The exciting 2022 season has officially ended, although we have known for a few weeks that Lotto Soudal and Israel – Premier Tech would be the two relegated teams. Therefore, in this final article we are going to focus on analysing the keys of the relegation battle, thanks to a series of graphs that will help us understand how each team has faced this challenge.
For many teams the relegation battle has changed the way they approach a season. For many fans it has also changed the way they follow the sport, and the attention to the results of minor races has multiplied. Some have enjoyed this “points war” and others have lamented that more attention has been paid to the points than to the purely sporting aspects. We have tried to explain the situation as clearly as possible and, as the UCI has kept the ranking secret, we have become the source consulted by thousands of cycling fans and workers. It has been a pleasure to receive your feedback on social media and in the comments all these months.
Finally, 1000 and 2000 points have separated Lotto Soudal and Israel – Premier Tech from salvation respectively. Both teams have suffered several injuries and illnesses during the season, but this should not be an excuse for their relegation. Arkéa have held on without Nairo Quintana and Nacer Bouhanni in the second half of the season, BikeExchange lost Simon Yates in the Giro (twice) and Vuelta, most of the EF was sick in the spring and Enric Mas (Movistar) crashed multiple times until the Tour whilst in good position in GC. The final result has rewarded the teams that have had better performing riders and, importantly, who have used them more effectively.
With the exception of Israel, all the relegation-threatened teams have scored more points in 2022 than in 2021, making the fight for salvation toughest (and likely most expensive) in the final year of the triennium. The UCI calendar in the first year in 2020 was so affected by COVID that it is difficult to compare that year to the others side-by-side. However a team like Arkéa-Samsic still sent Bouhanni to a smorgasbord of the profitable one-day races that were available, whilst EF only attended WorldTour level races when cycling returned after lockdown.
In January of this year, former Lotto Soudal CEO John Lelangue explained in Wielerflits that he was confident of finishing in the top 18 without changing Ewan’s schedule and that they would not focus on points, as they would come naturally. In reality, many of the teams at risk did not take the risk of relegation seriously until very late in 2022 or perhaps they did not think that the UCI would stand firm with its regulations. Israel-Premier tech, Lotto Soudal, BikeExchange – Jacyo, EF Education-Easypost and Movistar were either complacent or ignorant of the relegation threat and then had to radically change their planning with the season already underway. On the other hand, Cofidis, Intermarché and Arkéa did think about points from the start of the triennium and have used that competitive advantage to finish in the top 18.
In the following interactive graph, we show the evolution of the gap to the relegation or salvation zone for each threatened team. By clicking on the name of each team, the line for that particular team is highlighted. We can see that Lotto and Israel were very close to the salvation zone during the Tour, but have deflated in the second half of the season. In fact, Israel have been by far the worst WorldTeam since the end of the Tour de France, despite the fact that the calendar suited the characteristics of its riders. This last week, the team did not even travel to the Japan Cup, where it was invited, after the lamentable image shown in the Italian classics.
In addition, Israel will be without automatic wildcards for the 2023 WorldTour stage races, such as the Giro, Tour and Vuelta. Their horrible season has landed them in the worst situation imaginable and it is uncertain if owner Sylvan Adams will complain to the UCI or the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a last resort to try to keep their licence. In that sense, EF manager Jonathan Vaughters has tweeted that "Israel will almost certainly win their case against UCI in CAS", because not all the teams competed in the same events and indeed some teams were denied access to certain races. Just last week, Vaughters published an article in VeloNews with some proposals to improve the current promotion and relegation system.
Where did the teams score?
As Vaughters says, not all teams have competed in the same races, although it is true that WorldTeams tend to be invited to most of the minor races they apply for. The teams that have wanted to compete more have been able to do so, and proof of this is that all the teams at risk have extended their race programme. The most striking case is that of Lotto Soudal, which have competed in 46 more races than last year, and even had to sign Van Rensburg and Barbero with the season underway in order to cover the entire calendar, despite showing no interest in Simon Clarke (a revelation for Israel) when he was searching for a contract in the off-season. They also missed a great opportunity to sign Andrea Piccolo, who was released from Gazprom after the team could no longer compete due to the war in Ukraine, and then went on to score over 700 UCI points in Drone Hopper and EF.
As the WorldTour races are mandatory, all these additions are minor races on the continental calendar, which has been key in the relegation battle. In fact, only 23% of Lotto's points were added in the WorldTour, 24% for Arkéa and 29% for Cofidis. On the other hand, DSM have changed its calendar the least, but have been able to score more than 3000 points in the WorldTour, especially with Bardet and Arensman, which has allowed them to manage their gap to the relegation zone. Still, without Arensman and Kragh Andersen next year, DSM are clear favourites for relegation in the next WorldTour licence cycle.
DSM were also the only team at risk to score more points in stage races than in one-day races. One-day races are the most profitable in terms of points and that is what has given Lotto hope, thanks to the eight 1.1 classics won by De Lie. Even a climber like Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) has scored more points in one-day races (718) than in stage races (550), adapting to the needs of his team. The following graph also shows the poor season of Israel, the second worst team in both classics and stage races.
The top scorers
At the request of a Twitter comment, we are also going to analyse who have been the key riders for each team in this relegation battle. As you can see in the graph below, the leaders of most of the teams at risk have improved their points performance in 2022, except for Lotto and Israel, the two relegated teams. De Lie's miracle has not been enough for Lotto because of the poor seasons of Wellens and Ewan, but the worsened performances of Nizzolo and Woods in Israel have been even more dramatic. If both had scored the same points as they did in 2021, Israel would have retained their WorldTour licence. However the mistakes do not end there. One of Israel's top scorers in 2021, Hugo Hofstetter, transferred to relegation rival Arkéa-Samsic for 2022, scoring 1217 points as the French team's top scorer whilst Dan Martin retired. With the addition of just Hofstetter or Martin's 2021 points in 2022, Israel likely would have at least kept the automatic 2023 WorldTour wildcard over TotalEnergies.
In addition to De Lie, we must also value the neoprofessional Axel Zingle, who scored 935 unexpected points for Cofidis. Another interesting detail is the great performance improvement of Matthews and Groenewegen, the two "heroes" of BikeExchange's salvation. It should be remembered that Groenewegen was a last-minute signing for 2022, following an agreement in December between BikeExchange and Jumbo-Visma. Without Groenewegen, BikeExchange would be only 57 points ahead of Lotto Soudal in the standings. In just one season, the Dutchman has finished in BikeExchange's top-3 cyclists in the 2020-2022 cycle, as you can see in the chart below.
Reading the table, you can see that the real MVP of the triennium has been Alejandro Valverde, scoring 4693 UCI points across the three years at over 40 years old. If Valverde had decided to retire earlier, Movistar would probably have been relegated, as the middle class of the team has not been up to the mark until the last months of 2022. That said, since the end of the 2022 Tour de France, Movistar have been the third highest scoring team in terms of UCI points, showing admirable resilience in the face of a very delicate situation in Spain, with many fans mocking the team this past summer. The team will be hoping that new signings Fernando Gaviria and Ruben Guerreiro can go some way to replacing Valverde's points in 2023 whilst they presumably chase the marquee signing of INEOS' Carlos Rodriguez for 2024 onwards.
For teams like Cofidis and Arkéa-Samsic, the next triennium will be even more difficult to stay in WorldTour. Arkéa's top scorer Quintana had his contract extension cancelled after his tramadol case and, most importantly, two big rivals for the 2026 WorldTour licence are French with deep pockets - TotalEnergies and B&B Hotels x New Sponsor. Points on the French circuit will be harder to come by not just from Total and B&B though, with Uno-X improving, Lotto and Israel chasing the annual wildcards and presumably vulnerable WorldTour teams paying more attention to the continental calendar throughout the triennium than they did in 2020 and 2021.
You may think that the points battle fun is over on this website for the time being, and you are partially correct. It is unlikely we will proceed with the fortnightly updates next year however periodic updates and a tracker (perhaps not daily, for Raúl's sake) will continue. In the short-term, during this off-season we will publish a preview piece on the vulnerable teams for the next licence cycle, analysing their roster construction, calendar and things that need to change.
Editor’s Note: I would like to thank Raúl Banqueri for these outstanding articles throughout the year and for being a pleasure to work with. He has made what could be an esoteric subject with opaque rules engaging and accessible to a large number of people and the cycling industry itself. Special thanks also goes to Louemans for the unique feature artwork once again - they always makes me chuckle.