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by Dane Cash
August 28, 2020
Photography by Kristof Ramon, Cor Vos
As if the chance to enjoy watching the pros in action on the biggest stage after months of uncertainty wasn’t exciting enough, this weekend also kicks off the CyclingTips Fantasy Competition.
Before going any further, sign up for the Fantasy Competition here.
For the next few weeks, you’ll have a chance to pick one rider a day to lead your (fictional) team to glory, with the possibility of winning non-fictional prizes if you can manage to come away with a fantasy classification win.
To do that, you’ll need to be a savvy team manager. To help, we’ve put together a guide with an overview of the basics as well as some more in-depth advice to help you achieve fantasy greatness.
Here’s are some key pointers on how you can achieve your fantasy goals in the weeks ahead.
Understanding the rules of any competition is pretty important to having success, so let’s start there. The CyclingTips Fantasy Competition is pretty straightforward but it may also be a bit different from other competitions you’ve participated.
Here’s how it works: You pick one rider per stage, and receive that rider’s time on the day. You also get any points the rider racks up in the green and polka dot jersey competitions. Once you’ve picked a rider for a stage, you can’t pick him again later in the race, so be judicious.
At the end of the race, the player with the lowest overall time wins the fantasy competition, and there are prizes for the points and KOM classifications as well.
It all sounds pretty intuitive to us, which is why we like it and hope you’ll agree.
Once you’ve got the rules down, you may be wondering how to pick your rider for a given stage. Make sure to keep a few tools in your tipping toolbox.
First, taking a look at a stage profile is absolutely key to making an accurate prediction for the day. If you’re relatively new to scoping out stage profiles, be aware that the vertical gain is not represented on the same scale as the distance. Otherwise, even fourth-category climbs would pose physically impossibly challenges for the peloton to overcome, with five-percent gradients looking more like 100-percent gradients in race graphics.
As an example of how you might use a profile (and our handy guide has all of them in one place) take a look at stage 3. With no categorized climbs inside the last 35 kilometers, it looks like it will probably come down to a bunch kick, so you’ll probably want to name a sprinter to your lineup if you want the best chance of winning the stage.
And if there was any doubt of that, you might use another key tool in the fantasy toolbox: betting odds. Bookies make a living by being smart about predicting outcomes. Come stage 3, you can bet that they’ll have short odds on the likes of Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan. If you’re looking for insight on which riders might be well-suited to a certain stage, consult the experts.
Sam Bennett wins stage 3 of the Tour de Wallonie. Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2020 motard Jan Vandewalle
Beyond the basics of rider selection, you want to tailor your team to the rules. If you’re not sure about a rider’s form before a stage, feel free to take a wait and see approach and potentially pick him later, because once you’ve picked him one time, you won’t have an opportunity to rely on him again later in the race. At the same time, if someone looks like they’re flying, make sure to capitalize on that when you can. This is bike racing, after all, and crashes do happen. You may not want to wait for a rider to take on that perfect parcours for his skill set two weeks into the race if you know he’s riding well and has a good shot on a stage right now.
With the basics out of the way, we can move on to a few more in-depth pointers.
Let’s start with being strategic about achieving your fantasy goals. There are a few different categories in the CyclingTips, and they’ll reward different strategic approaches. If you want to win the general classification, you don’t necessarily need to pick the stage winner in a sprint stage. If you’re dead-set on targeting the GC at all costs, maybe don’t pick the heavier pure speedster on a day with a few hills before the finish. Maybe your guy makes it over and takes a convincing win in the end, but maybe he gets dropped and doesn’t get back on. On the other hand, if you’re going for the points classification or the KOM title, you can probably afford to take some risks, just like the real riders that get into breakaways or mix it up in chaotic sprints in pursuit of those goals.
With all that said, you’ll also want to be flexible—again, just like the real riders. Take the mountains classification, for instance. Every climber dreams of winning the whole race, but the savvy ones have the good sense to refocus their efforts if things go haywire in the early goings of the race. You can too. If things don’t go your way in the GC battle early, don’t despair. You can always switch your focus to trying to pick stage winners in the sprints and breakaways, even if it means taking chances on riders who could just as easily finish in the gruppetto.
Thomas de Gendt and Andrea Pasqualon off the front on stage 12 of the 2019 Tour de France. Photo: ©kramon
And since I’ve mentioned breakaways, it’s worth noting that breakaway days are often where fantasy cycling competitions are won or lost, because they can be so unpredictable and the margins can be so huge. In real life, the peloton won’t often allow a real GC contender to get 15 minutes on the pack, but anything goes in fantasy cycling. Watch out for up-and-down intermediate stages, particularly those without long summit finishes, especially when they come before or after other hard days. If you think a breakaway will win the stage, you might gamble on trying to pick someone who will get into the move, and the reward for getting it right could be huge. Or maybe you lose out big time. It’s all part of the fun. Specifically, stages 9 and 18 both look like risky places to use your selection of a top-tier GC rider, but a strong climber who is no longer a top-tier contender for the overall might be allowed off the front.
You deserve to be rewarded for making it all the way down to this part of the article, so here are some riders I already trust to deliver results right now.
Say what you will about his three-week GC resume, but Thibaut Pinot is the perfect rider for our purposes, and he’s looked good this year. To put it simply, if Pinot already delivered big for you on an early climbing stage, it won’t matter for your fantasy team if he ends up pulling out of the race in the final week. You’ve already got your time and your points.
After spending more than a year out of competition, Tom Dumoulin did not need long to prove that he was in form in his two appearances since the resumption of racing. And unlike so many others at the Critérium du Dauphiné, he managed to make it through the race without suffering any serious injury. I trust him to stay very close to the front in the early stages of this race, so he seems like a great, safe pick if you’re eyeing a (fictional) GC run.
Tom Dumoulin on stage 1 of the Tour de l’Ain. Photo: Tim van Wichelen/Cor Vos © 2020
Speaking of riders that managed to make it through the Critérium du Dauphiné without raising big question marks, Tadej Pogacar should thrive in the weeks ahead. He’s an excellent climber in a climber-friendly race with a team built to support him. He has been strong all year and I wouldn’t expect that to change into September.
In the sprinter department, Sam Bennett has also been strong all season. Expect him to shine in the sprints in the next few weeks, with his team heavily invested in pulling off stage wins at this year’s race. If you’re looking for points towards the points classification, he’s a strong candidate to take a big win on sprint stages.
After dealing with knee injuries for a few seasons, Giacomo Nizzolo has stormed back into form over the past year, and looks particularly strong right now. The sprinting field is pretty open this year and Nizzolo is poised to take advantage of that with an NTT team focused on delivering wins in the fast finishes. He’s not the top tier favorite that Bennett is, but there is more than one sprint stage at the race and you can only pick a rider once, so you may find yourself looking to Nizzolo before long.
Giacomo Nizzolo wins stage 2 of Paris-Nice. Photo: Nico Vereecken/PN/Cor Vos © 2020
Give the nature of the CyclingTips Fantasy Competition, you can afford to wait and see on certain riders in a way that you might not be able to if you had to pick a whole roster in advance. I’ll be taking advantage of that opportunity with a handful of big names who are entering the race with question marks.
Egan Bernal is a big one. He has already established himself as the Grand Tour rider to beat in cycling right now, but his withdrawal from the Critérium du Dauphiné left me wondering about his status. Richard Carapaz signed with Ineos to be a Grand Tour leader, and the fact that Ineos changed plans by switching him out of the Giro roster makes it at least reasonable to wonder whether Bernal is 100 percent right now. I don’t plan on picking him for the first mountain stage.
Ditto for Nairo Quintana. If he had made it through the Dauphiné safely, he would have been near the top of my list as a rider poised to deliver big in the weeks ahead, but he pulled out of that race with knee pain. Hopefully, it’s nothing – I know I’d like to see Quintana finally put it together this year – but I’ll probably wait for the first or second mountain test before relying on him with a pick.
Nairo Quintana rode to a solid third overall at the Tour de l’Ain. Photo: Tim van Wichelen/Cor Vos © 2020
You’ll notice a theme here as I mention Primoz Roglic. He has the shortest odds of anyone right now to win the upcoming race, but there are some concerns about his status following his bad crash at the Dauphiné. It makes sense to be patient with him for now. If you end up waiting long enough you might even fit him into your roster for a late time trial he will be among the favorites to win.
Speaking of Jumbo-Visma, there’s also Wout van Aert. The Milan-San Remo winner is clearly on fantastic form right now and seems like he could be a legitimate contender for a green jersey this year. That said, I just don’t know how much freedom he will have to go for big wins considering Jumbo-Visma’s main goal of fighting for a GC victory. I would not be surprised at all to see van Aert add another Grand Tour stage win to his palmares by the end of next month, but I’d like to see his team give him the green light to go for it once or twice before I pick him for a stage win.
I’ll close it all out with Alejandro Valverde. He has been one of the biggest performers for fantasy cycling managers over the past decade but I don’t really know what to make of him this year as he closes in on two decades in the peloton. The 40-year-old Spaniard has always been a go-to for tippers because his fast finish makes him a real threat to win stages in addition to generally being near the top of the GC leaderboard, but he has not yet shown this season that he still has quite the punch that he used to.