A look at the season that (eventually) was
In the end, we had a pretty good facsimile of a Cycling season. We had enough races take place, eventually, to feel satisfied, under the circumstances. We saw champions made and dethroned in the top races. We were not cheated of the chance to watch the progress of the wave of young talent that we were all waiting for, as they were the story of the year. And the biggest prizes in stage racing and classics ended up in the hands of seemingly very worthy and generally likeable winners. We had the usual ugly moments, a few arguments about the unwritten rules (will someone please write them down?), and plenty of chances to regret the circumstances in which the entire season played out. [I had about enough energy after the Giro to watch like five seconds of the Vuelta.] But all things considered, it feels wrong to complain about the season that was.
I’m grateful that we saw so many riders make it through the season with nothing more than the unthinkable risks of physical harm that they normally endure. [Seriously, this sport…] I’m glad that COVID-19 did little more than hover over the sport, when at times it seemed poised to bring down its wrath on teams and riders and fans. I think years from now we will look back admiringly at the emerging grand tour champions; we will wax poetic about the thrilling Pogačar-Roglič and Van Aert-van der Poel rivalries; and we might even rethink the cycling calendar in a few places after things went the way they did.
And we will talk about the glorious FSA Directeur Sportif, which navigated it all with ease to deliver yet another exciting, nail-biting, frustrating, laptop-smashing performance with the best of them. Let’s take a look at who won what, and the other interesting developments in our great competition.
Your 2020 FSA Directeur Sportif Winners!
On the Men’s side, the final winner of the 2020 competition is Olympe2gouges and his/her team JackyDurandal, who barely held off hard-charging Kuss Kuss Royale for the win, trailed by Dr. Puissance and his/her PURECLASS squad rounding out the podium.
No dramatic fireworks here — JackyDurandal held off the slowly-approaching Kuss Kuss Royale down the stretch, having some of the same key riders and generally not much difference in November; Wout Van Aert’s early points could be called the most obvious difference in this race, and he hung up the bike after Flanders. The top two teams both had Roglič and Vlasov scoring big at the Vuelta, depriving our last big race of real FSA DS drama. The most you can say is that if Enric Mas had taken the overall title instead of fifth place, Kuss Kuss would have taken a 20-point victory. But that wasn’t ever in the cards.
Dr. Puissance was the top scorer to ride the surprising campaign of Joao Almeida to near-victory, but at 514 points behind Team DuDu, the ranking is pretty clear. The approaches did vary, of course: DuDu won it all by nabbing the top three scoring riders, Roglič, Van Aert and Pogačar; Kuss Kuss with Rogla and Wout, plus a lot of very solid contributions; and PURECLASS with Rogla, Wout, Almeida and some others. Oh, and of the three, only PURECLASS had Remco Evenepoel, so it’s not too far-fetched to guess that Dr. Puissance was one guardrail away from looking pretty smart right now. Them’s the breaks.
Here are your top ten Men’s teams:
- Olympe2gouges, JackyDurandal, 15,720 points
- Kuss Kuss Royal, Kuss Kuss Royal, 15,440
- Dr.Puissance, P U R E C L A S S, 15,206
- Fanchie, Quincaillerie Garcia, 14,822
- clarkluebyag, Schief en vreemd, 14,697
- Northrop, New Day Coop, 14,517
- Arnoud, Mr. Pickle & His Sweet Saddles, 14,377
- Kurt Stoebel, The Peace Race Team: Gruppa Krovi na Rukave!, 14,342
- teamigloo, Richie Porte for ever, 14,207
- TeamPaysdesMontsd’Arrée, Affuté comme un Korrigan, 14,070
On the Women’s side, pneu_crevé won an impossibly tight contest over Manuel8, with Les fifis taking the title over I just want to beat the Random Teams and its modest goals, by 79 points. Believe it or not, this is only the sixth-closest contest in FSA DS women’s history, but whatever, it was still a battle.
The real story wasn’t so much these two teams, who spent the last couple weeks in a bit of a stalemate, as it was the dispatching of habswin1 and Team Spot of Bother WSD. I don’t have standings frozen in time, but suffice to say that the Spots were looking good for the overall win until about the World Championships, when Elisa Longo Borghini (riding for both Fifis and Randoms but not Spots) kept her hot form from the Giro and just rolled through the competition until the season’s last day. The Spots had ridden Anna van der Breggen, Cecile Uttrup Ludwig and Lotte Kopecky to a comfy position, and probably liked seeing Chantal Van Den Broeck-Blaak take Flanders. But Longo Borghini was still powering fifis and the Randoms… and she was far from done, racking up another 345 points after Flanders, via her home Nats race, Driedaagse De Panne, and fatefully the Madrid Challenge to close the season and send Fifis and Randoms to the top of the standings.
Here are your top ten Women’s teams:
- pneu_crevé, les fifis, 8,213 points
- Manuel8, I just want to beat the Random Teams, 8,134
- habswin1, Team Spot of Bother WSD, 8,041
- TheBromleyA, Vleuty’s Beauties, 7,961
- Jens, Dutch Embargo, 7,841
- Hvmken, BlockchainCoyn, 7,820
- tshegger, dirty faces win races, 7,761
- Man opening umbrellas ahead, Amouazing Racers, 7,719
- Saul Thonolan, Peluchen Power, 7,699
- Cacaramus, Spratt Don’t Impress Me Much 7,688
Finally, in the Combined ranking, DS Jule took the victory in remarkably symmetrical fashion, with her/his Mamie Nova teams both ranking 20th in their respective competitions! As you know, that counts for a combined ranking of 40. James Pizz, with his let’s try this too and Okay, let’s try this again teams came oh-so-close, with a combined ranking of 43, the best of the Men’s scorers on this list (10th) to go along with 33rd in the Women’s competition. Thorolf was on the podium with a combined 53, from his/her Paladin Gaard and Sella Nevea Stomp teams taking 24th and 29th.
Prizes go to the top three in the men’s and women’s competitions and to the combined winner. Look for an email from me probably early next week. Please chime in here to tell us about your team-building strategies. And cheers!
Some of our top performers have a bit of a track record:
- Editor emeritus Jens, fifth this year, is a regular competitor for the prize in the women’s game, having won the competition outright just three seasons ago. He also bagged a Combined comp 4th once as well as 8th several years back.
- Kurt Stoebel, eighth in the men’s comp, has two fourths in the women’s competition in his palmares a few years ago.
- Team Igloo, ninth in the men’s side, also took fifth place in 2015.
- Jule took tenth a while back in the men’s comp and 11th before that.
- Man Opening Umbrellas Ahead, 8th on the women’s side this year, took fourth in last year’s combined.
That’s it for people with a past finishing high up this year. Nothing dramatic? Maybe, but remember, this is out of roughly 1000 players so any recurring success is pretty hard to fathom. Chapeau to them!
Other Memorable and/or Forgettable Notes
In case you’re wondering about the Editors’ League, the draft league run by the longer-serving editor types here, I have nothing but bad news to report. Jimbo, lately of The Jimbo Line™, won the damn thing. The Jimbo Line™ is a long-running threshold of mediocrity, wherein if you find yourself below the mark, you should feel nothing but shame. This year’s Jimbo Line™ sat at a lowly 770th place, a nice respite for many of us. But unfortunately, lack of real interest in cycling couldn’t stop Jimbo from winning the Eds League, on the strength of picking the last two grand tour winners as well as Pello Bilbao in the 11th round (of 12). That put him well clear of Will J, whose fortunes sank with Geraint Thomas’, as well as Elvisgoat, who experienced a nice resurgence on the back of Jai Hindley. Good show by them? Maybe, but in the end, we all finished below The Jimbo Line™. What a disgrace.
I was a perfectly mediocre 12th of 22 teams, and probably won’t escape my fate for a while, thanks to our policy of drafting in reverse order of finish the next year. But! I did win the FSA pool! This is the in-house competition at FSA in Mukilteo, Washington, where a large portion of the staff play the game named for their long-running sponsorship, and take it to spicy levels, I’m told. Which is exactly what fantasy sports are about: getting into pointless arguments with people close to you. Anyway, they included me in their internal rankings and thanks to Joao Almeida’s Giro rampage, or maybe Marc Hirschi’s brilliant Tour, I won. I think; I’m not in charge of keeping track, being sort of an honorary outsider participant rather than an employee, but am 100% confident that I would not have been informed of my win if it weren’t true. My prize is that I get to pick the restaurant for one of their communal Friday lunches (currently on hiatus I’d assume but sure to come back before long). If and when I get to join them, I plan to use my power wisely — not so much to stick it to a trash-talking co-worker, which is undoubtedly how this privilege has been wielded before. No, I plan to do the smart thing and see what the guys down in the shop who build my wheels like to eat. Upright in 2021, that’s my slogan.
So was this a full FSA DS season, or should we view it as some sort of abbreviated facsimile of the real thing? No doubt some races fell by the wayside — Paris-Roubaix the most painful of the cancellations but hardly the only one. Did it make a difference to how the competition went, generally speaking? Let’s look at some numbers.
The top teams on the men’s side scored 15,000+ points this year, a 10k dropoff from last year. But that doesn’t mean we had 40% fewer races; last year was something of an anomaly in terms of top-end scoring. I guess some of the obvious picks were obvious to a lot of people. In 2018, the numbers were in the low 20ks, and before that the winners were below 20k, as low as 15,900 as recently as 2017. Barely different? I think that top number varies a lot depending on who gets injured, how predictable the big winners were, and so forth.
No question we did have fewer races this year. Maybe the best way is to look in the middle. Team #500 this year, sylvan, had 9,053 points, while last year the two teams tied for that ranking had 14,798. That’s probably a good measure of how slimmed down the competition was — and yeah, it’s about a 40% difference, so there you go.
On the women’s side, there is no hiding things. The 8200 points for the winner is about half or less compared to what you’d expect in a normal season. Looking at team #100, the numbers are 50% again: 5300 this year to 11,000 last season. Yep, women’s racing took a big hit.
- Joao Almeida is simply the greatest bargain in recorded FSA DS history. For one point in cost, he finished fifth overall with 1,815 points. This raw total and ranking exceeded literally the only other top ten one-pointer, Pogacar from just one year ago. It was both an historic effort by the Portuguese prodigy… and maybe the sign of a real trend. That one-point overachievers will go on to win the Tour de France? Not so sure about that, but that the bargain bin will contain some shinier gems than maybe we used to have. Of course, he could be the last one-pointer to ever do this as well. But we did change the pricing to be a more straightforward assessment of past scoring with a bit less subjectivity from Ursula, Jens and myself. So when a hot prospect comes up with no history of scoring, chances are you’ll be able to get him cheap. [But then see Evenepoel, Remco… 10 point price in his first year because… yeah.]
- Also making history is Alexander Vlasov, the highest-ranking guy you could have bought for two points. The young Russian’s 11th place is one better than Pogacar’s 12th last year, so had it not been for Almeida, we would be celebrating him as the highest-achieving low-budget guy in race history. Before this year, the best such performance was Pascal Ackerman in 2018, riding his two point price to 16th overall.
- Fully ten of the top thirty riders were priced in the single digits this year, possibly the surest sign that this was no normal season. Last year that number was seven riders; five in 2018; two in 2017, seven in 2016… you get the picture. This is an outlier number. What does it mean? Probably not that much — when you see that it consists of several veterans like Guillaume Martin or Giacomo Nizzolo or George Bennett coming good, it’s just the ebb and flow of good riders’ careers. Almeida, Vlasov, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Marc Hirschi are probably the only truly young guys who you’d single out for escalating performances. But it means either there’s always hope for bargains, or that 2020 had some fairly random effects on people.
- On the women’s side, I’m not sure there is much to single out. The 22-year-old Mikayla Harvey, a one-pointer riding for Equipe Paule Ka, made a name for herself at the Giro and ended up ranked fifteenth overall, a big payout for her FSA DS teams. But that’s not terribly unusual in the smaller world of women’s cycling. And once again, that world was mostly dominated by the big Dutch stars, with van der Breggen, van Vleuten and Vos ranking 2-3-4 behind Longo Borghini. The Italian was the most disruptive force in the rankings, but she’s been top five as recently as 2017 and a veteran point-scorer, so not exactly a shock.
- Congrats to Primož Roglič, who finished #1 for the second year in a row. This hasn’t happened since 2015 when Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his scoring title from the previous year.
- Also congratulations to Jumbo Visma, who had the honors of finishing second to Quick Step, an event we have been tracking every year since 2013. [Team Sky were the last non-Lefevre outfit to win the team title.]
- And special shout-out to Team Trek-Segafredo for knocking Boels-Dolmans off the top step for the first time in five years! Longo Borghini gets credit along with Lizzie Deignan and Ellen van Dijk for this notable feat. Chapeau!
Start the 2021 FSA DS Countdown Now!
Looking ahead, it’s crazy to think that we are probably just a couple weeks away from Ursula sending Jens and me some early pricing charts for next year’s FSA DS. Of course, that comes with plenty of caveats — what we can expect for 2021 is completely unknown. Because we don’t start our competition until the peloton arrives back in Europe for the Omloop, it won’t be affected by cancellations in the Middle East or Australia. European races will be anxious to carry on if possible, and with the virus striking back hard now, it’s possible the worst of it will have passed in time for another round of racing, with or without fans by the roadside. It’s possible the 2021 cycling calendar will reflect not just a nearly normal year but an Olympic year too. All of that is possible, and combined with the burgeoning talent and increasing excitement we saw this year, it could be a really positive bounce back for cycling, and another great year for our competition.
That’s the upper end of possibilities. The lower end is that the virus remains disruptive and the economic effects start to reverberate in ways that cripple the sport even when we are free to move about again. I truly don’t believe the doomsday scenario will play out, but until we get closer to racing, we won’t be able to make a fair assessment.
OK, that’s all I have for now. Thank you again to Full Speed Ahead, our sponsor, for another great year. You may remember their components and wheels from such events as winning the Vuelta a Espana a few days ago? Anyway, do check out their products — the holidays are coming! Also, I am sure I haven’t covered everything, so please respond in comments with more notable performances — yours, your riders’, your draft leagues and so on. I’m sure I missed a few. It’s also time to spew recriminations at those riders who let you down — I didn’t get around to mine, which were mostly injury-related and not fun to discuss. But yours probably are. Have at it.