Fantasy Cycling

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?

11 thoughts on “Fantasy Cycling”

  1. I don’t mind if I win or lose a Velogames race. I’m in it for the fun. And get a decent average top 1000 at the end of the season. Or just podium in our mini-league.
    So I won’t pick a Froome, or any riders I don’t like.
    If I pick such riders I’d have to root for them during the race, hoping they win over others which I do like, just for my Velogame points. That’s the opposite of having fun by watching a bike race.
    It’s just a game, and I don’t want to put too much energy into it.

  2. An interesting human trait: you do something for the fun, but then you take it so seriously at one level that it can take out the fun. Not entirely alien to me, either 🙂
    Funny, too, because it could be a win/win situation: you are thrilled when the riders and the reams that you like do well – and you can be fairly chuffed when your fantasy team (with those riders you’ve chosen on the basis of cold intellect and ruthless logic) racks up a load of points.

    Anyway, while I do participate in fantasy games,, it’s only for the purpose of a sort of club championship,
    i.e. I join to compete with the guys I ride with, i.e. it’s a part of the social aspect of my road cycling.

    PS I believe there are basically two differen kinds of games: in one you pick your team and that’s it, their injuries and DNFs are yours too – and in the other you can make assess rider form and the demands of the stages and make transfers?

    • I full identify with your first paragraph. I tried betting on cycling once – I saw Gilbert had been given what I felt were generous odds for the Ronde that he won. I had £5 on him to win wih a £5 each way bet as well. Whilst I won, I was so stressed through the second half of the race that it took all of the enjoyment out of watching. Never again. It is much better to not care about the result and just enjoy events unfolding!

      • I had a similar experience with betting. I stopped after a couple of months at the 2013 WC RR. There were generous odds for Rui Costa but I was rooting for Purito and Nibali. Ultimately I won, but it was such a disappointment.

  3. In 2016, I won the fantasy Tour for my club with a team that included Froome, Sagan, De Gendt, and Pantano. Although this was my first attempt, and it was good fun, I decided to retire at what was sure to be the peak of my powers.

  4. An interesting article. I’ve been playing various Fantasy Cycling games since 1997 and my approach differs from Inner Ring’s in almost every aspect: I maintain a “squad” of chosen riders that I pick from, so I follow the same riders throughout the season. My squad only changes minimally from year to year as riders leave the World Tour or join teams I don’t approve of and thus don’t select riders from. Of course with an approach like this, I never get close to winning anything but I have a lot of fun with it and the “Fantasy” element is very much to the fore.

    • Yes 😁, are Inrng’s stage previews a well researched method to assist in picking a high scoring fantasy team…or did the stage previews preempt an onslaught of cycling fantasy games 😉

  5. I prefer FSA as it’s for all the season, and I find it a very enjoying backstory that follows me for all the year. A rider can make you happy for one year (De Lie last year) or incredibly angry during all the season (Benjamin Thomas traumatised me two years in a row, winning on track but nothing on road in his FDJ years), but at the end you finish supporting riders that first you didn’t particularly like for no reason, searching extra infos about some… It made me love my sport even more.
    The problem is that you can become very insensitive, and when a big fall happens you first think about your riders and then only if someone is seriously harmed… then you feel a little bit guilty.

  6. I love Velogames, but I’m also a big fan of Season long competition. Rewards research on racing calendar from WT to .1 races. Rewards early acquisition of premier riders, punishes rider schedule changes at the last minute. Forces you to make difficult budgeting decisions within races and across multiple races happening at the same time. I find that I have “skin” in almost every race from January through October, and have to do the work to know what type of finish is expected (bunch sprint, reduced sprint, GC, TT), which teams are showing up, who their leaders are, how the points system works, what other players are doing, etc. Good fun and definitely reduces my productivity at work.

  7. I’m quite addicted. With some friends I run a seasonal fantasy league, from australian NC to Guanxi (or Langkawi). We usually end up with >400 days of racing per year.
    Teams: auction in january to buy 30 riders from WT teams; 2 more market sessions during the year to make 2-3 changes.
    Calendar: Cat1 (GT, monuments, WC), Cat2 (major WT races), Cat3 (every race with more than 10 WT teams), Cat4 (every race with 4-9 WT teams).
    Scoring: points are based on Cat; in every race you get points from your best 8 riders. Compared to UCI points system we have a bias for european/historical races.
    There’s a final GC champion (symbolic 🙂 and some minor prizes, like “king of the monuments”, “best on the cobbles”, “youngters developer”, etc…
    For us it’s a great way of sharing our passion for cycling, discovering new riders and new races. It’s great to win big at TdF but also to see neo-pros growing or a domestique getting an unexpcted NC.
    I’m also an excel geek so i like to keep my database of results, to make my personal rankings of riders and races.

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