The WorldTour calendar has concluded and we can already safely say that Lotto Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech will be the two relegated teams if the UCI implements its regulations.* Unfortunately, the relegation battle did not make it to the Tour de Langkawi alive, after a disastrous management by Lotto Soudal in the last few weeks. Although they were unlucky, it seems that the Belgians gave up too soon, not fielding Caleb Ewan in the last month of competition and even announcing the dismissal of CEO John Lelangue when the team still had a chance of salvation.
The Past Two Weeks
With a difference of 1170 points between Lotto and Arkéa-Samsic and only five races to go, Lotto Soudal’s relegation is already a certainty, although not yet mathematically. Lotto will take part in the last five races, while Arkéa have already finished its season after being rejected in the Japan Cup and the last two Italian classics, according to our sources. For this reason, there was some concern in recent weeks in the French team, but in the end those trips would not have been necessary.
With the situation already defined, VeloNews has reported that some Lotto Soudal and Israel – Premier Tech riders are “looking to terminate their contracts and jump ship to rival teams”. All contracts for WorldTour riders permit a rider to terminate their contract with their WorldTour team should they lose their WorldTour licence – but is it likely that there will be a mass exodus from the unlucky two teams? Other teams have already signed the majority of their roster for 2023 and do not have much spare budget floating around in late October. On the other hand, if the riders remain on their relegated teams (and those teams continue to exist), they will not be required to accept a decrease in salary. Perhaps in the case of young stars on cheap neo-pro deals like Arnaud de Lie and Corbin Strong, there is an opportunity to rip up their current contracts to sign bigger ones elsewhere but Lotto-Soudal still have wildcards to every WorldTour race in 2023 and Ewan and De Lie have already stated that they will remain with the team.
It is more likely that one of Israel’s ‘stars’ like Jakob Fuglsang will want to leave the team, as they will not have automatic wildcards for any WorldTour stage race in 2023, including the Grand Tours. However one of the main reasons Israel-Premier tech have been relegated was their contingent of older and well-paid riders’ inability to perform at the necessary level, so such riders will likely have to accept a pay-cut if they chase guaranteed WorldTour stage racing elsewhere.
As you can see, our predictive model no longer gives Lotto Soudal any chance of salvation. However, with Moniquet, Campenaerts, Kron, Wellens, Van Gils and Cras racing this week, there is still a miraculous combination for Lotto to score more than the 1170 UCI points deficit. In practice it is an impossible combination, and besides, none of the six is in top physical form right now.
It is true that Lotto have suffered from the physical problems or injuries of Wellens, Moniquet and Cras, but neither Kron or Van Gils have finished in good shape, so the physical preparation has not been optimal. On the other hand, Ewan’s absence from racing since 16 September has been justified by “illness” in a simple tweet. From the outside, it seems that Lotto did not believe in their chances of a comeback in the final part of the season or they decided that relegation with guaranteed wildcards in 2023 was not that bad an outcome. Another sign of this was the announcement that Gilbert would retire after Paris-Tours, instead of extending to the Japan Cup or the Veneto classics, where he could score points to save the team.
In the last fortnight, Lotto has even been the at-risk team that has scored the fewest points. Planned races for Ewan, such as the Münsterland Giro (1.Pro) and the Kempen Classic (1.1), were left leaderless, instead of fielding the fast Jasper De Buyst, who remained as De Lie’s gregario. The team also went into the Coppa Bernocchi (1.Pro) and the Gran Piemonte (1.Pro) without a leader, where De Buyst himself or even Philippe Gilbert could have been a contender. In addition, De Lie had bad luck crashing in the last corner of the Famenne Ardenne (1.1) and again in the Paris – Tours (1.Pro). Luck has not been on Lotto’s side, but the sporting management of the last part of the season is very questionable.
On the other hand, their rival Arkéa did do their homework, especially with the double top 5 of Capiot and Hofstetter in the Famenne Ardenne (145 pts) and the triple top 10 of Louvel, Capiot and Hofstetter in the Paris - Tours (125 points in total). And Cofidis, which started the fortnight with a margin of less than 900 points over Lotto, also cleared any doubts about relegation by winning the Famenne Classic with Zingle and the Tour de Vendée with Coquard on the same Sunday.
In the interactive graphic below you can see which 10 riders contribute points for each team. As there are no more teams at risk, in this update we include the top 22 teams of the season, as well as TotalEnergies, which has beaten Israel in the battle for wildcards to the complete 2023 WorldTour calendar. By clicking on the name of the team, a graph opens with the points of each rider of that particular team.
The fight for the 2023 WorldTour wilcards, decided by the 2022 annual ranking, has also been settled ahead of time. Lotto Soudal and TotalEnergies will have the invitations to all 2023 WorldTour races, while Israel - Premier Tech will only have the invitations to the one-day WorldTour races.
Israel travelled to the Italian classics with names like Woods, Fuglsang, Teuns and Nizzolo, but their most repeated results have been DNFs. Consequently, Sylvan Adams' team has not been able to bounce back to TotalEnergies and will have to rely on wildcards at the discretion of the race organisers to attend the Giro, Tour and Vuelta in 2023. The performance of their leaders at the end of the season has been horrendous, especially considering that they have not had very busy calendars. Without knowing all the internal details, it does not seem that the atmosphere within the team is too pleasant.
The position of Lotto Soudal and TotalEnergies is the most privileged for 2023, as they have the right to participate in all WorldTour races, but can reject those they are not interested in. If Lotto or Total refuse to participate in the Giro or Vuelta, the free wildcard would not automatically go to Israel, but would go to the organisers, who could invite another national team should they wish. In the image below, we summarise the participation of teams in the Grand Tours in 2023.
In 2023, Lotto Soudal, TotalEnergies and Israel - Premier Tech will again compete against each other for the two invitations to the entire 2024 WorldTour, so the pressure for points will remain constant on those teams. In addition, Uno-X and B&B could join the mix with Uno-X's signing of Kristoff and B&B's likely signing of Cavendish and other riders with a new sponsor rumoured to be on-board.
The Final Week | 10 October – 18 October
This week we will have the last five races of the season, which would have been key if the relegation battle had been evenly matched up to this point. Many of the teams that were at risk of relegation, such as Movistar or Cofidis, would now prefer to save the trip to Asia, but at least these races will benefit from having a good participation of WorldTeams.
- Le Tour de Langkawi (2.Pro, 11/10 – 18/10)
- Giro del Veneto (1.1, 12/10)
- Veneto Classic (1.1, 16/10)
- Japan Cup (1.Pro, 16/10)
- Chrono des Nations (1.1, 16/10)
As previously mentioned, Lotto Soudal will participate in all five races and, thanks to this, they have a mathematical (although unrealistic) chance to be saved. On 16 October, the team will be participating in four races at the same time (Langkawi, Veneto, Japan and Chrono des Nations), while most WorldTeams have already finished their season.
Although it is no longer of major importance, it is unlikely that Israel - Premier Tech could have participated in the Tour de Langkawi for geopolitical reasons, as Malaysia has frequently barred Israeli teams from competing in their sports tournaments. It would have been an interesting situation if Israel - Premier Tech could have made it to the final week with a chance of salvation and the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs held the keys to guaranteed Tour de France attendance for the next three years.
The final instalment of our 2022 relegation battle coverage will be after the conclusion of Langkawi, with an overall season review of how each team fared in the battle. We would also like to thank you for your engagement with these fortnightly updates throughout the year, the readership has been tremendous.
*The sporting criterion based on UCI points is not the only factor the UCI assesses when awarding WorldTour licences - there are also ethical and financial considerations which theoretically precede the application of the sporting criterion. Unfortunately one also cannot forget the near annual occurrence of a WorldTour team folding due to lack of sponsorship like Qhubeka in 2021 as well as the possibility of a team selling its licence, like CCC did to Intermarché.