I'm definitely an addictive game player. Once, a few years ago, I cultivated a nasty competitive two-person Scrabble habit. Scrabble Tim and I were banging out countless game of timed two-person tournament scrabble (each player get a total of 25 minutes, in the whole game, to make his plays—you use a chess clock to track how much time you've got left, and every minute you go over subtracts 10 points from your total; it is a cruel, cruel mistress). I am what you might call an "extreme adaptor." This fact makes sense. One doesn't become a professional athlete in a niche sport because one thinks it's a good or cool idea; one does it because one's nature kinda demands it. I've heard good writers talk about this fact, too. Lots of people want to be writers, and they struggle with the commitment that trade requires. Good writers can't help writing. It is, as the lovely Stanley Kunitz (RIP) pointed out, "something libidinous."
I love games, and I love games in which there's something at stake (this means I have to stay away from gambling for real money). I once neglected my summertime job to manage a fantasy baseball team simply because I was minding the team for a friend who was away from computer access for six weeks—I couldn't deal with the possibility that he might return to find his team in last place. Soon I was buying Baseball Weekly and obsessively canvassing ESPN for "fantasy bargains," which sound like something scumbags look for in Las Vegas. I stay away from the major sport fantasy games mostly because I love things like cycling, triathlon, tennis, and running, and most of those don't have a viable fantasy contingent.
I blogged about Fantasy Tri last fall, and they seem to be getting a lot of the bugs out. Along with Fantasy Cyclocross (Possible? you say—yes) I now have an outlet for my two favorite sports. So you should all go and sign up, and here I'm going to do some handicapping with the field for Sunday's first ITU Dextro World Championship Series. This is the first big race of the year (the World Cup races kicked off last month in Mooloolaba; the ITU has a confusing system in which "World Cups" are less important than the "World Championship Series;" it's kinda like if the NFL had a couple of championships, one called the Superbowl and another called the Superballs—you would have no idea which was more important unless you lived within the system for a while, like Cannondale's crazy frame naming system) and many of the short-course triathlon world gliterati will be racing. I'm going to try to handicap the top ten prospects of each start list, but remember my system for handicapping is entirely unscientific. Fantasy Tri's system relies upon "salaries" assigned to each athlete depending on how accomplished they are. For each race you're given a certain amount of money, and then you can "hire" athletes for your team. You get to choose the athletes, but their total salary can't exceed the money you've got (everyone starts with the same money). You score depending on what place the athletes come in, so it's probably more valuable to pick 2nd place, 3rd, and 5th rather than picking the winner and, say, 7th place.
N.B. Home course advantage, I've discovered, does not exist, unless you are Australian and male. But even that statistical hiccup has an explanation and a big caveat: there are proportionally more Australian ITU athletes than any other nation, and they flock to their home events. At Mooloolaba 2010 Australian men made up 31% of the field and they took home 50% of the top ten spots. When the competition heats up, however, home advantage fades away. At the Gold Coast WCS (Pop Quiz: which series is that? Figure it out, do it now!) last year 9% of the field were Australian and 10% of the the top ten. Australia is one of the "have" countries in terms of triathlon, so you gotta figure that there's a good amount of parity at the most competitive races. So, if you're thinking of stacking your team with Australians, you might want to think twice.
Jan Frodeno (GER)—$5588. A pretty good bargain at this price. Frodeno didn't finish outside of the top ten last season. At 14% of my budget (the budget this week is $40000) I'm taking him. Figure 7/1 for him to win, and 4/5 for him to get inside the top fifteen. YES.
Laurent Vidal (FRA)—$5322. Another really strong choice, although I didn't take him. Another "not outside the top ten" from last year (except a bizarre 26th finish at the ETU Europe Championships, which had a pretty deep field). You've got to love his dancing. He's got a win under his belt but isn't quite at the level of Frodeno, Kahlefeldt, et al. 9/1 for the win, and 5/4 for a top 15. YES.
Kris Gemmel (NZL)—$6872?! A bit overrated here, I think. Ranked 8th in the world and seems to bring it for big races. Still, you're blowing a big part of your budget, here (17%). 5/1 for the win, although he doesn't really win very often..10/9 to finish in the top fifteen. NO.
Dmitry Polyansky (RUS)—$4374. Not too much cash, but other than one big win (he got Tiszaujvaros last year) he doesn't have too much under his belt. 15/1 for the win, 5/3 to finish in the top fifteen. I'm not taking him. NO,
Jarrod Shoemaker (USA)—$5322. Great bargain. He won Hamburg last year and he's really learned how to run with the big guys. 7/1 for the win. I'd take him. YES.
Alexander Brukhankov (RUS)—$5463. More expensive than Shoemaker with a much, much less illustrious record. Don't do it. 20/1 for the win. NO.
Brad Kahlefeldt (AUS)—He's the man, I'd say, even at $7543. After a great win at Mooloolaba I think he's ready to storm the season again. 2/1 for the win. 5/5 for the top fifteen. YES.
Bevan Docherty (NZL)—Who doesn't like Bevan Docherty? But at $7388 he's WAY overpriced. Might be a bit long in the tooth these days...Still, he can really pop one when he wants to. 18/1 for the win. 10/7 for a top 15. NO.
Simon Whitfield (CAN)—Another bargain at $5911. Three wins last year and one of them was at Hy-Vee against one of the best fields, well, ever. Simon is one of the most competitive guys I know and he really, really loves his daughter. Why would you bet against that? 6/1 for the win. 10/9 for a top fifteen. YES.
David Hauss (FRA)—Huge bargain. Hauss scored me points a few weeks ago, and at $3083 it would be hard not to take him. He won't win, but he will get you some points. 30/1 for the win, 10/7 for a top fifteen. YES.
I realize that's six yeses and you can only have five athletes of each gender per team. So. Who are you going to leave out? Who did I leave on?
See you at the races—women's handicapping coming tomorrow.
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