Blazin' Saddles

Index system in dreamland

Blazin' Saddles

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Scarponi: The dream of a diseased mind (Imago)

Saddles had a dream last night. Reading the latest gossip on, your favourite cycling doodler came across a rum story which said Pizza Hut had climbed up the PIG Healthy Fast Food Index at the expense of McDonald's (which had been disqualified following concerns about the quality of its cuts of beef).

In this peculiarly vivid dream, Saddles remembering being wryly amused by the irony of such a situation — and then the dream took on another mind-boggling direction.

Dressed in the pink and blue of Lampre and coughing his guts up while trying perform a capella alongside Frank Zappa and in the presence of Barack Obama, Michele Scarponi invaded the recesses of Saddles' sleeping mind.

Suddenly, Obama put his hand up and interrupted the unlikely performance. "Michele: two questions," Obama said. "Does Frank actually like you and are you a bit under the weather?"

After a very long silence, Scarponi replied: "Yes, I am Zappa's hero and ill, Presidente."

Saddles then woke up and — despite this being right up there in the bizarre dream stakes with its nocturnal visions of a sequinned Christian Prudhomme declaring Cadel Evans's chin a second category climb — thought nothing more of it.

Until, that is, Saddles really did go online and saw that Italian stallion 'Zapatero' Scarponi had risen to fourth place in the IG Pro Cycling Index in the wake of Alberto Contador's recent ban.

Needless to say, Saddles almost choked on his cornflakes — in the same way it swallowed tea into its lungs when learning of Francisco Mancebo's recent ousting of Jan Ullrich on the podium of the 2005 Tour, or, for that matter, Scarponi's own retrospective triumph in last year's Giro.

Scarponi, one of the few riders whose results have actually got better since being busted for drugs, must be feeling rather sheepish about the whole thing. It seems 'Il Presidente' can do no wrong this year: he's yet to put his feet in the pedals but is already racking up numerous wins and accolades.

'But what's the IG Pro Cycling Index?', you say. Like most, Saddles isn't really sure. It thinks it's a kind of convoluted ranking system of riders that seems to run on an annual, rolling basis. From what it gathers, points from 120 top international road races (plus the Tour of Britain) are awarded to riders throughout the season, with the time frame always going back 12 months.

So, for example, Sky's Chris Sutton holds maximum points from Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which he won last year, but may lose all those points on Sunday if he finishes low in this year's edition, and therefore would descend the rankings a little. Whoever takes the win (and placings) will pick up points and the table of the professional peloton's top 200 riders will alter accordingly.

As such, last year's big winners — Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodriguez — are still the top three riders, even though none of the three are yet to put in any distinctive performances in 2012.

Interestingly, two of this season's most successful riders — Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Briton Jonathan Tiernan-Locke — have yet to break into the top 200. Movistar's Valverde added a Ruta del Sol stage and overall title to his runners-up medal and stage win from the Tour Down Under this week, while the unheralded Tiernan-Locke has scored back-to-back wins in the Mediterranean Tour and Haut-Var.

But with Valverde missing the whole of last year through suspension, and Endura Racing's JTL impressing only in the Milk Race, neither rider has amassed enough digits to join the 200 leaders.

There are a couple of decent things about the IP Pro Cycling Index, it has to be said. For instance, there are separate rider rankings for the amount of kilometres and days raced. Indeed, who would have thought that RadioShack's Jakob Fuglsang would top both tables, with 100 days raced and a whopping 16,063 km in the saddle, despite being just 58th in the main index?

It must be a Danish thing: while no other rider has broken three figures when it comes to days raced, Fuglsang's Danish compatriots Nicki Sorensen, Lars Bak and Chris Anker Sorensen come close, with 90, 90 and 96 respectively.

Glancing through the table provides much scope for oo-ing and ah-ing. Biological passport alarm bell Davide Rebellin of Italy has raced just 11 days and 1984 kilometres, and yet still sits one point and one place ahead of Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez, who's spend a whopping 89 days and 14,234km in the saddle - clearly not doing very much.

The rider with the best points-to-days/kilometres ratio is Evans, proving the misleading nature of the whole system: one day in the yellow jersey can make you the second most consistent rider of the year, despite just 55 days and 8490 kilometres turning pedals. (You see, the important races such as the Grand Tours have more points up for grabs than mere run-outs like that newspaper loop blad thingy in Belgium.

But the table certainly doesn't lie when it comes to the undisputed leader, Gilbert. The Belgian all-rounder has almost 3,000 points more than second-placed Evans — which is basically the entire total of points clocked up by world champion Mark Cavendish, who lies in fifth.

Another interesting observation Saddles made from wasting away a day looking over a list of 200 riders - while trying to find something vaguely humorous to type - was this: the index must not be taken at face value because there are clearly some glaring errors.

Take the Schleck brothers' entries, for instance. While Saddles agrees that both brothers may have posted slightly different results over the past year (Frank is six places higher than his younger sibling Andy) someone clearly can't do their maths because it says the former has ridden 68 days and 10,787km in the past 12 months, whereas the latter has 73 days and 11,307km.

Saddles is confused: how can Frandy have different totals here? They share the same schedules and they ride races pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder. They are, in short, the embodiment of that Spice Girls song, 'Two Become One'.

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