Okaaaayy... post-Giro break time is over. The Tour de France is nigh. So that means it’s time for a check-in on the world’s best English-language cycling fantasy game, the FSA-Directeur Sportif, and I’m here to tell you... if your team sucks, you may have to get used to that.
How do I know this? From first-hand experience. Not only because my team sucks now (although it very surely does), but from hard-won past experience, where a fallow spring left me hoping in vain for a dramatic turnaround, like this is the year Damiano Cunego gets on the Podium at the Tour and wins a bunch of summer and fall classics. (He did eventually do those sorts of things, just not when he was on my team.)
When things are bad, they are bad. Right now my team is tied for just about last place, in a field of many hundreds of players, level with the team made by someone named Jack Gorilla. I am not disparaging Jack Gorilla, I am merely holding out the possibility that he’s an actual gorilla and I still couldn’t put together a better team than him. [Update: I scored some points over the weekend and am now ahead of Jack Gorilla!]
But I’ve been around the block a time or two, and at some point in my life I got pretty into Blues music — the old historic stuff, the new Chicago stuff, you name it. It’s yet another gift from the world of creative people to the rest of us, straight from the hearts of so many great musicians. And all of them are way more miserable than even me, or Jack Gorilla. So in times like this, I lean on my history with the Blues to get me through.
There are a few important principles that every Blues fan can take away from the music and apply to real life events, such as participating in an online fantasy cycling competition. Here are a few.
1) If you are seeing evidence that things are bad, don’t kid yourself. It’s bad. When Albert Collins comes home to find a bunch of dirty dishes in his sink, it is 100% because his wife is having an affair. He doesn’t try to explain away his problems. They are real, and the only solution is to hammer on a guitar for a while.
So if your carefully-curated classics squad missed the winning moves, or worse, sat up in the final minute — because why bother competing for secondary places? — and left your team essentially broke and lonely at the bottom of your private group, all I can say is that things are bad and the Tour de France isn’t going to drive your problems away.
2) If you have fallen in love with a rider and he or she went on to break your heart? Well, that’s what you get from love. As Robert Johnson once said, when the train rolled up to the station, and you looked him/her in the eye, and you felt so lonesome, you couldn’t help but cry? And then you watched the train pull out of the station? That’s what you get for falling in love. Me and a few million Nairo fans can tell you all about this.
3) Oh, and if you had a good day like I did on Thursday, scoring stage wins in two separate races? Enjoy it while it lasts, because success is usually very fleeting, if it was ever success at all. Like Ray Charles can tell you, I sat there with two tens, thought I’d have some fun. The dealer hit 16 with a 5, just enough for 21. [Insert wailing sound.]
So there you have it. Your team sucks, don’t pretend it doesn’t. Don’t look for glimmers of hope. Do start berating yourself for your failure. And listen to the Blues. Because the outcome of almost every great Blues song, no matter how dark it gets, is that you feel inexplicably better afterward. Life goes on.
OK, enough life advice, let’s take a peek in on the competition heading into the Tour de France. That “season” has begun with its usual Dauphine points cache, and the prettier but somehow less relevant races unfolding in Switzerland too.
Should You Just Pick Guys From Teams With Mascots?
Here’s a bit of an experiment... what if you just drafted a bunch of guys from the same team? And you did so by plucking a roster from one of the teams most obviously poised for success? Improbably, in a sport which has hardly ever had anything to do with mascots, the two major teams in all my years of watching who have something of a mascot — INEOS Grenadiers and the DQS Wolfpack — are so head and shoulders above the rest that a team made of mostly their guys would probably do well. [Also hi Baloise-Trek Lions!] To wit:
You could start building your squad around, say, the top eight value picks at Quick Step: Ala, Almeida, Bennett, Asgreen, Senechal, Honore, Cav and Vansevenant. That would have cost you 91 points off your budget... and netted you a cool 5,758 points. [Update: Cav has now added a few more.]
But they aren’t even the team of the year so far. That would be INEOS, and given how many more points are within their grasp, they may just be getting started. A shrewd bit of choosing might have scored you a top eight of Bernal, Pidcock, Thomas, Porte, van Baarle, Hayter, Martinez, and no-longer-wrong Yates. That octet went for a mere 81 points, barely more than half your budget, and would have scored 6,570 points for you so far. If you could have filled out the rest of your roster at a similar value rate, you’d be first overall today.
This isn’t exactly a reliable strategy, of course. Both teams are where they are because of their incredible depth, which means that they can find success a number of ways. Like, for example, they could take the guy you invested heavily in, say Remco Evenepoel, and mishandle him to the point where their biggest problem is that wunderkind Joao Almeida might have been robbed of an even more incredible start to his season. You could watch in horror as the Zdenek Stybar door closes, only for the Kasper Asgreen one to burst wide open.
INEOS is perhaps an even riskier bet because they have so many built-in redundancies to their talented lineup. You could have bet on Tao Hart or Richard Carapaz, the last two Giro winners, who have so far bidden their time and scored next to nothing. [Update: OK, Carapaz has gotten going now.] You could have blown a chunk of change on a time trialler, like Rohan Dennis (118 points so far) or Filippo Ganna (360), only to watch an older, cheaper crono ace like Richie Porte go on to win the bloody Dauphine. The strategy of loading up on the guys from the top team is not without its landmines. But it’s not a terrible approach either. Certainly no worse than whatever method I thought I had going on. [Echos of Captain Willard... “I don’t see any method at all.”]
Five Men and Three Women On the Up
1. Tim Merlier, Alpecin-Fenix
Congrats if you said before the season that the single most important rider would be some Alpecin Fenix dude, but if you were overly specific about which AF rider, and somehow you landed on the Belgian veteran sprinter, then you get extra marks for creativity. Also you might be in the top rankings, although Merlier, a five-point investment who’s now lying fifth on total points scored, isn’t the main driver of success right now. That would be...
2. Egan Bernal, INEOS
Bernal, following his Giro d’Italia triumph, is now on nine of the top ten teams, and at his injury-deflated 20-point cost, with other races left on his calendar, it’s fair to say that he will end the season as a driver to at least some teams’ success. That’s if he doesn’t have any issues from his current bout of COVID, and if he isn’t quite done scoring points. In the past, the Giro winner was frequently a rider, possibly of Italian birth, who would then go on to do absolutely nothing the rest of the year, so sometimes the post-Giro FSA DS rankings were a bit of a mirage. But Bernal himself is no mirage, and at his low cost he’s frequently paired with another top rider, making his teams especially well-positioned for the long run.
3. Wout Van Aert, Jumbo-Visma
As to the guy who has the most points, is on the most teams, and is probably going to keep scoring enough to make a huge difference, that would be Van Aert. Perpetually compared to Mathieu van der Poel, not only is the Belgian 500 points clear of his neighborly rival, he’s also on seven of the top ten teams right now, while van der Poel isn’t driving anyone to a higher position than 13th overall. So on that logic he is arguably the MVP favorite right now.
4. Stevie Chaves, BikeExchange
Definitely this year’s “I don’t even know what to do with this information” performance. This is a guy who smiled and climbed his way to almost 1600 points in 2016, and was practically never heard from again. He scored 222, 160, 250 and 240 points for his loyal followers — between 54 and 107 teams. Slotted into our newly-created three point scale, he’s now tripled his recent production and is a top 30 rider heading into the Tour de France where he will be a wild card alongside Simon (Right) Yates. Maybe he just needed an odd number to get him going.
5. Tadej Pogačar, UAE
Ultimately, value is nice, but to win you need the guys who score the most points, and Pog is the co-favorite with Van Aert (and maybe Bernal) for MVP. The Slovene is set to defend his Tour de France title, and has been going well all season, showing no sign of a letdown following his shock Tour win last year. It’s a target-rich environment out there for him now too, so if he goes on a huge run over the next month, he could put the FSA DS scoring title away before Wout even takes the line at Worlds or Paris-Roubaix.
Honorable mention: Tom Pidcock, INEOS. Pretty sure I’ve covered his exploits this season already. Sheesh.
1. Emma Norsgaard, Movistar
The Danish champion brings an all-around skillset to the peloton at the very young age of 22, but she’s been picking off wins (Elsy Jacobs, Thuringen stage) and a slew of near misses in a pretty wide variety of events. She’s literally on every one of the top ten teams right now. Incredible value at 8 points.
2. Annemiek van Vleuten, Movistar
I always have a tough time talking myself into the super expensive riders — maybe my problem with this game is simply that I’m cheap. Anyway, while only one of the top ten teams pulled the lever for van Vleuten after she finally yielded her top spot last year, but they’ve been repaid handsomely with four wins, 12 top-four places and a #1 ranking. Again.
3. Demi Vollering, SD Worx
Is she the next Anna van der Breggen? The classics ace isn’t saying any such thing, nor should any 24-year-old star have to, just because they were lucky enough to be born Dutch. LBL is her big win so far but she’s been close on numerous others and is driving seven of the top ten teams to glory right now.
Three Sad Dudes and One Big Conundrum for the Ladies
1. Tao Hart, INEOS
If you paid Giro-winner money for a guy to have a one in four chance to lead his team at the Tour, I mean, I hope you knew what you are doing. Hart has a decent chance to recoup some of his value, maybe even a lot of it, but he was overpriced from day 1. You’ve Been Ursula’d!
2. Remco Evenepoel, DQS
Even his wins just make me angrier. This weekend he won in Belgium, because he wins in Belgium a lot, but guess what? There are races outside of Belgium. And yes, I of all people should be comfortable not emphasizing that, except Remco doesn’t win those races in Belgium. OK, enough. The kid was hurt, scrambled back to try his hand at three week racing, and ended up showing that at least on some level he might be human. But that isn’t what’s important. What is important is my fantasy cycling team’s hypothetical performance. And it sucks.
3. Sepp Kuss, Jumbo
Look, if your three-point guy is stuck on a low score at the halfway mark (80 points in Kuss’ case), it’s hardly the end of the world. But the guy is on 506 teams! So what this disaster lacks in intensity, it makes up for in scale.
I guess the only downer I can offer from a perusal of the Ladies’ results is that it sucks to be over 30 and not Marianne Vos. Once you begin your fourth decade, assuming you are not Marianne Vos, things start to slow down a bit. Not much, and maybe to the general public the differences may be imperceptible. But for people like Lizzie Deignan, Marta Bastianelli, Lisa Brennauer, Ellen van Dijk, Amanda Spratt, Chantal Blaak... all children of the 80s... the results just aren’t coming like they used to. The younger generation is rising faster than the oncoming tide, and your defenses are giving way. That is, unless you are Marianne Vos, and of course only one of us is lucky enough to say this.
- sagas, 123456789, 11,558 points
- davidorchanmar, Bouchemaine Angels 2015, 11,091
- Cacaramus, Are You Hirt? No, It’s Just Eekhoff, 10,969
- pierg43, VC chutàlarrière, 10,900
- FrankV, Vlammende Vedetten, 10,867
- Saltedslug430, Team SSR DS 2021, 10,845
- Mataln, Solide, 10,806
- clabndub, UFOsRreal, 10,689
- aubinrdo, Chocolatine CC, 10,656
- pevangelista, Vangelis Cycling Team, 10,563
- ovesty, Lotta and the rest, 8,309
- Archieboy, Wheeling and Dealing, 7,934
- mattattackx, Is this even worth the grief? 7,764
- gabriel ryynänen, unrun621, 7,730
- JohannaH, Team Wrynecks, 7,709
- AwakenTheBacon, Stage Nine Woes, 7,674
- sccycler, Guardians, 7,644
- TheRunk, Under promise, over deliver, 7,419
- tpcheek, farmcycle, 7,304
- Rob Nicolai, Flyindustman, 7,269