We have reached the halfway point of the season and the relegation battle is tighter and more exciting than ever in 2022. The upward trajectory of Lotto Soudal and, to a lesser extent, Israel – Premier Tech is generating a lot of nervousness among other teams at risk such as EF Education-Easypost and BikeExchange-Jayco, who see themselves closer and closer to the relegation zone.
The Past Two Weeks
As you can see in the graph, Lotto Soudal is now nipping at the heels of BikeExchange and Education First, who are hovering just above the relegation zone. Back in mid-March this year, the gap was around 1200 points between Lotto and BikeExchange, with it now being a meagre 220 points (a margin easily closed by one rider in a .Pro race). Lotto has also added hundreds of points more than Movistar and Cofidis, leaving five teams in a range of less than 900 points with four months to go in a UCI calendar replete with bountiful races. After Bardet’s abandonment in the Giro and the lack of scoring in the home ZLM Tour, DSM is treading water whilst the other team’s below them continue to score.
The current scenario is ideal for a very exciting fight in the months of late August, September and October, when there is a high concentration of races. Unfortunately for Lotto-Soudal, the Benelux Tour, which coincided with La Vuelta and the Tour of Britain, has been cancelled this season. This is good news for teams like Movistar and BikeExchange, who have a paucity of top level riders who can score points, so overlapping races presents them with difficulties. We reiterate our comments in earlier articles, that more important than rider talent itself in the hunt for points is the participation in the races that provide the best opportunity for points – something that Lotto-Soudal adopted from the beginning of this year and certain other teams are only taking note of now.
Lotto Soudal has been the protagonist team of the last two weeks, thanks to the two victories of the impressive El Toro Arnaud de Lie in 1-day races in Belgium. However, the Belgian team is managing to score with quite a few riders at the same time. Climber Steff Cras scored 90 points between his 5th place in the Mercan’Tour Classic and 14th in the Dauphiné, while Andreas Kron scored 80 points with his podium finishes in the GP Aargau and the first stage of the Tour de Suisse. Even Caleb Ewan rode last Sunday’s minor race Elfstedenronde Brugge, scoring 85 points for his 2nd place, almost twice as many points as in his Giro participation.
Israel has been able to put its bad feelings from the Giro d’Italia behind it, especially with the double of Fuglsang and Woods in the Mercan’Tour Classic. But the rider who has contributed the most to the team in the last two weeks has been Nizzolo, scoring 165 points in the four Belgian classics in which he has participated, with an outstanding 2nd place in the Heistse Pijl. The Italian sprinter has not been able to shine in the WorldTour this season after an ill-timed crash in Milano-Sanremo, but he could still be very useful for Israel by basing his calendar on smaller one-day races. That is also the strategy of the team with Sep Vanmarcke, who has deleted the Tour de France from his calendar to ride more one-day races in Belgium, Wielerflits reports.
Cofidis has overtaken Movistar in the last fortnight, although its margin with the relegation zone has diminished. As usual, the team has continued to exploit the continental calendar, with Consonni’s 2nd place in the Ronde van Limburg and Jesús Herrada’s 4th place in the Mercan’Tour Classic being the best results. The man who is scoring points most consistently is Belgian Piet Allegaert, who has already taken part in 24 one-day races so far this season. Although he has only been on the podium once, he has accumulated 478 UCI points, more than any DSM or EF rider.
For its part, Movistar has again lamented a fall of Enric Mas in Dauphiné, where he should have finished in the top five of the general classification. Between his crashes in Tirreno, Itzulia and Dauphiné, Movistar have missed out on around 600 UCI points, which would have given them a lot of peace of mind in the relegation battle. Verona’s stage win in the Dauphiné lifted the team’s spirits, but their situation is becoming increasingly dangerous and nervousness is evident in the team. Speaking to Cycling News, general manager Eusebio Unzué described the UCI points system as “madness” and “unfair” as well as Carlos Verona deriding the points system as a “disgrace” on Facebook after his victory .
Like Movistar, DSM is seeing their gap to the relegation zone shrink rapidly. They have only scored 18 points in the last fortnight, missing a very good opportunity in the ZLM Tour, where there were only 3 WorldTeams. Two specialists like Degenkolb and Welsford failed to make it into the first echelon on the key day of the race and left virtually empty-handed. Despite being a Dutch team, they hardly run any minor races in neighbouring Belgium, but they will probably have to extend their calendar at the end of the season if they do not want to struggle in the relegation battle.
However, the two teams in the most dangerous situation remain EF and BikeExchange. EF has overtaken BikeExchange thanks to the 250 points from the double top 10 in the Dauphiné general classification of Chaves and Guerreiro, but Vaughters’ team has not participated in any race on the continental circuit in the last fortnight. On the other hand, BikeExchange continues to suffer from a lack of depth in the team, almost incapable of scoring points without Yates, Matthews or Groenewegen. Moreover, Groenewegen would have been much more useful in the Belgian classics than in a Dauphiné without flat stages, where he could not compete in any sprint for the victory.
As every fortnight, we share this interactive graphic where you can see which 10 riders contribute points for each team at risk. By clicking on the name of the team, a graph opens with the points of each rider of that particular team. As you can see below, 20 year old neo-pro De Lie, is the highest points scorer of any rider on the teams at risk.
In the fight for the 2023 WorldTour invitations, decided by the 2022 annual ranking, Lotto Soudal and TotalEnergies remain in the two privileged positions that give access to the wildcards for the entire 2023 WorldTour calendar.
Despite TotalEnergies’ two stage victories in the Dauphiné, Israel has managed to cut the margin by almost 300 points in the last two weeks. The French team will have to maintain its high level until the end of the season to secure the 2023 wildcards, as Israel seem to have changed course to focus much more on accumulating points as compared to earlier in the season. The contribution of Peter Sagan, their star signing, would be very useful for them as well.
The Next 2 Weeks (13 Jun – 26 Jun)
This week will be dominated by stage races, with four tours taking place simultaneously, plus the one-day Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge. The following week it will be the turn of the national championships. On the other hand, the Tour de Langkawi (2.Pro), which was scheduled for this week, has been postponed from 11 to 18 October, so it will be the last race of the year, along with the Tour de Guangxi (which is perhaps less likely to take place).
- Tour de Suisse (2.UWT, 12/06 – 19/06) ALL
- Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge (1.1, 14/06) (Israel, EF, Movistar, Cofidis)
- Baloise Belgium Tour (2.Pro, 15/06 – 19/06) (Israel, Lotto, Cofidis, DSM)
- Tour of Slovenia (2.Pro, 15/06 – 19/06) (BikeExchange)
- La Route d’Occitanie (2.1, 16/06 – 19/06) (Israel, EF, Movistar, Cofidis)
- National Championships, ITTs and Road Races (22/06 – 26/06) ALL
The Tour de Suisse will be the most important race of the fortnight, with several general classification contenders among the teams at risk. Israel needs a great general classification from Fuglsang to stay close to salvation, Lotto has Kron in very good form, while EF goes with Powless, Urán and Carthy, although they lost a bit of time in the opening stage.
The Mont Ventoux + Route d’Occitanie double is an interesting combination to score points and prepare for the Tour de France. Israel has requested an invitation at the last minute for La Route d’Occitanie and in theory Michael Woods will ride both races. Also Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has added these two races to his programme at the last minute, under pressure to get UCI points. EF has a good option on Mont Ventoux with its climber Esteban Chaves, who arrives in top form after the Dauphiné.
Lotto Soudal will focus on the Belgium Tour with Ewan, De Lie, Campenaerts and Wellens supposed to ride, while BikeExchange will only race the Tour of Slovenia in the continental circuit, where Sobrero defends last year’s podium. We are quite surprised to see an absence of other WorldTour teams at Slovenia, which offers more points than Occitanie and arguably has a weaker GC startlist in terms of depth. Of course, beating Pogacar in his home race in Slovenia is implausible, but even fourth on GC offers 100 points for just five days of racing. Even if Simon Yates was not in top shape, the race offered him a chance to prepare for the Tour de France as well as possibly finish in the top 3 on GC.
The round of National Championships in European countries will also be held prior to the Tour de France. The UCI establishes two categories for awarding points in national championships. According to the UCI regulations:
“Category A corresponds to the national championships of nations that had at least one rider starting the road race of the UCI Road world championships in the previous season. Category B corresponds to the national championships of all nations not included in Category A.”
The difference in UCI points is that the A national championships award 100 points to the winner of the road race and 50 to the winner of the ITT, while the B national championships award 50 points to the winner of the road race and 25 to the winner of the ITT. However, almost all national championships of countries that have riders in the WorldTour are Category A, so in the end the same UCI points are awarded for example for the Estonian or Latvian Championships as for the Belgian or French Championships, although their levels are very different.
Among the teams in the relegation zone, Lotto Soudal will take most of its riders to the Belgian Championships, with multiple chances to win. Elsewhere, Kron will also be one of the favourites at the Danish Championships. Israel, meanwhile, can use the Israeli championships to score good points, but then their Israeli riders will have to finish in the team’s top 10 at the end of the season for their points to be useful. Nizzolo in Italy, Fuglsang in Denmark and Neilands in Latvia are other options at the national championships.
In the last two years of COVID, Movistar have preferred not to take their Tour de France squad to the national championships, which takes away many of their potential options for victories. If they maintain that decision this season, they will not take riders like Gorka Izagirre, García Cortina or Aranburu to the Spanish Championships or Oliveira to the Portuguese Championships. At least Alejandro Valverde will be sure to be in the Spanish Championships, as he is not part of the Tour de France bubble.
On the other hand, Cofidis usually takes the national championships very seriously, and this year they will have good options in the French, but especially in the Spanish with Ion Izagirre, Rubén Fernández and the Herrada brothers, as well as in the German with Walscheid and Geschke.
EF, the world’s most international cycling team, will be able to participate and score points in up to 14 national championships, although it will have very few riders in each of them. Their best chances will be Valgren and Cort in Denmark, Bissegger in Switzerland, Bettiol in Italy, Guerreiro in Portugal, Eiking in Norway and Healy in Ireland.
As the national championships in Australia and New Zealand have already taken place, a large part of the BikeExchange squad will not compete, but they also have good opportunities with Groenewegen in the Dutch championship, Sobrero in the Italian, Mezgec in the Slovenian and Kangert in the Estonian.
We will be back just before the Tour de France with our fortnightly update. An element of this relegation battle we will explore will be the ‘points velocity’ of certain teams and whether we can expect particular teams to finish the season strongly, with their top riders having an abundance of ‘in-form’ race days saved for the back half of the season. It is possible that the fast starters have burned through the riders too quickly but equally possible that points were more easily scored in January and February before many teams began to take the relegation risk seriously, with points being much harder to come by in September.
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. The cover artwork is 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.