It’s September 1, and you know that means that the end of the 2022 Cycling— OK, FSA Directeur Sportif season, is rapidly approaching. What do we know now and how do we feel about it? Let’s dive into some story lines.
Can Pogačar Hang On For Rider of the Year?
Two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogačar seemed like he was on top of the world coming into this year’s Grand Boucle, but since then those Jumbos have had the considerable temerity to challenge his reign. Not just at the Tour, where he was literally dethroned by Jonas Vingegaard, but even now, as he tries to hang on to his overall #1 rank in the FSA DS. Coming up fast, with no intention of stopping, is that guy, Wout Van Aert.
Recall, this past winter when the FSA DS price list was announced, some 800,000 people jumped down my throat for making Pogs too affordable for many teams to pass on. The Slovenian then set out to reinforce that narrative by padding his stats right out of the gate. Since then, however, the situation has changed.
Now, not to pat myself on the back, but the reason Pogs was only 30 points is that there was no Olympics this year, and a Worlds course that doesn’t exactly serve itself up to the top climbers. He may yet have a massive fall campaign and come close to matching his 2021 output of 4803 points, but that is hardly assured (Pogs put up about 1000 points last year after 9/1).
Meanwhile, Van Aert is creeping up to within 400 points — not nothing, but considering he just won Plouay and will be in Canada to challenge Pogs for the two Quebec races, before coming into a fall campaign that looks mighty nice for the Belgian, and you can see it being a neck-and-neck race for the points title all the way to the finish.
How Should I Evaluate My Team Right Now?
I love a good metric, and here’s one for you: what percentage of your riders have paid off by September 1? In the true analytical sense this September 1 check-in date is pretty random, just a nice round number in the minds of vacation planners, especially in the US with Labor Day Weekend upon us. But with six packed weeks to go, if you are mostly playing with house money already, then you’ve had a good season.
I’ll start with my team. I have 18 riders who have exceeded their 2021 output, and therefore paid their bill, assuming Remco Evenepoel stays upright for another 15 minutes. [Update: He did!] My seven misses are all guys I paid more than one point for, and if I’d somehow picked up on the scent of Arnaud De Lie instead of Stan Dewulf, I would be in the top 40 overall. So that’s a fair number of points not well spent. But even without speculating over what is left to come, I can safely say that it’s been a good year.
Is this a good metric? Right now the #50th ranked-team, the Turmzimmer Titans, has 11 guys who haven’t paid off in theory, although three of those are close enough to call it good, and one is Pogačar, who clearly has paid off even at -1400 to last year. So that’s seven misses, if you’re fudging it a bit, and some bigger hits to go along with the depth.
A nearly identical case can be made for the #10 team — 11 misses for now but one is Pogs and a few more are about to deliver. The #1 overall team has 8 misses, for now.
Scrolling further down, thje #200 team has 12 misses. The #400 has 11 misses. Team number 600 has 15 misses. Team 750 has 15 of them.
The verdict? It’s not a great metric. It shows some tendencies — by now you should have at least 15 guys who have matched their 2021 performance or come close to it — but the key to winning is that your hits are more dramatic (De Lie) and your misses less so.
Remco Remco Remco
In another eight days we will have much more to say about Evenepoel, and they will go a long way towards defining next year’s prices and buying activity. Next February, just about every team will be wrestling with whether to pick Pogačar, Van Aert, or maybe a step down to Mathieu van der Poel or Jonas Vingegaard as their team captain in 2023. Can we add Remco to that scenario? If he holds on to win the Vuelta, the answer is absolutely yes.
In a scenario where Evenepoel forces us to take him seriously as a grand tour contender for years to come, he will get some support for being a top pick, probably slotting in behind Wout and Tadej for now, but with the upside of top overall. A fully-activated Remco combines the grand tour chops with the greediness of a Quick Step rider who can be reliably expected to pad his stats with less impressive results along the road to his bigger triumphs. He’s already won classics and short stage races, the latter being almost a sure thing due to his time trialling ability. Pogačar also does all of these things well, and is much more of a proven winner with a massive profile going forward. But Van Aert has to rely on classics and stage competitions (and maybe a long stay in the points jersey) to keep up his pace. Vingegaard is more of a pure climber, however great he may be, who isn’t likely to go chasing multiple grand tours unless/until he loses in France. His smaller successes have been great this year and he will probably keep getting some points in his buildup events. But not like Remco.
This is the real impact of Remco. Not that Belgium will lose its collective mind (though of course it will) or that he will boss around the current crop of already-impossibly-young stars. It’s that he might totally change the strategy for the 2023 FSA DS. Stay tuned. If he can’t finish off the Vuelta, either because he crashed or because he crashes again or otherwise can’t finish off that third week, then things will get a lot less interesting. If, on the other hand, he does the deed and wins two jerseys in the process, then we will be talking about how much you value a Vuelta win by a guy who didn’t burn himself out riding any other grand tours.
It looks once again like we will have a serious photo finish in this year’s Men’s competition, while over on the Women’s side we have a clear #1 off the front, but a tightly packed chase group not too far behind. Here are the leaderboards from this morning:
On the Men’s side, the top three teams are all gaining a bit of headway courtesy of Mads Pedersen, who is likely to take the green jersey all the way to Madrid. But these are marginal gaps, and nobody has Remco and his looming points dump until you get down to 7th-ranked Cacaramus, who could make things mighty interesting once those points come in (and that’s with a big “IF” attached, but anyway).
On the Women’s side, the calendar is getting pretty short, with the Vuelta mini-tour coming up, plus the World Championships, Tour de Romandie, and Chongming Island Tour as the main events. While the chase group can see Citius, Altius, Fortius, Pulcrius just over the horizon, the fact is that all of the top five teams (including your humble servant) (!!!) have two or three of the Big 20s: Lorena Wiebes, Marta Cavalli and Elisa Balsamo, each of whom cost 20 points and has blown past that projection. So as long as those three continue kicking ass, the standings won’t change much. The exceptions are Is This Even Worth The Grief, who could stage an uprising behind Demi Vollering, or MacGuyver’s Angels, who could rally behind Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in this Year of All Things Danish, or Juliette Labous.
Oh and Manuel8 and Crooked Rain are separated by a single point for the Combined Competition. That too will go down to the final day, I think.
How’s your team going? Got something to grouse about? Have at it!