Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Distant Second

Each year, my friend Brian and I try to predict the winners in the major races of the international cycling calendar.  It’s a friendly competition for bragging rights only, and this year it’s Brian who gets to brag.  He amassed 940 points to my 788 and clinched overall victory before the end of the Vuelta a España.

We take turns predicting the winners, then each of us picks a wildcard.  This year we added a rule to prevent us from picking the same riders.  Even when there are prohibitive favorites, for each race we pick four different riders (or teams, in the case of team time trials).  When your pick to win actually does win, that’s worth 10 points.  If he takes second, that’s worth 9 points, and so on through the top 10 places.  Wildcards are worth half the points: if your wildcard actually wins, that’s 5.  And there are no shutouts: if all four picks finish outside of the top 10, then 1 point is awarded to the “Lucky Dog” who finishes highest.

I got off to a great start in January, winning the Tour Down Under 63-41 on the strength of three stage wins from Andre Greipel.  Things were still looking good through February, but in March I had a bad Paris-Nice (lost 50-27) and Criterium International (lost 22-10).  The one-day Spring Classics were a toss-up.

I lost the Giro d’Italia 141-119.  The overall competition was still close, but June was a disaster.  Brian won the Dauphine 50-8 and the Tour de Suisse 36-12.  Things looked bad for me but with a good Tour de France I would be back in the fight.

I won the Tour 134-117 largely through the luck of the draw: I was fortunate to have the first pick for two time trial stages won by Fabian Cancellara and two sprint stages won by Mark Cavendish.  But taking back only 17 points still left a considerable deficit.

I needed a big Vuelta, but my 122-108 victory did little to change the overall.  The remaining races—the US championships, the world championships, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia—were an anticlimax.

In 152 races, Brian picked the correct winner 23 times.  I did it 18 times.  Each of us got 17 wins from our wildcard picks.  So that’s almost a 50 percent success rate (75-for-152) in getting a winner from one of our choices.  Not bad.  For what it’s worth, Brian picked up 14 “Lucky Dog” points to my 12.

Losing by 152 points is humbling, but I stand by my picks.  During that awful stretch in June when Brian jumped out to a big lead, I had nine consecutive races in which my “winner” failed to yield even a single point.  And just who were the guys who let me down?  Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov, Samuel Sanchez, Levi Leipheimer, Philippe Gilbert, Roman Kreuziger, Andy Schleck, and Mark Cavendish … twice!  It’s not like I picked a bunch of guys who don’t know how to win bike races.  Oh, well.  There’s always next season.


  1. If there were a way to make it easy to have others join without considerable work, I think it would be great to have big local fantasy cycling competition. A small 10$ fee to join for the year, with graduated winnings for 1st through 3rd. It would take some time to administer though and it's not something I'd do. I enjoy the competition though, it's fun just to check race results, which I do on a daily basis anyways, but with the competition, it gives me someone to cheer for every day. To the rest reading this, countless times I've sent Dave e-mails during the particular race shouting the merits of my guy in the breakaway, only to have him fall short. The competition lends some fun to the cycling season, can't wait for next year.


  2. We couldn't add more than 1 or 2 people with the current system. At some point you're picking so far down in the order that there's little chance for your selections to be successful. But if we eliminated wildcard picks, then there would be enough decent choices to go around.

    I think the most fun way to run a fantasy cycling league would be to pick a team that includes riders with different talents: sprinters, climbers, GC contenders, time trial specialists, classics riders, domestiques, etc. In other fantasy sports you have to cover every position, and so it should be with cycling. Daniel Navarro almost never wins but you can't say enough about his work in support of Contador at this year's Tour de France. There has to be a place in fantasy cycling for a rider like that, but such contributions are hard to quantify statistically. It's easy to count wins, days in the leader's jersey, sprint points, KOM points, etc. But what do you do with Navarro and Kevin Hulsmans and Matthew Hayman? For that matter, what do you do with Mark Renshaw and Julian Dean, lead-out men who sacrifice themselves when they could be stage winners?