The opening weekend has closed a very intense month of competition. Although some still think that the season starts at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the reality is that the entirety of February is one of the busiest months of competition. In this article, we will try to analyse the initial trends among the teams, separating those that will fight to win the 2023 UCI ranking and those that have started less strongly.
As a reminder, the UCI modified its scoring system less than a month before the start of the season. We already produced an in-depth analysis in this article, but the two most important points are the following:
- The UCI points scale gives much more importance to Grand Tours and Monuments, as well as to stages in WorldTour stage races.
- The UCI World Ranking for teams, both annually and across the triennium, will take into account the 20 best riders of each team, instead of 10 as last season.
You can download the new points scale in high resolution through this link.
After February, UAE Team Emirates has emerged as the top team in the rankings. Jumbo-Visma won last season’s ranking, but the fact that the UCI counts the points of the top 20 riders per team (instead of 10) gives UAE a competitive advantage this season. The UAE team always covers a very extensive calendar and tries to give opportunities to all of its riders. Thus, UAE’s general manager, Joxean Fernández Matxín, has set as an important goal for 2023 to win the team ranking for the first time, as he told Mundo Deportivo.
Presumably, Jumbo-Visma will again be the main rival of Matxin’s team, with Ineos and Soudal-QuickStep a step below. Ineos has lost Carapaz, Adam Yates and Van Baarle, while Soudal-QuickStep’s classics block is becoming less and less powerful even if Evenepoel is scoring plenty of GC points. Intermarché – Circus – Wanty is also closely following UAE at the moment after an impressive start to the season, but it is unlikely to be able to keep up with their well-funded roster of stars, especially in the stage races.
As you can see in the table above, the approaches of UAE and Jumbo are completely different. Jumbo is the WorldTeam that has competed the least in 2023, while UAE has already participated in 21 races, three times as many as Jumbo. Therefore, Jumbo must perform at the highest level in the races they participate in to overtake UAE in the ranking, as they did in the opening weekend. The current difference of more than 1200 points in favour of UAE is not insignificant, but there is almost the whole season left. In 2022, UAE was more than 1300 points ahead of Jumbo after February and the Dutch team finished the season ahead.
In the 2022 data comparison, we see how UAE riders competed almost 8 days more on average than Jumbo riders. This is explained by Jumbo’s greater focus on training camps rather than competitions as well as UAE’s total participation in the Italian and Spanish local calendars. These are also the main reasons why UAE scored almost 1000 points more than Jumbo with the 11th to 20th riders of both teams. Those points were not counted in the 2022 ranking, but could be determinative of the ranking winner from this season onwards.
The ProTeams will fight to win their own ranking, which gives access to wildcards for the following year’s WorldTour races. The top two ProTeams will have guaranteed wildcards for the entire WorldTour, including the Grand Tours, and the third will have guaranteed invitations to the one-day races. Finishing in the top two teams is a privilege, as you have the right to participate in the entire WorldTour, being able to refuse races you are not interested in. This annual pressure may favour them in the triennium ranking over the current WorldTeams, which will probably not focus as much on points, at least during the first half of the triennium.
At the moment, the two relegated teams, Lotto Dstny and Israel – Premier Tech, are in the lead in this classification with a solid advantage. Lotto has a guarantee of success with Arnaud De Lie, who is already the third rider with the most UCI points (657) so far this season. His points alone and a more regular level of Caleb Ewan in the sprints are enough for them to be the top favorites for the wildcards of 2024. After the UCI decided to count the points of the top 20 riders in each team, Lotto has promoted Alec Segaert and Jarne Van De Paar from its development team, with the aim of having more riders contributing points. The Belgian team is also playing the points game in calendar planning, turning down the Giro wildcard to focus on smaller but more profitable races.
Israel will be able to enjoy the signing of Dylan Teuns. However, the team has an aging roster and it is likely that several of its leaders (Woods, Fuglsang, Nizzolo and Vanmarcke) will reduce their sporting level. Despite his age, their best rider of 2023 is Simon Clarke (36), podium finisher in the Australian nationals, Cadel Evans and Vuelta a Murcia. The team has enough budget to get the wildcards and return to the WorldTour, but they will have to improve their planning and performance to do so.
TotalEnergies and Uno-X are the other two teams in clear contention for the wildcards, although less likely than Lotto and Israel. Both teams have been hurt by the change in the scoring system, as they tend to get more points on the continental calendar and don’t have the squad depth of the WorldTeams. Uno-X will be quite dependent on Alexander Kristoff’s performance, while for TotalEnergies it will be key to recover a good version of Peter Sagan in his last season in WorldTour cycling.
These four ProTeams (Lotto, Israel, TotalEnergies and Uno-X) will want several WorldTeams to underperform in order to increase their chances of promotion. It is possible that by the end of 2025 we may see no promotion at all, we may see only one team promoted or we may even see four. Below, we will analyze which teams are most likely to be relegated at the end of 2025.
This new cycle of the relegation battle will take into account the cumulative ranking from 2023 to 2025. At the moment, Astana Qazaqstan Team and Alpecin-Deceuninck are in relegation places, but the ranking is still not very representative as we are only around 5% into the new triennium. Alpecin is the only WorldTeam yet to win in 2023, but will gain a lot of positions in the classics season with the presence of Mathieu van der Poel. However, it is not a good sign that Astana are already so far behind the rest of the WorldTeams after having been the worst last season as well. On the other hand, Movistar and EF Education-EasyPost, which struggled to stay in the WorldTour last year, have started very strongly and the feeling is that they will have a less stressful three years than the end of the last triennium.
In my opinion, Astana Qazaqstan Team is the number 1 favourite to lose its WorldTour license at the end of 2025. In recent years, the team has had numerous financial and organisational problems, which led to the exit of sponsor Premier Tech. Consequently, it is a team with enormous difficulties in attracting talent and the retirement of Nibali and termination of Lopez contracts (top scorers in 2022) will not have helped. Obviously the addition of Cavendish is great news for Astana, but it is unknown whether the Manxman will be able to maintain a good level until 2025 or even stay with the team for the next few seasons. Even if Cavendish does win a Tour de France stage and a few other sprints, these points alone will not be enough to boost the team into the top 18.
If Astana was the worst WorldTeam in 2022, Team DSM was second from the bottom. It is worrying that they are currently 18th in the ranking, despite having performed relatively well for the potential of their squad in terms of early season victories.
The Dutch team has again lost two of its stars, Thymen Arensman and Søren Kragh Andersen, so they will depend on how they evolve their talent and if they can keep them. For the moment, Sam Welsford and Marius Mayrhofer have been two of the revelation riders of the season.
Jayco Alula was another team that found itself dragged into the fight to stay in the WorldTour last year. The Australians have the same weaknesses as last year: they have 3 very good leaders (Simon Yates, Groenewegen and Matthews), but they lack squad depth. Fortunately for them, this triennium they will be able to count on the points of the Australian calendar, which they have already used well this January with Matthews and Yates. The graph below shows how Jayco has scored over 900 points in the WorldTour with its three leaders, while scoring hardly any points in the continental races.
Finally, the French teams Arkéa – Samsic, Cofidis and even Ag2r Citroën will surely be affected by the change in the UCI scoring system. As you can see in the chart, these teams get much of their points from the extensive continental calendar, which will now be less valuable in terms of UCI points. In any case, Ag2r Citroën has a big budget and should improve their roster when they release Van Avermaet’s high salary at the end of 2023.
The WorldTour races really kick off in earnest next month, including Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice, Tirreno Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya and the majority of the cobbled classics. We will return at the end of March with another update on the UCI ranking and the trajectory of the teams.