal snatched victory away from, yep, J-Rod, who outclassed the Canadian on points by 1110 to 871. The two actually traded off the overall lead for most of the race, but Purito notched two stage wins (to Hesjedal’s shameful zero) and won the points competition as well. In the 2011 Giro we had a nullified winner, Contador again, but the points lined up behind Contador just as the final standings would have, i.e. with Michele Scarponi the winner.
The 2010 race was interesting from an FSA DS-versus-actual standings point of view, where the overall winner of both was Ivan Basso, but things got weird from there. Cadel Evans was second on FSA DS scoring, but fifth in the race — swapping places with actual runner-up David Arroyo. Point scoring was relatively tight that year, with no dominant character. Arroyo was a surprise but not a shock in pink heading down the home stretch, and while his defrocking in the Morirolo stage was orderly enough, his second place was well earned. But Evans, then riding in the rainbow jersey, won a memorable stage in Tuscany and took the points jersey overall, having held it for a while, along with a brief turn in pink. Good thing too, because he cost 28 points that year.
One other Giro worth noting would be Vincenzo Nibali’s 2016 victory, when he also took the highest FSA DS point total. All chalk? Maybe, but his 760 total points was the lowest on record for any grand tour winner. The number itself is remarkable — you get 600 as the winner, meaning Nibali did almost nothing else to score points. All this checks out, as Nibali didn’t don the maglia rosa until the final weekend, and only won the penultimate mountain stage, along with no secondary jersey podiums. But the competition consisted of even less dominance. Eight different riders played hot potato with the pink jersey, and the guy who wore it most often, Tom Dumoulin, didn’t make it to the finish in Torino. Chaves, Valverde, Jungels and Kruijswijk were all bunched up in both the Giro standings and the FSA DS scoring. Nobody was much better than anyone else, and not good enough to hook the Shark.
The other lowest scores for a final grand tour would be Fabio Aru’s Vuelta win (875) and Egan Bernal’s Tour last year (888). Aru spent a modest two turns in the leader’s jersey and didn’t win a stage. Same for Bernal, who spent even less time in the lead, although he won the white jersey and would have had a win on stage 19 if not for a landslide that closed the final climb to Tignes.
So the final tally is 32 grand tour results, 27 overall winners taking the most FSA DS points, three second-place guys scoring higher, one third-place guy... and now Almeida, the only rider ever to miss the podium ceremony and walk away with the top score.
Almeida’s Giro is just a truly remarkable footnote, well worthy of the strangeness of 2020. It is the third-best performance by a rider who didn’t win, behind only two characters from the 2012 Vuelta, Rodriguez and Valverde. The trio are the only riders to ever crack the 1000 point threshold in a non-victory, something Valverde did again at the Vuelta in 2014. Valverde holds the Podium Cafe record for his three seasons as the top overall scorer a/k/a Rider of the Year, and Rodriguez won a season-long scoring title too — in 2012, when his 1500 points at the Giro was a record for any non-winner of a grand tour. In fact, the top scores in FSA DS grand tour history are a handful of 1500-plus point performances; I believe 1550 is the all-time record. For Purito to come close to that and not win... I mean, in his own tragic way, he was a very, very impressive rider.
This is incredible company for Almeida to keep. It tells the story that Almeida was the story of the race, notwithstanding the final GC. He held both the overall lead and the young rider jerseys for 15 stages. He didn’t win a stage but was second and fourth in the two time trials. He sprinted for stage results, including taking sixth in a bunch sprint in Agrigento, behind the three winners, matching guys like Matthews and company. He was everywhere for most of the race, until the reality of riding a three week event for the first time in his life finally caught up to him. And even then, he had enough in his legs to take fourth in the final ITT. And but for that day in the Dolomites, and Sestriere? Had he somehow held on to his place, he’d have banked a cool 1,420 points, one of the top scores in FSA DS annals.
Hindley and Geoghegan Hart earned their places ahead of Almeida. Both are a couple years older and have a handful of grand tours in their legs, so when the real mountain stages began, their class kicked in and left the inexperienced Almeida behind. They had strong teams to guide them as well, and have nothing to apologize for, or wouldn’t if on the off chance they knew about FSA DS scoring.
But Almeida has shown us that he is a rider to take very seriously. Maybe in reality, going forward, as his legs harden from all the miles. But definitely in the only place that really counts: the FSA Directeur Sportif.