The last two weeks have not led to almost any changes in the ranking of the teams at risk of relegation, but they have served to consolidate trends. While Cofidis, Arkéa and Intermarché remain on a positive streak, Israel cannot find a way to score points and the prospects of renewal of its WorldTeam licence are worsening by the week.
The Past Two Weeks
As you can see, Cofidis is already closer to the group of Movistar, BikeExchange and EF than the relegation zone, with those 4 teams all between 11,000 and 12,000 points. In fact, there is already a gap of more than 1,000 points between Lotto and Israel with respect to Cofidis. This is not an insurmountable gap with more than 6 months to go, but both Lotto and Israel will have to optimise their planning to increase their chances, which Lotto in particular have not been fully committed to. As mentioned in last week’s article, Israel have only dropped into the relegation zone recently so perhaps that will serve as a wake up call to the team to focus on the UCI points fight.
Whilst this series of articles primarily focusses on the UCI points ranking as it pertains to the assessment of WorldTour licences according to the sporting criterion, there are a number of other criterion that are used by the UCI in assessing a team’s application for a WorldTour licence prior to even applying the sporting criterion (this system is fully explained here). One of these criterion is the applicant’s financial position, i.e. do they have the financial resources to run a WorldTour team, including paying staff and rider wages.
In the past months there have been reports that Astana Qazaqstan has been unable to pay its riders’ wages on time. Whilst this may be resolved during this year and the team may be able to convince the UCI that they meet the financial criterion in order to receive a WorldTour licence for the 2023-25 cycle, the financial stability (or lack thereof) of at least one WorldTour team is unfortunately a frequent cause for headlines every year. Last year we saw the folding of Qhubeka as a WorldTour team, which opened up an additional automatic wildcard invitation slot in WorldTour races.
There is always the possibility that later this year a current WorldTour team may fold or lack sufficient sponsorship to apply for WorldTour status for the next cycle, in which case there would only be one spot in the ‘relegation zone’ rather than two. So if, for example, Astana folded, or were denied a WorldTour licence based on other criterion, the fight would be between Israel Premier Tech and Lotto Soudal, with a mere 44 points between them, rather than between those two and Cofidis above them.
The star of the fortnight for Cofidis was their 2022 marquee signing Ion Izagirre, who scored big points with 2nd in GC and a stage win in the Itzulia Basque Country. With Max Walscheid out of action after his unfortunate training accident and Coquard training before his next cycle of races, Cofidis needed another rider to step up during the past two weeks, and young French talent Axel Zingle delivered. Despite being a neo-professional, the former mountain biker has been a revelation for Cofidis this season, taking victory in La Route Adélie de Vitré and 5th overall in the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe over the last two weeks.
Lotto Soudal has gained almost 500 points in the last two weeks, another solid haul, but it will not do them much good if Cofidis continues to pull away from them in the standings. Campenaerts brought a welcome 175 points in Dwars door Vlaanderen, but in the Tour of Flanders he could not make an impression. In the first Ardennes race of the year, Amstel Gold Race, team leader Tim Wellens repeated Campenaerts mistakes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, attempting fruitless early attacks whilst other teams were pacing hard, ruining his chance of a top result. It was unlucky for the Belgian team that Scheldeprijs was such a hard race with the crosswinds, as Arnaud de Lie missed out on the first group and a good chance for a top 5 in the final sprint, however the young Belgian star did score 125 points for the team by winning the Volta Limburg Classic, his third victory of the year in 1.1 races.
Arkéa and Intermarché are moving further and further away from the relegation zone. In the last two weeks they have achieved one-day ProSeries victories with Warren Barguil and Alexander Kristoff in GP Indurain and Scheldeprijs respectively, scoring 200 points apiece. At this point of the season in 2021, after the conclusion of the Amstel Gold Race, Arkéa sat 18th and Intermarché 24th in the annual UCI ranking. Currently they sit 4th (Arkéa) and 7th (Intermarché), with 14 wins between them including .Pro GC victories, WT stages, a semi-classic win and most importantly Biniam’s historic Gent-Wevelgem victory. Undoubtedly they are the two most improved teams of 2022 and we commend the great work done by their technical staff in raising their teams’ level.
Michael Matthews is supporting BikeExchange in the classics, taking 220 points between the Tour of Flanders (11th) and the Amstel Gold Race (7th). However, BikeExchange could have added much more than that if they had participated with their Australian and New Zealand riders in the Oceania Championships, held last weekend with a prize of 250 UCI points for the winner of just the road race, with the time trial providing providing 70. It is understandable that Matthews has to be in the best races in the world, but it would have been smart to be represented with strong riders like Alex Edmondson, Kelland O’Brien or Dion Smith. For example, in the 2017 race, Mitchelton Scott scored more than 600 UCI points in just the road race, with Lucas Hamilton, Michael Storer and Jai Hindley on the podium.
In a recent interview with Cycling Weekly, Matt White, head sports director of Team BikeExchange, complained about the UCI ranking scoring system and the possibility of BikeExchange losing their WorldTour licence. It is undeniable that it is not a perfect system, but teams know (or should have known) the rules of the game since the reform of the regulations at the end of 2018. The rules are the same for everyone and they have had time to adapt, so complaining now (which is not unique to BikeExchange) shows a certain lack of planning in some teams. For the cost of the flights, and perhaps some grumbling from riders not wanting to travel to and from Australia during the season, BikeExchange could have sent some riders to farm enough points in one weekend at the Oceania Championships to put them out of reach of the relegation zone for good. With Matthews in good form and Yates a podium favourite for the Giro, the team will likely be safe anyway, but having to partially focus on the points battle rather than just winning top races is clearly a source of annoyance for the team.
At DSM, every week spent maintaining their once large margin to the relegation zone is a success. Their breakthrough rider is Australian Sam Welsford, who took DSM’s first podium finish in 2022 at the prestigious Scheldeprijs. Welsford, an outstanding pistard and neo-professional on the road, already has 230 points for the team and only Søren Kragh Andersen has more points than him in DSM. He showed in Saudi Arabia back in February, that he is at home in the crosswinds and him even making the first group in the toughest Scheldeprijs in years should be hugely encouraging for DSM.
The pity for DSM in Scheldeprijs is that they could not add the 100 points from Casper Van Uden’s fourth place, as he is under contract with the continental Development Team DSM.
Movistar Team has not taken off either, but at least they maintain their margin of almost 1500 points to the relegation zone. Valverde preferred to recover physically and not to be cold at the uncharacteristically snowy GP Indurain, where he had won last year. Enric Mas was also unlucky in the last stage of the Itzulia, dropping from seventh to ninth overall due to a crash on the Krabellin descent following Bilbao. Given his form on the preceding climb, it looked likely that the Mallorcan could move up in GC on the final climb to Arrate, but the best he could do was finish the race bloodied and bruised. The Spanish team has not taken advantage of many of the home races that suit them best, such as Andalucía, Catalunya, GP Indurain and País Vasco, and they could suffer from mid-August to October, when there is a very rich calendar of one-day races in Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Italy that could favour the rival teams such as Lotto-Soudal.
As we said, Israel has once again been one of the losing teams this fortnight. The team did not even participate in Flanders and Scheldeprijs because of the numerous casualties in its squad and it seems that Sep Vanmarcke is going to leave the classics season empty-handed. This must be extremely disappointing for the team, as they had a very competitive classics squad last year and riders like Nizzolo and Vanmarcke, when not injured or sick, still seem capable of achieving top 10 results in WorldTour one-day races. Michael Woods and Jakob Fuglsang seem to be slowly improving after their physical problems, but neither Woods in Basque Country nor Fuglsang in Amstel could get into the top 10. The only good news for Israel was Simon Clarke’s podium finish at the GP Indurain, who has already accumulated 360 UCI points after being signed in January at the last minute.
Finally, EF was the team that scored the fewest UCI points in the last fortnight. Alberto Bettiol is still missing and Michael Valgren is competitive in the classics, but hovering around the 20th and 30th places rather than fighting for a top result. The veteran Rigoberto Urán has given them at least some runs on the board, with his 10th place overall at the Itzulia Basque Country anonymous but useful. Without Enric Mas’ crash or a Michael Matthews 5th instead of 7th at Amstel, EF would have fallen another two spots this week, down to 17th.
In the fight for the 2023 WorldTour wildcards, TotalEnergies and Lotto Soudal continue to widen their margin in the top two positions.
As the 2023 wildcards are only decided based on the 2022 ranking, a team that ‘falls fast’ in the triennium ranking, risks both relegation and no automatic invitation to the biggest races. Consequently, despite sitting just above Lotto Soudal in the triennium rankings, Israel Premier Tech is actually in the worst position of all the teams in the relegation fight. They are more than 1,000 points away from winning the WorldTour stage race wildcards (e.g. the Tour de France golden ticket), as well as being more than 1,000 points away from jumping out of the relegation zone. In contrast, as Lotto Soudal are having a strong 2022 compared to 2021 (on a points basis), if they were relegated they would actually be in Alpecin-Fenix’ current position, being invited to any WorldTour race in the world automatically but being able to turn down the ones they did not wish to attend.
The good performance of TotalEnergies continues to draw attention. The French team scored 170 valuable points at the GP Indurain with the double top 10 finish of Latour and Vuillermoz, although they had to mourn Latour’s withdrawal in the Itzulia Basque Country when he was in the top 10 of the overall classification. It is incredible that despite Sagan’s dearth of points, they have been able to achieve double the points of Israel.
The Next Two Weeks – 11 April to 24 April
In the next fortnight, the classics will continue to take centre stage with the Monuments Paris – Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on the next two Sundays and De Brabantse Pijl and La Flèche Wallonne on the next two Wednesdays. We will also have three non-WorldTour stage races, the Tour of Turkey, the Giro di Sicilia and the Tour of the Alps.
The upcoming classics will be key in the relegation battle. Lotto Soudal need Vermeersch to replicate his top result at Paris-Roubaix last year this Sunday, whilst Wellens in De Brabantse Pijl and the Ardennes has to achieve some top 10 placings. Israel is also almost obliged to score in the Ardennes with Woods and Fuglsang if they do not want to fall further.
Movistar needs Valverde to score big points in his favourite races Flèche and Liège. If Valverde has not recovered from his physical problems or suffers a crash in the Ardennes, it would put the Spanish team in a delicate situation particularly if Mas cannot deliver a top 5 result in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España later in the year.
Arkéa is looking for Nairo Quintana’s easy points in the general classification of the Tour of Turkey however it has been a tough start to the race for him, losing nearly 2 minutes in the second sprint stage. Also Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal), Kevin Colleoni (BikeExchange) and Henri Vandenabeele (DSM) are hoping to score valuable points for their teams in the general classification, considering the low level of climbers in the race compared to say the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana which was also a .Pro race.
At the time of writing, Caleb Ewan has already won a sprint at the Tour of Turkey for a measly 20 UCI points. It is understandable that Lotto Soudal wants to test his sprint train ahead of the Giro and Tour, but Ewan’s season to date has been far from optimised for accumulating points, participating in three stage races below World Tour level and just one semi-classic, Kuurne where he scored well. Between his planning not focused on scoring points and his physical problems, the Lotto Soudal star has 257 points and is only 82nd in the individual ranking so far this season despite his four wins.
The Tour of the Alps will feature Romain Bardet (DSM) and Hugh Carthy (EF) in preparation for the Giro d’Italia. A top 5 in the general classification would give them very important UCI points for their teams. On the opposite side of Italy, Intermarché appear to be the only team in the relegation battle sending a team to the Giro di Sicilia, which is in April this year rather than its place at the end of the season last year, where Valverde took 2nd on GC. Movistar will not be sending a team this year, so expect both Pozzovivo and Meintjies from the Belgian squad to appear in the top 10 on GC in this race, for another 100+ points to Intermarché’s total.
We will see you here again in two weeks on Monday the 25th of April. 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 and cover art by Louemans. 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.