The end of February brought with it simultaneous WorldTour level stage races in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, where exhibitions from the world’s best teams stole the limelight from the teams in the relegation battle. Despite the headlines going to Jumbo-Visma and Tadej Pogacar, there were big points on offer for top 10 positions on GC at these races, making them vital for the teams at risk of relegation even if they do not have the star power to appear on the podium.
As always, we will take a look back at the winners and losers of the last two weeks but if you have missed the previous two articles you can find the first (which explains the relegation battle) and the second (which explains UCI point allocation) here.
The Past Two Weeks
As they have been since the start of the season, Cofidis and Lotto Soudal are the two teams in the relegation zone, but the gap to Israel – Premier Tech has narrowed considerably, from 680 points two weeks ago to 382 points today. Moreover, the good performances of Nairo Quintana and especially Simon Yates in Paris-Nice have allowed Arkéa-Samsic and BikeExchange – Jayco to overtake Movistar and Intermarché – Wanty respectively. In the graph below, you can see the points scored by each team at risk over the last two weeks.
Once again, Arkéa – Samsic remain the king of UCI points. Nairo Quintana’s top 5 at Paris-Nice was unsurprising given his February form but nothing is guaranteed in a stage race with a startlist of that quality. Warren Barguil was their standout rider, with more than 100 points between Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won a stage brilliantly. And remember we said that Hugo Hofstetter was their secret weapon for points? Well, the Frenchman has been on the podium at Le Samyn, GP Monseré and Ronde van Drenthe, scoring a whopping 225 points between the three 1.1 classics in the last 14 days (the same amount of points as Nairo’s hard fought fifth at Paris-Nice).
BikeExchange – Jayco have managed to break their negative trend. As they rarely participate in the minor races, BikeExchange needed a great performance from Simon Yates in Paris-Nice and the Briton was up to the task, with a stunning attack on Col d’Eze one of the highlights of this young season. Yates garnered 470 of BikeExchange’s 505 points in the last two weeks, and his points alone will probably not be enough to save the Australian team even if he performs well at the Giro d’Italia. Matthews, who crashed in Strade Bianche, and Groenewegen will need to start scoring in hilly and flat one-day races respectively.
DSM also have some reason to be happy after a torrid February, with the strong GC placings of their young talents Arensman and Leknessund in Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice. Being the youngest team on average in the WorldTour, they need their young talents to step up as consistent top 10 GC threats to save the WorldTeam licence given how their sole marquee signing for this year, John Degenkolb, has struggled to make an impact. Their fight for survival will be made even more difficult if they insist on sending Bardet to the Tour de France, when he is much more likely to take big points if he contested GC at the Giro d’Italia. They remain the World Tour team with the lowest points scored so far in 2022, by a considerable margin.
Cofidis have had their most encouraging couple of weeks since the start of the year, halving their deficit to Israel Premier Tech and edging closer to safety. Placing Ion Izagirre and Guillaume Martin in the top 10 at Paris-Nice was one of the best possible results against a strong field and considering Izagirre’s recent crash in Algarve. In addition, Victor Lafay scored 110 points between Trofeo Laigueglia and Tirreno-Adriatico and looks set to be an important man for the French team if he confirms his progression this season, particularly in hilly one day races.
Meanwhile, Lotto Soudal has been bolstered by the victories of Arnaud de Lie in the GP Monseré and Caleb Ewan in the third stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. Only UAE and QuickStep have won more races than Lotto Soudal this season – they are the best team at winning races in the relegation battle and de Lie is a huge talent already delivering at 19. Lotto’s issue is their lack of GC competitiveness at World Tour level compared to rivals such as Arkea (Nairo), Cofidis (Martin and Izagirre), BikeExchange (Yates), Israel (Woods and Fuglsang), Movistar (Valverde and Mas) and DSM (Bardet). Wellens had the best January / February that could be expected of him, but he will not be in the mix for GC points again until the Benelux Tour in August.
On the other hand, Movistar and Intermarché have seen their buffer to the relegation zone reduced. Alejandro Valverde’s podium finish at Strade Bianche was especially valuable in sustaining Movistar, considering that Enric Mas and Matteo Jorgenson dropped out in Tirreno Adriatico and Paris-Nice whilst both in good GC positions. Movistar clearly have the riders to easily avoid relegation with Valverde and Mas set for huge points throughout the year, however a crash or injury to one of them could make things much tighter for Movistar than they hoped for, as we saw in Tirreno.
Whilst anonymous for the TV cameras, late signing Pozzovivo has already provided 80 additional points for Intermarché with 11th in Laigueglia and 13th in Tirreno. If he can continue at this rate and collect 400 points in 2022, it might be the difference between the Belgian team staying up or being relegated. Intermarché has also performed well in minor classics, with places of honour for Lorenzo Rota, Barnabás Peák, Gerben Thijssen or Simone Petilli, but almost half of their points have been discarded in the ranking (for now), as they are not riders in the top 10 of their team’s ranking.
This is not a bad problem to have at this point of the year, as having a pool of 12 or 13 riders scoring points early can alleviate the impact of injuries or sickness for riders currently in their top 10 who cannot perform later. By the end of the year however, teams will eventually have to preference leadership for riders in the top 10 over those outside of it, even if the 12th rider is a performing well late in the season. Another day we will address this concept in more depth and how teams at risk can use it to their advantage.
On the negative side, there is Israel – Premier Tech, with just over 100 points in the last two weeks. A look at their 2022 roster and their performance in 2021 suggests that their squad is capable of being saved without too much trouble, but the reality is that they are getting closer and closer to relegation. The team depends a lot on Woods, Fuglsang, Vanmarcke and Nizzolo, capable of scoring big in WorldTour level classics and stage races, but if they fail, like Fuglsang in Strade and Tirreno, or if they get sick or injured, like Woods and Vanmarcke early in the year, there is not much else behind. Only Simon Clarke, signed at the last minute, has performed above expectations so far.
As for the fight for the 2023 WorldTour automatic wildcard invitations, which is decided solely by the 2022 ranking, Lotto Soudal and Cofidis are still in the lead if they lose their WorldTour licences. However, TotalEnergies continues to have a remarkable season and is not too far behind them, after the victories of Mathieu Burgaudeau in Paris-Nice and Dries Van Gestel in Ronde van Drenthe.
TotalEnergies’ points tally is even more impressive when one considers that Peter Sagan remains with 0 UCI points so far this season. TotalEnergies will be hoping that one of Lotto Soudal or Cofidis, who have strong 2022 points tallies, will move out of the relegation zone and one of the late strugglers like BikeExchange-Jayco, Israel Premier Tech or Team DSM are relegated, as TotalEnergies have more of a chance at beating those teams’ 2022 totals.
The other ProTeam contender, Uno-X, has dropped out of the fight after a fast start to the year, although they now have a solid racing calendar ahead of them for the end of March, with the Belgian classics and the Volta a Catalunya.
It is the Taking Part that Counts
Today we want to delve deeper into the concept of participation in the right races. More than 100 years ago, the driving force behind the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, said:
“the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part”
It is a phrase that is apposite in this fight for UCI points. It seems obvious, but in order to score points a team needs to first send a squad to compete at a particular race. As you can see in the two graphs, the difference in the number of races per team is remarkable in the last two years.
However as you can see in the graph below, races attended is not equivalent to race days, with Arkéa-Samsic only have 7 more race days than Team BikExchange-Jayco in the relevant period despite attending 79 more races.
As Arkéa-Samsic are the only non-WorldTour team in this fight (Alpecin-Fenix are safe), they are not required to attend every WorldTour stage race and can even turn down automatic invitations, which they did with the Giro d’Italia this year. Consequently they have the lowest average number of race days per race of the teams at risk, as they choose to consolidate their resources into target races that have the most ‘bang for one’s buck.’
WorldTour teams, such as BikeExchange, do not have this luxury and must attend all WorldTour stage races with a few exceptions. BikeExchange average 3.92 race days per race, over 50% more than Arkéa. Considering that one-day race positions give out the same points as the general classifications of the same category (regardless of the number of stages), BikeExchange, if they do not want to be relegated, should re-balance their riders’ race days to lean more towards one-day races. Their star signing over the off-season, Dylan Groenewegen, already has 17 race days for a meagre 28 total UCI points, despite collecting two wins in the Saudi Tour.
Not only does Arkéa succeed in participating in a large number of ProSeries and 1.1 classics, but in the last two years they have signed two riders specifically for that calendar: Amaury Capiot and Hugo Hofstetter. Between them they only have 3 wins in their respective professional careers, but they have 657 points by the middle of March with a combined salary that is likely dwarfed by Groenewegen’s.
Lotto Soudal is a team that has clearly adapted its race planning. To date this year, Lotto Soudal has already raced nine 1.1 classics, while in 2020 and 2021 they only raced 11 each year. Moreover, they have won 3 of them (Trofeo Playa de Palma and GP Monseré with Arnaud De Lie and Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana with Tim Wellens), as when a WorldTour team with their sprinting talent does focus on the minor classics, it will invariably yield good results.
The Next Two Weeks – 14 to 27 March
The next two weeks will be very important for the course of the race to avoid relegation from the WorldTour. We will see the start of the Monuments, several Belgian classics and the historic Volta a Catalunya. In total, there will be 16 events: four WorldTour classics, one WorldTour stage race, five ProSeries classics, four .1 classics, one .1 stage race and the African Championships.
This is a hugely important period for Lotto-Soudal and Caleb Ewan. A podium for Ewan at the first Monument of the year would practically lift Lotto out of the relegation zone, however we think it is an error for the Belgian team to not hedge their bets and line up with Ewan at the sprinter friendly course at Milano-Torino on the Wednesday before Sanremo. They will be hoping Ewan can score at the WorldTour classics of De Panne and Gent, but these are tougher races to podium compared to Torino where he would be the favourite to win.
Arkéa has decided to skip the E3 Saxo Bank and Gent-Wevelgem classics to focus on Catalunya and the French minor classics such as Cholet-Pays de la Loire and La Roue Tourangelle. They will also be hoping their top sprinter Bouhanni can score points in the flat classics during this period, after they withdrew him “as a precaution” before stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico last week. It now goes without saying, but expect Hugo Hofstetter to continue adding to his tally in the Nokere Koerse and the Bredene Koksijde .Pro races.
Many of the teams at risk are sending their top GC riders for a fight in Volta a Catalunya. With no time trial, no Slovenians and some long cold climbs on the cards in the Pyrenees, it is perfectly suited for Simon Yates and Nairo Quintana. Movistar with Valverde, Intermarché with Jan Hirt and Cofidis with Martin will all be hoping for top 5 GC results whilst Lotto-Soudal are holding their breath for Harm Vanhoucke to perform. Look for Arkéa to preserve Gesbert’s GC position, rather than going all out for Quintana, on certain stages, so he can sneak into the top 10 after a strong performance in Oman.
In Brugge de Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, BikeExchange (Groenewegen), Israel Premier Tech (Nizzolo) and Intermarché (Kristoff) will be hoping their sprinters can at least contest the reduced bunch sprint for a top 10 place in the point heavy WorldTour classics.
The most novel part of the next two weeks is the upcoming African Championships in Cairo. The road race gives 250 points to the winner and the time trial 70. It might be a good opportunity for Daryl Impey (Israel) and Tsgabu Grmay (BikeExchange) to pick up some much needed points, particularly as Impey does not have any other races on until the Ardennes classic. However it is unclear whether Israel Premier Tech are even aware of the relegation battle and the treacherous position they are in, considering they let Hofstetter go in the off-season.
For Biniam Girmay (Intermarché) it is certainly an opportunity to pick up some easy points however, he can also score a lot of points in the Belgian classics and a trip to Africa in a crucial period of the season could be detrimental for him.
We will see you here again in two weeks on Monday the 28th of March. As always, 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).
Editor’s Note: This article was prepared by Raúl Banqueri with contributions from the Editor, Patrick Broe. Raúl Banqueri is a Spanish journalist who has been tracking the UCI points system for a number of years, with the UCI often correcting their ranking to accord with his.