The Vuelta and the alternative calendar of the last three weeks have been decisive for the teams involved in the relegation battle. Movistar has finally seen the light in La Vuelta, while Lotto and Arkéa have made good use of the alternative calendar. On the other hand, Israel – Premier Tech’s chances of salvation are minimal, with 15% of the 2022 points remaining to be distributed and a deficit of 1375 points to Cofidis.
The Past Three Weeks
As we can see in the graph, Movistar has managed to overtake Cofidis, BikeExchange, EF and Arkéa, so now Cofidis is the team that marks the salvation zone, with a gap of 667 points over Lotto. BikeExchange, EF and Arkéa also have a margin of less than 1000 points over Lotto and now comes a calendar full of minor classics which suits Lotto very well. Therefore, we expect Lotto to gradually cut their disadvantage in the coming weeks.
We have created a model to predict the relegation probabilities based on the expected calendars of each team at risk, their riders with scoring potential and 100,000 simulations. The model says that Israel will be relegated with a 93.4% chance, while the other spot will be hotly contested between Lotto (32.2%), BikeExchange (29.8%) and Cofidis (27.8%). Meanwhile, Movistar can be relatively relaxed, with only a 1.1% chance of relegation.
The last three teams (Israel, Lotto and Cofidis) will make a huge logistical effort to participate in the vast majority of the 33 remaining races. For example, on 16 October, Lotto Soudal plans to participate in four races at the same time (Japan, Langkawi, Veneto and Chrono des Nations), when many WorldTeams will have already finished their season. BikeExchange is the team at risk with the fewest races planned, although they will probably sign up for several races at the last minute to increase their chances of salvation and thus their probability of relegation will reduce in our predictor.
Whilst they push their options on the road, the teams at risk continue to pressure the UCI to cancel the relegation system, even threatening legal action. Last week, Cycling News reported that the:
“2023 WorldTour could include 20 teams to avoid relegation chaos, legal battles”.
This would still allow Alpecin and Arkéa to be promoted but would eliminate relegation for the time being. However, a few hours later the UCI confirmed that “no decision to modify the rules in force has been taken”, so in theory only 18 WorldTour licences will be granted. It does not look like this will be the last chapter of this story, as the pressure from the teams will intensify until the end of the year and legal action will likely result from any team that is relegated.
When they were most criticised and under pressure, Movistar has managed to be the best team at risk in recent weeks, thanks to an unexpected second place for Enric Mas in their home race of La Vuelta as well as four stage podium finishes (120 extra points). Mas described before the Spanish Grand Tour that he had developed a fear of descending in races throughout the year, had abandoned the Tour de France with COVID and yet his Vuelta result has practically saved Movistar.
In addition, due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the Tour of Britain was cancelled with three stages remaining, with Gonzalo Serrano awarded the victory and full points whilst in the lead after five stages. This brought him into the Movistar top 10 whilst García Cortina added a haul of 225 points with his top 5 in Québec. It is remarkable how in the last month Movistar has turned around a very negative trend, which had placed them as one of the favourites for relegation, especially when Valverde has been unable to score many points in the latter half of the season.
After being the worst team in the Tour de France, Lotto Soudal was also the worst team in La Vuelta, even below the Spanish guest teams. This was no surprise, given the absence of Wellens and their star sprinters Arnaud De Lie and Caleb Ewan, who are focussing on the alternative calendar. The young Belgian won the Egmont Race (125 pts) and was fourth in the Bretagne Classic (220 pts), while Ewan won a stage in the Deutschland Tour (20 pts) and beat Groenewegen in the GP de Fourmies (200 pts). In Fourmies, the team was looking for a 1-2 with Ewan and De Lie, but De Lie suffered a heavy crash. Fortunately for Lotto, the Belgian has apparently not suffered any injuries, as he is absolutely essential for their salvation.
All the teams at risk except Movistar have made better use of the alternative calendar than La Vuelta, although we cannot forget that Simon Yates (BikeExchange) had to abandon La Vuelta due to COVID when he was fifth, a position that distributes 380 UCI points. BikeExchange consoled itself with a stage win by Groves (100 pts) and Matthews' 2nd in Quebec (400 pts), but the Australian team has not made the step up in the rankings that was expected with Lotto scoring the same amount of points in the last three weeks.
Arkéa's reaction after the Nairo Quintana affair is remarkable. The always reliable Barguil made the top 10 in both Canadian classics (170 pts), Capiot was 3rd in Fourmies (125 pts) and the young surprises Louvel and Vauquelin have continued to shine in the minor calendar. EF also made good use of the continental calendar, with Guerreiro's podium in the Deutschland Tour (135 pts) and especially the 280 points they received in the USA in the Maryland Classic, with Powless, Piccolo and Cort in the top 6 of the race. In addition, Urán saved the team's Vuelta in the final week, winning a stage and finishing ninth in the GC, to score another 280 points to move the team to a more comfortable margin from the relegation zone. Unfortunately for them, Piccolo and Powless both crashed in the Montréal classic, denying both a chance for big points in a suitable race and putting their ability to score points in the Italian Autumn calendar into question.
On the other hand, Israel and Cofidis were the teams that scored the least points, failing to stand out in the GC of La Vuelta and the Canadian classics. Cofidis at least took Jesus Herrada's stage win in La Vuelta (100 pts), while Benjamin Thomas made top 10 in the Tour Poitou - Charentes, the Bretagne Classic and the Tour du Doubs, scoring 215 points. Israel won the Maryland Classic with Vanmarcke (200 pts), but the performance of Nizzolo and Fuglsang in Canada was poor. In addition, the points of Teuns and Strong, fifth and sixth in the Tour of Britain, have not been added yet as they are outside the top 10 of the team, although it is likely that both will finish in the top 10 of Israel by the end of the year.
In the interactive graphic below 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.
Lotto Soudal and TotalEnergies are still in the lead in the race for the complete 2023 WorldTour wildcards, for which only the 2022 ranking is taken into account. Right now Israel - Premier Tech are in the worst possible position: they would lose their WorldTour licence and are 661 UCI points behind Total in the fight for WorldTour stage race wildcards, receiving only automatic invites to WorldTour one-day races.
Although Israel's goal should be to save the WorldTour licence, at some point it may be in their interest to race tactically against EF, because EF are the only team at risk with fewer points in 2022 than them. If EF and Israel were both relegated, then Israel along with TotalEnergies would receive automatic invitations to all WorldTour races whilst EF would be dependent on the race organisers wildcards for invitations to Grand Tours.
The Next Two Weeks | 12 September – 25 September
As we have noted, there are still a large number of races to be contested, which will involve most of the teams at risk. In fact, all seven (Israel, Lotto, Cofidis, BikeExchange, EF, Arkéa and Movistar) will coincide this week in Belgium in both the GP de Wallonie and the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen, minor races that will acquire a special interest thanks to the relegation battle.
- Skoda Tour Luxembourg (2.Pro, 13/09 – 17/09) Cofidis, Arkéa
- Tour de Slovaquie (2.1, 13/09 – 17/09) Israel
- Grand Prix de Wallonie (1.Pro, 14/09) ALL
- Giro della Toscana (1.1, 14/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, EF, Cofidis
- Coppa Sabatini (1.Pro, 15/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, EF, Cofidis
- Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen (1.1, 16/09) ALL
- Primus Classic (1.Pro, 17/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, EF, BikeExchange, Cofidis
- Memorial Marco Pantani (1.1, 17/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, EF, Cofidis
- Gooikse Pijl (1.1, 18/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, EF, BikeExchange, Cofidis
- Grand Prix d'Isbergues - Pas de Calais (1.1, 18/09) Lotto, Cofidis, Arkéa
- World Championships ITT (WC, 18/09)
- World Championships Mixed Relay TTT (WC, 21/09)
- Omloop van het Houtland (1.1, 21/09) Israel, Lotto, Movistar, BikeExchange, Cofidis, Arkéa
- World Championships Road Race (WC, 25/09)
- Classique Paris-Chauny (1.1, 25/09) Israel, Lotto, BikeExchange, Cofidis, Arkéa
This high concentration of one-day races in Europe, coupled with the fact that the World Championships is being held as far away as Australia, has meant that many teams at risk will not permit their riders to travel and race for the national teams. For example, Lotto Soudal did not release De Lie or Campenaerts, Movistar did not allow Valverde, Aranburu, Cortina or Serrano to participate, Cofidis did not let Ion Izagirre, Jesús Herrada or Max Walscheid participate, while EF did not give up Urán and Powless. At the other end of the spectrum is Israel, which is allowing Simon Clarke and Jakob Fuglsang to take part, despite the fact that they have almost no chance at a top result in the World Championships given their performances in Québec and Montréal.
In any case, the World Championships road race is the one-day race that awards the most points, with 600 for the winner, while the ITT awards 350 for the winner and the mixed relay 100 UCI points for each rider of the winning team. Therefore, judiciously, the teams at risk have allowed their riders who can score good points to participate, such as Bissegger, Cort and Bettiol in the case of Education First or Matthews and Sobrero in the case of BikeExchange.
In Europe, the Italian classics season begins and the usual high level of activity continues in Belgium and France. Movistar has to take advantage of the tough Italian classics to certify its salvation with men like Sosa, Pedrero or Serrano. Meanwhile, Lotto Soudal is expected to shine with Ewan and De Lie in the Belgian and French classics, where they will have to battle against Dylan Groenewegen, who will be looking for points for BikeExchange, or Dylan Teuns, in Israel's desperate attempt. In addition, the Tour Luxembourg (2.Pro) will be very important for Arkéa and Cofidis, who will contest the general classification with Kévin Vauquelin and Benjamin Thomas respectively, favoured by a 26-kilometre ITT.
In short, it seems that BikeExchange and EF will rely on their stars like Matthews or Bissegger to complete a great World Championships, while the rest of the teams at risk will try to score as many points as possible on the continental calendar. Lotto Soudal looks the strongest team on that smaller calendar, but the Belgians cannot afford any slip-ups in their comeback to salvation given their 650+ point deficit to Cofidis.
We will return with our next update on the the 26th of September, after the conclusion of the World Championships.
Editor’s Note: This article was prepared by Raúl Banqueri with contributions from the Editor, Patrick Broe. The cover artwork is by Louemans.