We arrive at the Tour de France with the most equal ranking of the whole season, eight teams separated by less than 1800 points and only 21 points between Lotto Soudal and BikeExchange, on either side of the relegation zone. Up until the National Championships, we estimate that 59% of the total points for the 2022 season have been distributed, so there are still many opportunities for the teams in the relegation zone to save themselves or ample time for those in a precarious position to fall late.
The Past Two Weeks
In the last fortnight, not only Lotto has reduced almost its entire gap to BikeExchange, but Israel has also reduced its gap from almost 1000 points to 400. With the potential level of its leaders in Nizzolo, Fuglsang and Woods, Israel still has a chance to leave the relegation zone before the end of the season. We can now observe three groups of teams involved in the relegation battle. Israel, BikeExchange and Lotto are in the most critical situation. Movistar, EF and Cofidis have a small margin with the relegation zone that forces them to actively look for points until the end of the season and a crash of a premier rider (such as Mas) can quickly catapult them to the Lotto grouping. And finally, DSM and Arkéa can be relatively calm, but they cannot afford a terrible end of the season.
According to veteran Spanish journalist Javier Ares, the seven WorldTeams at risk of relegation (Israel, Lotto, BEX, EF, Movistar, Cofidis and DSM) are lobbying for the UCI to suspend the promotion and relegation system, by virtue of covid significantly affecting the running or races or riders available for racing during the relevant triennium. However, the UCI has not accepted this request. This situation is affecting the organisation of most WorldTeams at risk. For example, the teams are already negotiating their signings for next year and, according to Israel’s manager Dirk Demol to Wielerflits:
“the fact that we have ended up in this situation makes even possible transfers more difficult”
This could also be a problem for Richard Carapaz’s negotiations with EF, as the Ecuadorian will certainly not want to join a second division team with no wildcard for the Grand Tours.
We have added Arkéa back into the at-risk teams chart after they suffered in the last month of high-level racing. Since their display at the Tro-Bro Léon, they have scored only 332 valid UCI points in 6 weeks, although they have dropped more than 600 UCI points from riders outside the team’s top 10, such as Edet, Hardy, Owsian or Ries. This season, Arkéa is the team at risk most penalised by the top 10 rule, with 24% of useless UCI points (1680), while teams with less squad depth such as Lotto Soudal, BikeExchange or DSM benefit from the rule. After the Tour de France, the French team should focus on scoring with its top 10 riders and those close to the top 10, whilst we still think it is extremely unlikely that they will not be promoted to the WorldTour.
Israel – Premier Tech has been the best team at risk in the last fortnight, leaving behind the general underperformance of its riders in the first part of the season. Fuglsang and Woods are finally performing at their expected level and their consistency between now and the end of the year will be key to salvation. In that respect, the directors have been smart in separating their leaders and Fuglsang scored over 345 points with his podium finish at the Tour de Suisse, while Woods scored 142 points and victory at La Route d’Occitanie. At the National Championships, Boivin finished second in the Canadian RR and Einhorn earned the 50 UCI points from the victory in Israel RR, which will be valuable if he stays in the top 10 of the team.
The other team that has been finding its feet again in recent weeks is EF Education-EasyPost. The Guerreiro-Chaves duo swept the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge with over 200 points, and Powless scored 300 with his 4th place in the Tour de Suisse. In addition, Kudus and Healy have taken advantage of the lower level of their National Championships in Eritrea and Ireland as compared to Belgium or France, to get on the podium in both the ITT and the RR, scoring 240 points between them. Still, Vaughters’ team continues to experience bad luck, as Urán, Carthy, Bettiol and Bissegger were all forced to retire due to covid in the Tour de Suisse when they could have scored more points. Valgren also suffered a serious crash in Occitanie and will be a notable casualty if he does not recover for the end-of-season classics or World Championships.
Lotto Soudal are also a little bit closer to salvation boosted by their great Belgium Tour. Wellens lost the win after an unsporting action by QuickStep on the last golden km, but between him and Campenaerts (5th) they scored 250 UCI points and continued the team’s good trend. Right now, Lotto would lose its WorldTour licence by less than 50 UCI points, the difference between 2nd place and the Belgium Tour victory or the points lost by Brent van Moer when he was sent in the wrong direction in the Ronde van Limburg 2021 when he was solo on the way to victory.
Lotto’s main rival BikeExchange is still in a deep sporting crisis. They failed to get a single rider in the top 20 of the general classification at the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Slovenia, where there were only 4 WorldTeams, coming away solely with a stage win for Groenewegen. Only Mezgec’s 3rd place in the Slovenian Championships has allowed them to continue for another fortnight outside the relegation zone. A case in point is Lucas Hamilton, intended to be a second GC option for the team outside of Yates, who finished 51st in the Tour of Slovenia and this season only accumulated 84 points from his 13th place in the Giro. Last year at this point, Hamilton had finished in the top 10 in Paris – Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie.
Another team arriving at the Tour de France in a delicate situation is Movistar. Valverde settled his last minute trip to Ventoux and Occitanie with 63 points and then strangely gave up the Spanish Championships to “rest until his appointments prior to La Vuelta”, for which there are almost two months left. At the National Championships, the team scored 98 points in Spain, thanks to Aranburu’s 3rd place and Pedrero’s 6th place, but the title points of Norsgaard (ITT Denmark), González (RR Puerto Rico) and Vinicius (RR Brazil) have been discarded for not being in Movistar’s top10. The pressure from Spanish media and fans on social media is already quite high so we will see how the team reacts as this pressure intensifies towards the end of the season.
DSM achieved two stage wins in the Tour de Suisse with Leknessund and Denz, although they did not show much in the Belgium Tour, the other international race in which they participated. As for the National Championships, Nikias Arndt stood out with his 2nd place in the German RR. On the bad news side, their two riders with the most points in 2022 so far (Kragh Andersen and Arensman) have already announced that they will leave the team at the end of the season, which may reduce their motivation until the end of the season to ride in a fashion optimal for points maximisation.
Cofidis is increasingly likely to keep its WorldTour licence, led in the last two months by Jesús Herrada. The Spaniard is a safe bet in the minor races and again claimed two podiums at the Spanish Championships and La Route d’Occitanie. Interestingly, this season he will skip the Tour de France, where he has ridden in his 4 previous seasons with Cofidis, to continue adding in minor races such as the Sibiu Tour. Zingle, Benjamin Thomas and Geschke also made the podium in their French and German Championships, moving Cofidis further and further away from the relegation zone despite taking just two WorldTour level wins in the last two and a half years.
The UCI Calendar
As we start the second part of the season with the Tour de France, we wanted to share this race calendar to make it easier for you to follow the last months of cycling in 2022. You can download it in high resolution here.
Paradoxically, July will be the month with the lowest points total (even less than October), as there are hardly any races coinciding with the Tour de France, which draws all the media attention. It is therefore a good time to prepare for the last three hectic months of the season with the staff and the riders who are not in the Tour de France.
On Twitter, some users have asked us how many points are needed to be saved, but it is very complicated to make projections, as the teams at risk will cover a longer calendar than in past years to try to get more points. Adding the points scored in 2021 from the Tour de France to the end of the season, the projection estimates that Lotto Soudal and BikeExchange would be the relegated teams, with less than 15,000 points. However, this year Lotto Soudal has Arnaud de Lie who can save Lotto if he maintains his incredible level. For their part, BikeExchange had a horrible end of 2021 and this year they are forced to improve a lot to stay in the WorldTour. Conversely, Israel have a team well suited to all the Italian classics, with Nizzolo, De Marchi, Fuglsang and Woods with the latter two riders also expected to be prominent on the puncheur’s World Championships parcours.
We are already seeing some decisions aimed at maximising points until the end of the season from teams other than Arkéa and Cofidis. In a smart move, DSM has signed youngsters Pavel Bittner and Casper van Uden from its development team as of 1 August. This season, Van Uden has scored 130 UCI points as a “loaner” of the first team between Scheldeprijs, Ronde van Drenthe and Veenendaal Classic, but officially those points have been scored by the DSM Development Team and do not count towards the WorldTour team. Any points scored by Van Uden’s from 1 August will now be useful for the WorldTeam if he finishes the season in the top 10 of the DSM.
As for the changes in the calendar, Movistar has deleted the Volta a Portugal (2.1), which is 11 very tiring stages in the August heat in Portugal against Tour de France GC level riders, and instead has added the Tour de Wallonie (2.Pro), the Tour de l’Ain (2.1), La Polynormande (1.1) and Tour du Limousin (2.1), where it will have the option of scoring many more points in the same days of competition. In addition, one of its best riders, Alex Aranburu, will not race the Tour de France as initially planned in order to maximise the sum of UCI points in smaller races in this final part of the season.
EF is also signing up for smaller races they have not ordinarily paid attention to, such as the Ordiziako Klasika (1.1), which this year will have a record number of WorldTeams participating thanks to the promotion and relegation system. BikeExchange will also make its debut in the Arctic Race of Norway (2.Pro) this season, won by Israel’s Ben Hermans last year.
As in the last fortnights, in the fight for the 2023 WorldTour invitations, decided by the 2022 annual classification, Lotto Soudal and TotalEnergies remain in the two positions that give access to the wildcards for the entire 2023 WorldTour calendar.
If BikeExchange falls into the relegation zone, they would find themselves in the worst possible situation with less than four months left in the season: they would lose their WorldTour licence with no wildcards secured for 2023, as they have less points than TotalEnergies and Israel – Premier Tech this season.
The Next Two Weeks (27 Jun – 10 Jul)
Few races want to share dates on the calendar with the Tour de France, so next fortnight we will only be able to enjoy the Sibiu Tour during the start of the Tour de France. As for the relegation battle, winning the Sibiu Tour gives more UCI points than winning a stage of the Tour de France and that is why this year Lotto Soudal, Cofidis and Israel will travel to Romania in the hunt for points.
The Sibiu Tour will likely have its most competitive GC battle in history, with Lotto, Cofidis and Israel bringing good riders to score points. According to the provisional startlist, Lotto will go with Cras and Vanhoucke, Cofidis with Jesús Herrada and Israel with Hagen and Bevin but they will all need to contend with Chris Harper on Jumbo-Visma and Uijtdebroeks on Bora-Hansgrohe.
The Tour de France will not be equally important for all the teams at risk in avoiding relegation. Movistar, Israel and EF need big performances from leaders like Mas (who they just extended until 2025), Woods, Fuglsang or Urán. However, Lotto, BikeExchange, Cofidis, Arkéa and DSM will be more in search of stage wins and the key to their salvation will be in minor races after the Tour.
Given the dearth of points available in July, we will return with an update after the conclusion of the Tour de France and Sibiu Tour. 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 artwork is by Louemans. Raúl Banqueri is a Spanish journalist who has been tracking the UCI points system for a number of years.