The month of February was rich in races and, importantly for our relegation battle teams, the UCI points that came with them. Now that the WorldTour calendar has begun in earnest, with the UAE Tour and the Belgian classics, it is worth looking back at how the race for WorldTour relegation has evolved and which of the relevant teams ‘won’ the pre-season.
As you know from our previous feature, the 18 teams that score the most UCI points in the cumulative ranking in the 2020-2022 triennium will be awarded WorldTour licences for the 2023-2025 period (assuming that all 18 apply for a WorldTour licence). With ProTeams Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic currently in the top 18, this means that two WorldTeams would lose their WorldTour licence.
UCI Points Allocation
Our reflection on the distribution of UCI points according to race category generated several comments on social networks last fortnight, so we wanted to clarify the UCI points scale in a single image. One aspect that is often not known is that there are 3 sub-categories within the WorldTour races, which give 500, 400 and 300 points to the winner respectively. Within the WorldTour calendar, WorldTeams can only decide not to participate in races that award 300 points, as Cofidis has done with the UAE Tour and Strade Bianche. We advise you to save or print the image from here to have it always at hand while watching cycling to better understand in-race decision making and rider allocations from the teams at risk.
You can also see how undervalued the stages are compared to the one-day races and the general classifications within the same level of race. In the last UAE Tour, the UCI awarded a point to the 60th in the general classification, however, finishing fourth in a stage did not award any points. For example, Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange – Jayco) finished this year’s race with 0 UCI points, despite finishing 4th and 7th in two sprints. Therefore, it is important to design a calendar replete with suitable one-day races for sprinters if you are relying on them to score points.
The Past Two Weeks
Some changes in the ranking since we last published them, but the same teams remain in the relegation zone – Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal. Arkéa-Samsic jumps up to 15th whilst BikeExchange-Jayco slips to 17th, edging closer to danger. Meanwhile Team DSM, presumed safe after their strong 2020 season, continue their slide down the triennium rankings, moving into 12th after a poor start to the year. Here is how the teams in danger have performed in the points battle in the previous two weeks.
Arkéa-Samsic were the stars of February, finishing the month with a masterclass in how to maximise UCI points in the Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne sprint, taking out 3rd, 4th and 7th for a whopping 285 points. In addition, Nairo Quintana’s victory in the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes not only gave us a wonderful spectacle, but was also very important for the team, gaining GC points whilst leaving behind Wellens and Guillaume Martin, the race leaders of Lotto Soudal and Cofidis. They also have benefitted from the improving French youngsters Matis Louvel and Thibault Guernalec who both seem capable of consistent top 10s in lower level one day races and GC in TT heavy stage races respectively.
Lotto Soudal optimised their schedule perfectly, with Tim Wellens sent to Tour des Alpes-Maritimes in the form of his life, Caleb Ewan at Kuurne instead of UAE, Andres Kron at the French semi-classics and Campenaerts being their leader at Omloop het Nieuwsblad. Despite their top riders performing as well as can be expected, Campenaerts 5th after bad luck and Ewan 2nd to Jakobsen, they did not make much headway on their near rivals over the last couple of weeks. This must be frustrating for Lotto-Soudal, however they did not field a team at Algarve and could not make the top 15 on GC in Vuelta a Andalucía. Their lack of depth in GC outside of Wellens is a big disadvantage for them compared to Cofidis and Arkéa, notwithstanding Van Gils surprise result in Saudi earlier in the month, and means they need to dominate one day race points in order to avoid relegation.
It was also notable that last week Cofidis decided to participate in the new Galician 2.1 race O Gran Camiño instead of the UAE Tour. The gamble has paid off for them, with Ruben Fernandez, Ion Izagirre and Jesus Herrada in the top 10 of the general classification (whilst just one of those riders coming in the top 10 of the UAE Tour is no guarantee). It is an example of how to optimise the sum of UCI points by competing in lower level stage races with multiple GC options and was a needed bounceback for them after Izagirre’s crash in the Algarve. Guillaume Martin, who barely competed in lower level one day races in 2021 (despite winning Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes), fetched 235 points across the French Opening Weekend races of Drôme Classic and Faun-Ardèche.
Israel Premiertech also took advantage of the new stage race with Woods coming second overall, although the team has been unlucky the last two weeks with the illnesses of Woods and Fuglsang in Andalucía and Vanmarcke in the Opening Weekend, losing a lot of potential points from their top riders. Their best performer remains Simon Clarke, who struggled to find a WorldTour contract and is presumedly on close to the minimum at Israel, after he came 11th in Omloop and picked up some points in Andalucía where he was intended to be Woods’ domestique.
Movistar remain largely dependant on Alejandro Valverde’s points to avoid relegation. He won Camiño after being ruled out of the more points heavy Andalucía due to a presumed COVID close contact or infection, after the parcours had seemingly been designed almost entirely for him. Neither Aranburu nor Garcia Cortina could break into the top 10 at Omloop or Kuurne but the monstrous performance of Carlos Verona in the GC of the UAE Tour earned Movistar a whopping 115 points that they might have expected to come from Oscar Rodriguez instead.
Intermarché did not have the fortnight they were probably hoping for, with new recruit Pozzovivo 21st in Andalucía for a measly 5 points, Taco van der Hoorn caught in the final 100 metres of Kuurne, Jan Hirt collapsing on the final mountain stage of UAE, and no top 3 results across any of the French or Belgian Opening Weekend races. That being said, they avoided complete disaster, with the ever consistent Girmay scoring 60 points in Drôme Classic and veteran sprinter Pasqualon snagging a top 10 result in Omloop.
On the other hand, BikeExchange – Jayco seems either unaware of the danger of losing their WorldTour licence or does not have the riders available at the moment to field strong squads across multiple races, with big points scorer Matthews not participating in a single race in February. Simon Yates played his part in the Vuelta a Andalucía, but the team needs more GC depth to score points in races where Yates is not present. It has been the team at risk with the lowest points tally in the last two weeks, taking just 5 UCI points across both Omloop and Kuurne, not participating in the French semi-classics nor Gran Camiño and not earning a single point in any of the seven stages at UAE (where Groenewegen was in attendance instead of the sprinter and points friendly Kuurne).
However there is still one WorldTeam further down the 2022 year ranking – Team DSM. The Dutch team seems in relative safety mid-table, but they started the season with a 3182 point lead on the relegation zone (19th placed Cofidis) and that lead is already down to 2481 points. If DSM cannot start to obtain points from new signing Degenkolb or Nils Eekhoff in mid week Belgian one day races, it now seems possible that they could squander what appeared to be an insurmountable buffer even if Bardet pulls off multiple WT stage race top 5s.
As for the fight for the WorldTour invitations for 2023, decided by the 2022 ranking, the two virtually relegated teams (Cofidis and Lotto Soudal) would get that prize today. However, TotalEnergies is still a force to be reckoned with, just 50 points behind Cofidis in 2022. Even though Peter Sagan looked considerably out of form on Opening Weekend, Christian Rodriguez made the GC podium of Andalucía offering some points.
Last Thursday, the UCI updated its Covid-19 Special Provisions by eliminating the extra wildcard in Grand Tours that was in place in 2021, so the organisers of Giro, Tour and Vuelta have again only two invitations in their hand instead of three. This makes it even more important to obtain one of the other two invitations handed out automatically on sporting merit, as Lotto-Soudal in particular would be unlikely to receive a discretionary invitation from ASO to the Tour de France.
The Next Two Weeks – Feb 28 to 13 March
In the next two weeks we will have the three important WorldTour races of Strade Bianche, Paris Nice and Tirreno Adriatico, but also minor classics Le Samyn, Trofeo Laigueglia, Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré and Ronde van Drenthe which also offer plenty of points. Here are some things to look out for in this period.
Arkéa-Samsic is the only team confirmed for all 7 races, in its strategy to get as many UCI points as possible. Hugo Hofstetter is one of Arkéa’s secret cards for points this season. You might not see him on TV in the WorldTour, but the Frenchman will race the classics Le Samyn, GP Monseré and Ronde Van Drenthe. He will probably be in the top 10 in all three so do not be surprisd if Arkéa score the most points once again in the next two weeks.
With the loss of Benoot in the off-season, DSM arrive to Paris-Nice with no serious GC option against a strong field. If Bardet does not line up at Tirreno-Adriatico a couple of days after Strade Bianche, they will continue to slide down the rankings over the next two weeks. Conversely, Arkéa have been wise to separate their two best riders across the big races -Quintana goes to Paris-Nice as a contender for the podium and Barguil heads to Strade Bianche and a Tirreno-Adriatico with no hard mountain top finish.
It will be Michael Matthews’ debut in the Strade Bianche, a classic that should be suited to his characteristics for at least a top 5 result. BikeExchange needs good results from its leaders Matthews and Simon Yates, as the rest of the team is not able to score regularly. Whilst Matthews can be perhaps the most prolific point scorer of any rider on the relevant teams at risk, he is rarely a participant in non-WorldTour races throughout the season (Matthews only raced 2 days not at WorldTour level out of 69 race days in 2021).
Israel will need Fuglsang to step up in Strade Bianche and Tirreno Adriatico, both of which suit his current profile. They are not sending a GC option to Paris-Nice and are barely participating in any of the semi-classics. However unlike many of the other teams, Israel are able to send both Woods and Fuglsang to Amstel, Liege, Fleche and Lombardia later in the year, where they are consistent top 10 riders, which provides an enormous amount of points.
We will see you here again in two weeks. Make sure to let us know on twitter if you have any thoughts on the article or what teams could be doing differently – if you enjoyed it, share it with a friend (or a Directeur Sportif in need).