Well, the dust has settled on a thrilling edition of Milan-San Remo which saw Matt Goss win the biggest race so far of what is shaping up to be a stellar career but which also of course marked the first round of our new, season-long Fantasy Cycling competition, brought to you in association with Evans Cycles.
With just shy of 1,500 teams signed up by Saturday morning, it seems fairly remarkable that there are already six points between first and fourth place. That’s largely a result of the way the race panned out which meant that several riders who might have been considered ‘bankers’ to get in among the points, and who doubtless featured in many teams, missed out.
So, step forward the members of our first podium of the season, topped by Simones74’s team, El Piganeo de tel on 68 points, with IronKate’s Sheperdess Shifters two points behind in second place. And third? Er, yes, that’s me, with CC Borgo Ticino.
Now, I can’t speak for the two people ahead of me, but I know that my good fortune was due to the (for me) happy accident that many of the big favourites missed getting into the front group, and we didn’t get a bunch sprint.
Let’s face it, if I were that good at calling races, I’d have been watching it from my yacht moored off the Riviera while on the phone to my accountant (of the turf, not chartered, variety).
But the three leading teams do share some key characteristics that may be worth considering as you come to make your selections for the races ahead.
First, none of the three picked the winner, Matt Goss. If there’s one lesson to be drawn from that, it’s that Fantasy Cycling isn’t always about picking the winner. Picking the two riders who finish fifth and sixth will get you more points than the person who only picked the winner.
That in turn gives rise to an interesting selection dilemma – blow a big proportion of your credits on two or three riders who you reckon will get into the top five, or spread your credits around on four or five riders who might make the top ten or twenty?
This weekend at least, it was the latter approach that seems to have won out, although of course there will be other races in which the former strategy will be vindicated.
Secondly, as Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas told us last week in his pre-race assessment, this is a race that the Italians believe belongs to them, and that’s how it turned out, with four contesting the eight-man finale, all of them big names – Vincenzo Nibali, Alessandro Ballan, Filippo Pozzato and Michele Scarponi.
Indeed, all three teams at the top of the Fantasy Cycling standings had the same trio of riders – Nibali, Ballan and Scarponi – and also got one other rider in the top eight. In the case of Simone74, that was third place finisher, Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert, while IronKate went for past winner, and another Italian, Filippo Pozzato.
As for me, a look back at results over the past couple of years showed that Yoann Offredo had a habit of getting into the top 20, which I reckoned made him worth spending 10 credits on; I’d definitely recommend looking back over past results before making your transfers for a race, and look for less obvious riders who seem to have an affinity with it.
Scarponi had been mentioned in the Italian press as a dark horse for Milan-San Remo, and had finished third overall in Tirreno-Adriatico earlier in the week, which we’d flagged up as the best guide to form to Milan-San Remo. Okay, Goss prepared by racing Paris-Nice instead and winning a stage there, but you get the point.
The Italian was also perhaps the only KOM rider with a realistic chance of going the distance, and therefore worth taking a punt on, again an illustration of the benefits of playing the percentages.
The choice of Nibali, meanwhile was an interesting one. Only two GC riders contested the race, the other being Bradley Wiggins, but again it was the Liquigas-Cannondale man who was being touted in the Italian press as a decent outside bet, and coming into the final kilometre it looked like he might even do it.
Still, a not-so-unlucky thirteen points for Nibali’s eighth place was welcome, and vindicated the decision to go with a GC rider actually competing in the race, rather than buying the cheapest of those not racing and splashing the virtual cash elsewhere.
The points weren’t finished there, either. Simone74 bagged five points as a result of having Goss’s HTC-Highroad colleague Mark Renshaw in the squad, while IronKate and I also garnered five points apiece for having a man in a break that managed to have at least a minute’s lead on the peloton at halfway, as it says in the rules.
IronKate went for Mikhail Ignatyev, while I opted for the Japanese national champion Takashi Miyazawa, the riders chosen for different reasons but ones that are worth bearing in mind as the season progresses.
Ignatyev was a popular choice to fill one of the domestique slots because he is exactly that kind of rider who likes to go on an impulsive breakaway – he won the Fuga Gilera trophy for being the leading serial escapee in the 2007 Giro.
As for Takashi? Not someone I’d have chosen initially, but given the news of the auction he was leading to raise money for earthquake victims back in Japan, and the commemoration of that tragedy prior to the start of the race, I had a sneaking suspicion that he’d get into a break to make his own tribute.
Often, before races, you’ll get subtle or not-so-subtle hints that a rider may be up for an attack. The Tour de France website, for instance, flags up each day anyone whose birthday it is, as well as any French riders who may be passing through their home town. Going near the HQ of a team sponsor is often guaranteed to get riders out at the front of the race for some valuable TV time, too.
So, a surprising result in Milan-San Remo with Goss’s win, and perhaps an unforeseen one in the Fantasy Cycling too with none of the three leading teams featuring the Australian in their line-up.
Hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought here about your selections for Gent-Wevelgem – don’t forget, it’s six transfers for this race, but choose wisely because there will be fewer changes allowed further ahead. We’ll also be bringing you a full preview of that race, together with expert analysis from Geraint Thomas, in the next day or so.
Good luck for the next race, and can Simone74 continue to set the pace?
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.