This weekend sees the 2011 edition of Gent-Wevelgem, as our new Fantasy Cycling competition heads to Flanders, and if the race is as dramatic as the one that kicked the game off, last Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, then we’re in for a treat.
If you’ve already made your six transfers for Sunday’s race, then hopefully you won’t have been caught out by the late withdrawal of riders such as Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Rabobank’s Oscar Freire.
The absence of those two big names among others is perhaps one reason why even if you decide early on who you want in your team, you should delay committing yourself until a day or two before – particularly at this time of year, with many riders undertaking two races a week, injury, illness and form can cause last minute switches.
You’ll find the official start list here, but with Freire and Boasson Hagen still appearing on it, for the most up to date team information, as with any race, the best resource is at the website Cycling Start Lists.
If you haven’t already made your transfers, however, hopefully you can pick up some pointers here about the kind of rider you should be bringing in, but remember to plan ahead – there’s a race every weekend for the next month, and after Gent-Wevelgem, you’ll only be allowed to make four transfers following each one.
Anyone picking Vincenzo Nibali, one of only two GC riders competing in Milan-San Remo, would have picked up a not-so-unlucky 13 points., but with no GC riders racing on Sunday you may be better off splashing the credits on riders who are.
You still need to pick a GC rider, of course – meaning that Fantasy teams will effectively be operating with at most eight riders on Sunday – but you could go for the cheapest available and spend the money elsewhere; bear in mind, though, that at some point you will have to bring a decent team leader back in, and the best ones don’t come cheap.
Next, should your money go on a pure sprinter, or an all rounder, or a combination of both? A look back over past results shows that while the race does favour the sprinters more often than not, equally the finale is contested by some of the more all-round contenders, although you might want to look at one who has the legs for a sprint finish.
As a result of changes to the course over the years, those legs are likely to have taken a battering during a race that often proves to be a hard day in the saddle due to the effect of crosswinds and the effect of eight climbs each negotiated twice before the final run-in.
Click on the years next to the names of the past winners on the Wikipedia entry and the top ten of previous finishers provides good evidence of that. Here, some shrewd domestique picks could reap dividends for you.
If, as Geraint Thomas predicted last week, Milan-San Remo was a race to think Italian in when choosing your team, this is one to go for Belgian riders – there are always a few up there at the end.
This year, there may be all the more reason to go local as a disappointing start to the season, Quickstep are said to be under pressure to get a big result – Tom Boonen is here instead of his preferred race, the E3 – and foreign riders on Belgian teams could also be worth a punt.
Meanwhile with Boasson Hagen missing, the Team Sky rider to watch could be Juan Antonio Flecha. The Argentina-born Spaniard has unfinished business with the race after controversially losing to Nico Mattan in 2005.
But Chris Sutton or Greg Henderson could also finish in any sprint, while Geraint Thomas himself showed his continuing fine form on Wednesday, finishing second in Dwars Door Vlaanderen following a two-man break launched 20km out. Remember, though, you can only pick two riders per team.
HTC-Highroad of course have last year’s winner, Bernard Eisel, but also the on-form Matt Goss and of course Mark Cavendish, while despite Freire’s absence, Rabobank too are on form and could have riders in contention.
As for TV coverage, British Eurosport has highlights at 5pm on Sunday, while you should be able to find a live stream via the Cycling Fans website – if you don’t get one in English, don’t worry, because the excitable Flemish commentary can often add to the fun of any Flanders Classic.
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.