Road Cycling

How to pick the best Tour de France fantasy team – CyclingTips

July is upon us, and that means the Tour de France is nearly here. It also means the Fantasy Tour de France game is here, and if there’s one thing that makes watching sports even more fun, it’s watching them while you root for guys who compete on a fake team you put together.

I’m here to help you put together the best fake team you can.

You’re probably wondering why you should listen to a real-life cycling journalist when it comes to matters of fantasy sports. You may be surprised to know that before I was covering bike races, I was watching them from afar as a connoisseur of fantasy cycling. On my palmares, you’ll find a global top 10 overall finish in the Velogames Tour de France (RIP), and a few victories in other fantasy cycling competitions.

I haven’t secured a real maillot jaune, but I did win a long-sleeve jersey once as a prize for fantasy cycling. I’m like a fantasy Bauke Mollema—no blasting off the front like Chris Froome, but I’m always there or thereabouts. Lately, I’m starting to focus more on helping others.

In this case, that’s you. Here’s your guide to rocking the 2019 Tour de France Fantasy game.

Bauke Mollema at the Giro d’Italia. Photo: ©kramon

The Basics

The way the Fantasy Tour de France game works should be relatively familiar to anyone who has played Velogames. If you have, you can skip this section (and you can also shed a tear for the Velogames Tour de France, which was shut down by the ASO when it launched its own fantasy game) and just read the official rules for the full rundown of all the important scoring stuff and the transfer process.

For those who aren’t versed in Velogames, the idea is to select a roster of riders who score fantasy points for you over the course of the race by getting real-life results, like winning stages or wearing jerseys. You have a budget, and riders are assigned a cost, so you must be judicious in how to spend your assets.

Eight roster slots, 120 stars to spend.

In the Fantasy Tour de France game, you have eight roster slots, and your budget comes in the form of “stars.” You have 120 stars. Riders like Geraint Thomas and Peter Sagan cost more stars to put in your team than, say, domestiques on Pro Continental teams.

Crucially, you have the ability to transfer riders in and out during the race a limited number of times. Each transfer costs 50 “credits,” and you start with 400 credits. However, you are apparently able to rack up a few more credits by getting your friends to play — which is pretty lame if you ask me. The way I see it, you shouldn’t need real friends to succeed in this fantasy world.

Riders on your team score points over the ensuing stages based on a scoring rubric. For instance, a stage win is 200 points, a day in yellow is 50. Each day, you appoint a road captain, who scores double points for his stage results that day. On the final stage of the race, the classification-based points earned by any rider are multiplied by five to reward them for their final positions in those rankings.

That’s most of what you need to know, although I would highly recommend reading the rules for the full breakdown of scoring plus some nuances and fine print.

Core Strategy

This is probably what you’re really here for so let’s get to it.

Success in fantasy cycling is all about identifying value — spending less of your budget to earn more points. Familiarizing yourself with the scoring system is a critical starting point.

This particular game awards perhaps fewer points than you’d expect to yellow jersey contenders when it comes to the final standings. With that in mind, you may want to prioritize stage-hunters – sprinters and puncheurs alike – more than you otherwise might. The ability to select a road captain, doubling your stage points, boosts stage winners even more.

That said, you can expect certain familiar faces to do well in the various classifications, so relying on points from the consistent contenders for the various jerseys might be a bit more lower-risk than trying to pick individual stage winners.

My advice? Embrace the balance. The highest scorers will be riders who consistently finish highly on stages, and also routinely get ahead in a jersey battle. That includes the green and mountains jerseys—they’re worth a fair few points, more than you might expect. If a rider seems like the kind of guy who could win the whacky combination classification at the Vuelta a España, he’s a good choice.

Alejandro Valverde has won the Vuelta combination jersey three times. Keep him in mind.

Once you have a grasp of the points structure, it’s all about picking the riders you think will give you the best return on investment. If you’re not great at predicting stage winners, check the bookmakers’ odds. The bookies’ favorite won’t always win, but looking at the top few names favored for a specific result is a darn good way to confirm you’re on the right track. Out-of-the-blue winners are very, very rare, except on breakaway days.

Using your transfers efficiently is the other key aspect of lineup management. Remember, you have the ability to shuffle your lineup a limited number of times.

Five Big Tips

1. Study the stages well in advance. It helps to know how many sprinters’ stages await before you decide on how many sprinters you want. Ditto for puncheurs, rouleurs, etc. This is a pretty climber-friendly Tour, so keep that in mind. TT-only guys won’t win you many points. As usual, however, the climbing stages mostly come later, so keep that in mind too.

2. Plan your transfers. This is a big one, particularly if you’re used to fantasy cycling games that don’t have transfers. Maybe save a few transfers to account for injuries, but plan to swap riders in ahead of extended stretches of stages with similar profiles. In other words, feel free to start with sprinters and puncheurs in your lineup for the first block of stages. If you followed that last tip, you’ll know that there are plenty of stagehunter-friendly days in the early goings. You can load up on climbers in the middle of the second week when the race hits the mountains.

3. Beware overpriced veterans. I’d love to end up eating my words here because he came so close to that 2016 Giro d’Italia win, but Steven Kruijswijk sure looks expensive considering he costs almost as much at 18 as Peter Sagan at 20. Kruijswijk is a consistent top 10 type but not much of a stage winner; Sagan, for two points more, is a fantasy cycling machine. Even if Kruijswijk wins the Tour, you will have picked him up by then.

Picking with your heart may be the easiest route, but it might not yield the best results. An all-Dutch team could be fun if you’re from the Netherlands, but it probably wouldn’t be the most successful.

4. Acquaint yourself with the plans of riders’ real-life teams. Simon Yates is a proven Grand Tour rider, but he’s ostensibly a domestique at this race for his brother Adam Yates according to Mitchelton-Scott. Could those plans change? Sure. Will I gamble 19 stars on him when I could spend them elsewhere? No way. Plus, you can always transfer him in later.

5. Find the hidden gems. Low-cost, high-return athletes are the bedrock of a fantasy sports team. Up-and-comers often fit the bill. Kasper Asgreen, making his Tour debut, comes to mind. You’ll need a few, because you won’t have the budget for a team full of  yellow jersey contenders—which is the way it works in real life too. Unless you’re Ineos.

Naming Names

I won’t weigh on all 170-something Tour starters, but I’ll give you at least a handful of other names that stand out to me as good values like Asgreen, or less attractive options like Kruijswijk.

I’ve mentioned Sagan and Valverde, but it’s worth reiterating how valuable I think they’ll be despite their relatively high costs. A typical Sagan performance should put him on par with the winner of the Tour de France in the points department, and the guy is pretty darn consistent, so 20 stars seems like a decent price to pay. Valverde is a bigger risk because of Movistar’s whacky leadership situation, but the potential reward is great—he could very well end up in the GC battle, as well as constantly finishing highly on stages.

Michael Matthews (18 stars) is cheaper than plenty of other big names, and his versatility should translate to plenty of points. Plus, he should be riding with a smile on his face, having secured a two-year extension with Sunweb this week.

Michael Matthews wins stage 2 of the Volta a Catalunya. Photo: Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2019

Fabio Aru is a special case. He only costs 10 stars. As he works his way back to form following surgery, he’s a great candidate for a mid-race transfer. If he looks healthy and fit, bring him aboard for the mountains.

As for riders I’m avoiding, Mikel Landa comes to mind. Coming off the Giro, I don’t expect Landa to be terribly fresh, so I’d rather spend those 19 stars on, say, Elia Viviani, who seems very likely to shine in the first few stages. I can always bring in Landa later if he proves me wrong.

Thibaut Pinot looks very expensive at 20 stars. For the same amount, you can get the guy hunting a record green jersey. Pinot’s inconsistency is not what I want for that cost

Michal Kwiatkowski is another rider I’m not in love with for this specific game. He’s one of cycling’s most versatile riders and can therefore be a fantasy monster under the right circumstances, but for the Tour, he’s a super-domestique that costs a whopping 16 stars. If Bernal, Thomas, and Wout Poels crash out, pick him up. Otherwise, pass.

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started on the road to strong Tour de France Fantasy lineup. I could maybe spend more time telling you which riders I like and which I don’t but I would rather put together my own team.

Fantasy cycling is a great way to keep yourself invested in every single stage of the race. Even if none of your favorite guys are going to do anything on a given day, someone of your fantasy roster might, and that makes it more compelling to watch whether they score points for you or not. The real goal here is to have some fun, so hopefully you’re able to do that even if your picks don’t all turn out.

Of course, it’s even more fun to win, so be sure to get your friends to join you in your league, and then crush them with your fake team.

Who are you picking, and why?