Fancy yourself as a master manager, a dazzling directeur, the Carl von Clausewitz of the car convoy? Fantasy cycling games like Velogames and others can be fun. I’ve come close to winning a few fantasy grand tours, many more times I’ve DNF’d after a shocking start where I soon stopped checking the standings. But they can also reveal things about the sport and our preferences.
The first thing is to know the rules and the route. The Velogames system – I like its simplicity but no affiliation, take your pick among many more – is big on stage wins, take the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana this week, there’s 150 points to the daily stage winner and 300 points for the overall win. So two sprint stage wins are as handy as the overall: it’s very different from the UCI points scale. There’s homework to be done on the course, this year’s Paris-Nice has a team time trial instead of a likely sprint stage so you might pick fewer sprinters.
You should pick riders who will score. Obvious, but studies show football fans can disproportionately bet on their own team’s success, it can be down to loyalty and familiarity more than rational behaviour. Similarly your biases can lead to pick riders you like. Now your real life fantasy might be to mastermind a pro team and share in the glory of your preferred riders. Or you might support a local pro from near you and get them in your team. A game has no such agency, the “fantasy” premise sounds dreamy but it’s downright misleading, think “arithmetic contest” instead and pick riders who will harvest points rather hiring imaginary pals.
Don’t be too clever. You might have your eyes on a promising rider due for a breakout performance but you want a banker, not an espoir. That emerging talent may not emerge during the very race you’ve selected them. And winning isn’t everything, you can often find “cheap” sprinters who will get top-10s.
Know your team too. The likes of Ineos, Jumbo-Visma and UAE Emirates all have quality support riders who could lead and win for themselves were they on another team. But they’re not, and they won’t. There’s every chance they’re paid to do a job mid-stage and sit up before the finish. These teams can come with multiple leaders but apply some kremlinology to work out who is the real leader, things like whose bike is placed on the outside of the team car for easy access or judge body language.
Pick riders you don’t like. Again you are not picking friends to ride around Italy, France or Spain with. You might even have suspicions about the ethics of a particular rider. This is revelatory as for a fantasy league there is no need to parse their bio-passport so they can be a good hire. And the results are totted up right after the race so you can win before any sample turns positive. It might feel like it as you scroll through the drop-down menu options but your pick is no reward nor endorsement. If you wanted to win a fantasy San Juan then Miguel Angel Lopez was an obvious pick for your team; even if real pro teams won’t go near while there’s an ongoing police investigation in Spain.
Also pick from teams you don’t like. You may find a team backed by an authoritarian regime with some questionable management off-putting; in pro cycling this could be one of several squads. Just remember you’re not signing up as a co-sponsor, nor vouching for them.
There are some statistical quirks to exploit. For years Quickstep have had an uncanny ability to win more often than place, so everything else being equal, if you can’t decide between some riders, maybe get the Quickstepper. Likewise if you’re struggling to fill the last places on your team with any remaining credits, a Quickstepper is useful as there’s a chance they’ll win and if not they’ll deliver assistance points. You can pore over stats and data but sports history helps too, Cofidis haven’t won a Tour stage since 2008 and just don’t win much so their riders are often a harder pick. That said they’re on the up, while Quickstep are hiring more helpers to pull for Evenepoel and won’t be firing riders forward all the time.
So far, so fantasy. You can try to tilt things but ultimately luck will play its part and predicting the results of a bike race is hard going, as anyone who tries to write a race preview or places bets knows.
Anyway, it’s all just fantasy but imagine trying it all the real world? An actual directeur sportif has to to hire riders according to a matrix of performance, contractual availability, marketability and their personality to fit into the team, plus make sure there are no skeletons in their bio passport and more. Above all do this within their budget, all while some teams have varying amounts of credits to spend. If you had to do it for real, what choices would you make?