The Giro d’Italia may take almost all of the media attention this May, but we cannot forget about the exciting battle to avoid relegation, which takes place across every UCI race. In this article, we also take a look at the winners and losers of the first part of the season now that it is over including which teams have under or over-performed compared to their 2021 campaigns.
The Past Two Weeks
Analysing the ranking, we see that there are 3 clusters among the teams at risk of relegation. First of all, Lotto and Israel are the teams most likely to be relegated, but a positive reaction from both teams is being noticed in the last weeks. Israel’s manager Kjell Carlström has declared in Cycling News that they are going to modify their race planning, since they did not expect to be in this critical situation.
“We are looking at different races where we could potentially score more points – just because of the situation. If we find those races, we might reinforce our roster for them, compared to what we initially thought in the beginning of the year, when we planned it. That’s the thing with this point system, that you actually have to target small races when you’re hunting for points. There are only so many guys that can score points on the WorldTour”.
It is a positive sign for fans of Sylvan Adams’ team that the management is taking steps to avoid relegation however with a large chunk of available points already gone from the classics, it will take a large turnaround in Israel’s fortunes to avoid relegation.
The first cluster in safety, BikeExchange, EF, Cofidis and Movistar have a margin of between 1000 and 1600 UCI points, which does not allow them much room for error or injury to their leaders. BikeExchange in particular, who slid below Cofidis to 18th in the last two weeks, are extremely reliant on their leaders Yates and Matthews. Those who can be more relaxed are Intermarché, Arkéa and DSM, with more than 2000 points of advantage, although they cannot sleep until the end of the season either, especially DSM, which is not a team well designed to score points.
In the last few days, we have had more statements from the protagonists about the promotion and relegation system. UCI president David Lappartient confirmed on WielerFlits that they will apply the relegation rules at the end of the season, despite criticism from several teams and even scepticism from many fans, as the UCI has elected to not enforce the triennium ranking system in the past. Movistar Team general manager Eusebio Unzué, speaking to Diario de Navarra, is one of those who has recently complained about the system.
“There should be a proportion between effort, difficulty and points. It’s not logical that winning a stage of the Tour gives the same points as a five-day tour in I don’t know where”
For Movistar, the big GC points on offer in the upcoming three Grand Tours are their ticket to safety, after their triennium points total was once again bolstered by the immortal Valverde in the Ardennes. Whether Unzué likes the points system or not, with the upcoming retirement of Valverde, Movistar will need to make smart signings to replace his huge points haul every year so they survive in the next licence cycle.
In the last fortnight, Cofidis was once again the highest scoring team. The depth of the squad is the key to Cofidis’ success this season, with 11 riders above 220 UCI points. Only Ineos, UAE and Bahrain have a better 11th rider than Cofidis at this stage of the season. This is helped by an extensive calendar and surprising performances such as Simon Geschke’s podium finish at the Tour de Romandie, where he scored 350 UCI points. Also, in Eschborn-Frankfurt we saw how they race smartly for points, with Consonni and Allegaert sprinting independently to take 8th and 9th place and 135 UCI points between them, more than Simon Yates receiving for winning the ITT in the Giro.
Points aside, BikeExchange will be pleased with the performance of Yates in that time trial, but will have to pray that he does not suffer crashes or disconnect from the general classification on a bad day, as happened to him in the Vuelta a Asturias or Giro 2018. The lack of depth in the BikeExchange squad was evident at the Tour de Romandie, where their best overall rider was Tsgabu Grmay in 53rd place as well as them not even participating in Eschborn-Frankurt even though there were huge points on offer in a soft field. The design of their squad is the opposite of that of Cofidis.
Despite the unfortunate crashes of Ewan and De Lie in sprints in the Giro and the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, Lotto Soudal has finally been able to close the gap to the team’s in virtual safety. Gilbert’s overall victory at the 4 Jours de Dunkerque not only brings a huge 200-point haul, but more importantly a much needed boost to morale, which will be key for the team as they keep fighting for their salvation deep into the year. The bad news for the team, as expected, is that the UCI has not added Reinardt Janse van Rensburg’s 343 points accrued prior to his signing, and his account has started from 0 for Lotto Soudal.
The other team in the relegation zone, Israel – Premier Tech, also managed to slightly close the gap to BikeExchange, but they still scored less than expected. Nizzolo was 18th in Eschborn-Frankfurt and neither Woods nor Fuglsang made the top 15 overall in the Tour de Romandie. The only good news was Bevin’s stage win in Romandie, but the performance of the team’s theoretical leaders has been rather disappointing.
Otherwise, Intermarché, Movistar and Arkéa have had decent weeks, widening their gap to the relegation zone. Intermarché scored 215 UCI points with Kristoff’s third place in Frankfurt, plus good stage performances from Girmay and Thijssen in the Giro and the 4 Jours de Dunkerque respectively. Movistar also tasted victory with Sosa in the Vuelta a Asturias and Rubio’s surprise top 10 in Romandie, while Arkéa continued to add consistently on the continental circuit, especially with Edet in the Vuelta a Asturias and Hofstetter in the 4 Jours de Dunkerque.
On the other hand, DSM and EF have been the losers of this fortnight, scoring less than 50 UCI points. There were expectations with John Degenkolb in Eschborn-Frankfurt, but he could only finish 22nd. The German DSM rider is not having his second youth in his second stint at DSM, and still has not managed a top 10 so far this season. More worrying is the case of the EF, who continue their terrible streak of injuries, with the collarbone fracture of Rigoberto Urán in Romandie, where he was one of the podium contenders. Neilson Powless replaced Urán as EF leader, but finished 14th overall with only 40 UCI points.
In the following interactive graph, which we will continue publishing until the end of the season, you can see the riders’ 2022 points for each team at risk, as well as the points that are discarded. By clicking on the name of the team, a graph opens with the points of each rider of that particular team. The black colour represents discarded points, as only the points of the top 10 riders of each team in each calendar year count for the team ranking.
In the fight for the 2023 WorldTour invitations, decided by the 2022 annual ranking, the only change is that Lotto Soudal overtakes TotalEnergies, but both teams have a gap of about 1000 points over Israel – Premier Tech.
As we repeat every fortnight, the current situation of Israel – Premier Tech is the worst possible, as if they are relegated from the WorldTour, they would be dependent on the organisers to ride the best races in the world in 2023. Moreover, their rivals TotalEnergies have continued to score points on a regular basis, last week with a double top 10 for Manzin and Simon in the general classification of the 4 Jours de Dunkerque.
First Half Season Review
The first part of the season is over and it is therefore a good time to look at the performance of the teams compared to the same point last season, the first Monday of the Giro d’Italia. This is what we want to show you in the following graph, where we can see the winners and losers of this first part of 2022.
Regarding the teams at risk, the progress of Intermarché (+339% points), Cofidis (+136% points) and Arkéa (+135% points) is impressive, being the 3 most improved WorldTeams. On the other hand, Israel (-27% points) and BikeExchange (-17% points) worsen their numbers from last year, despite the fact that many more races have been held in 2022 than in 2021, when the pandemic forced the cancellation or postponement of part of the calendar.
In the graph below, we take a closer look at the performance of the key riders of the teams at risk. It is clear how Israel’s 4 leaders are underperforming, or how neo-professional Arnaud De Lie is uplifting Lotto Soudal’s chances of salvation with his massive 755 points. Also noteworthy is the improved performance of the leaders of Arkéa and, above all, Intermarché, with Girmay and Kristoff multiplying the points they scored last season at this stage. It is obvious that Intermarché has not only done a great job in the transfer market, but also in terms of performance and physical preparation.
The Next Three Weeks – 9 to 29 May
Our next update on the relegation battle will be right after the Giro d’Italia, so let’s take a look at what’s in store for the next 3 weeks. It’s undeniable that the Giro is the most important race of the month, but in terms of points we will have 13 races on the continental circuit that together will hand out far more UCI points combined than the Italian race. It may sound strange, but that’s how the scoring system works. In this previous article, you can find the table with the points distributed in each race category.
The Giro is probably the most important race of this season for BikeExchange, and, seeing how Simon Yates has started, the least we can expect is a repeat of last year’s podium. In terms of UCI points, it would be great if he could take the lead as soon as possible, as the wearer of the maglia rosa receives 20 UCI points each day (the same as third in a stage). However, his team is not too strong and that strategy already took its toll on him in 2018, so perhaps he will ride more conservatively. Other contenders for the top places in the Giro include Hugh Carthy (EF), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (DSM), who would score valuable points to keep their teams away from relegation.
In contrast, the two teams in the relegation places, Lotto and Israel, have focussed their Giro squads on their sprinters Ewan and Nizzolo, with no luck so far. The problem with chasing stages (as far as UCI points are concerned) is that it is only worthwhile if you win and get the 100 points, but after sixth place in the stage no more points are given. In addition, the secondary points and mountain classifications only award 100, 40 and 20 points to the first 3 riders, so they are not sufficiently rewarded in UCI points considering the effort it takes to win them. Nizzolo will try to finish the Giro to fight for the points classification, but Ewan will probably drop out after stage 13.
Lotto Soudal will probably score more points in the alternative calendar than in the Giro, as they have 7 of the 9 classics in their programme over the next 3 weeks. It is clear that the team has expanded its calendar to maximise its UCI points and that is one of the reasons for the recent signings of Barbero and van Rensburg. If Arnaud De Lie has recovered from his crash at the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, he can add more than 500 points this May, starting with the GP Morhiban and this weekend’s Tro-Bro Leon.
Israel is relying on Bevin to score points in the general classification at the Tour of Hongrie and Tour of Norway, but the team is only targeting the Rund um Köln among the one-day races. As Bevin explained to Cycling Tips, the New Zealander wanted to go to the Giro as he is in great form, but the team has preferred him to focus on a smaller calendar where it is easier to get UCI points. However it will not be easy to achieve a top result at Hongrie, which features no less than 11 WorldTour teams this year for the 2.1 race as teams have been able to more easily participate given their team busses and cars were already in Hungary for the Giro Grande Partenza.
For his part, Groenewegen will be a leader in BikeExchange’s alternative calendar, leading at the Tour of Hongrie, the Veenendaal-Veenendaal Classic and the Rund um Köln. Among the teams at risk, EF and Movistar are the only ones that will not race one-day races in May, so they will lose ranking positions if they do not shine in the Giro. EF will only race the Tour of Norway, while Movistar will only race the Tour de Hongrie and Boucles de la Mayenne.
We will see you here again after the Giro d’Italia has concluded. 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.