The WorldTour calendar kicked off in earnest this March with all the stars of cycling appearing in races. This leaves a ranking that is much more representative of the strengths of the various teams compared to this time in February, with a few standout teams both positively and negatively. In addition, we will address the consequences of the new UCI regulations for Grand Tour wildcards, which give greater importance to sporting merit.
The ranking reflects what we have all seen on TV this month. Jumbo swept the cobbled races and has almost caught up with UAE in the rankings, despite competing much less until February. While the last few years it seemed that four teams (Jumbo, UAE, Ineos and QuickStep) shared the dominance, now clearly Jumbo and UAE are in another league. Ineos had a budget of around 50 million euros in their last public accounts (2020) and it must be frustrating for them not to be able to consistently compete for victory in either the big one week races or cobbled classics – notwithstanding Pidcock’s superb win in Strade Bianche at the start of the month. Even without Pogacar’s points, Ineos would still be behind UAE in the rankings.
In the graph below, we can see that Jumbo has three of the top four riders of the season so far and UAE has three riders in the top 20. However, Quick-Step, always characterised as a deep team, particularly in the classics, has only Evenepoel in the top 20 so far this season. Their classics team has been a disaster in March, even though Evenepoel’s performance in Catalunya will somewhat ease that pain. Given that Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pogacar are dominating the classics and are all tied down by their respective teams, it would be wise for Quick-Step to focus their efforts on surrounding Evenepoel with quality teammates for the Grand Tours or even to send Evenepoel to some classics in 2024.
Turning to the team ranking, we see that the shadow of relegation is already looming over Astana Qazaqstan Team. The Kazakh squad is already more than 1500 UCI points below the top 18 cutoff and even below nine second division teams. With this trend, they will end this season with a disadvantage that will be very difficult to overcome in 2024 and 2025. To make matters worse, Miguel Ángel López has claimed 1.7 million euros from the team for unfair dismissal and the case is now in the hands of CAS. They are lucky that, with the WorldTour licences granted on a triennium cycle until 2025, they are guaranteed to participate in the best races for the next 3 years, but their current level is certainly not worthy of the WorldTour.
The same teams we mentioned in last month’s analysis (Israel, Cofidis, AG2R, Jayco, DSM and Arkéa) are still in the lower part of the ranking. However, it is remarkable the improvement of Israel compared to last year, culminating with Vanmarcke’s podium at Gent-Wevelgem. Both Israel and Lotto have kept their heads high and performed admirably in the start of 2023, after their relegation to ProTeam status following last year. On the other hand, Arkéa’s situation (in provisional relegation) is not worrying yet, but they are obviously missing Nairo Quintana in the mountainous one-week stage races at the beginning of the season. Whilst not consistently at his peak Movistar level in the last triennium, Quintana was frequently a GC threat for the French outfit in races like Tour de la Provence, Tour des Alpes Maritimes et dur Var and even Paris-Nice. Most likely Arkéa will look to reinforce that aspect of the team in the next transfer market and will also be helping that they can develop new signing Clément Champoussin in this regard.
In the following interactive graphic, you can see the points of all the riders of the 22 top teams, the participants in the Tour de France. With the new UCI rule that the top 20 riders per team score points instead of the top 10, far fewer UCI points are discarded than last year. Therefore, the pressure to score is spread over almost all the riders in the teams, instead of just 10 of them.
In the fight for the automatic wildcards for 2024, Lotto Dstny is very close to securing them with the points they have scored so far. In addition to De Lie, two dark horses like Milan Menten and Frederik Frison have scored 935 points between them, making for a good classics season despite Campenaerts’ injury. Israel – Premier Tech also has a comfortable lead of over 1,000 points in second place, with TotalEnergies not having an ideal start to the season – they are just under 1,000 points behind their score at this point in the season last year.
TotalEnergies and Uno-X expressed their desire to get the automatic wildcards and even move up to the WorldTour by the end of 2025, but they are not being able to score at the pace of Lotto, Israel and the WorldTeams so far. In the case of Uno-X, the lingering injury issues for Tobias Halland Johannessen and Kristoff’s breakaway being caught in Dwars door Vlaanderen have lead to a lower total than they would have hoped for.
New Grand Tour Wildcard rule
Without even publishing a press release, the UCI has modified the Grand Tour wildcard regulations, along with another very relevant aspect, which is the payment of training compensation fees to the teams or clubs involved in the training of a cyclist. From next year onwards, more consideration will be given to sporting merit in the distribution of Grand Tours wildcards. ProTeams will have to finish in the top 50 of the 2023 ranking to qualify for 2024 wildcards, in the top 40 of the 2024 ranking to qualify for 2025 wildcards and in the top 30 of the ranking from 2025 to qualify for wildcards in the following seasons. This will likely be more relevant for the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, where one of the domestic wildcard invitees are typically not in the top 30 of the preceding year’s ranking.
The team most under pressure to make the top 50 this year is the Italian Team Corratec, invited to the 2023 Giro, which is currently ranked 97th in the 2023 UCI ranking with just 51 UCI points. Last year Corratec finished 100th, so if the rule had come into effect last year, Team Corratec could not have been invited to the Giro in 2023. The rationale for the rule is clearly to prevent the invitation of radically uncompetitive teams to the sport’s largest events, those invitations often being to the detriment of other teams that sportingly deserve it more.
This rule will surely be welcomed by non-WorldTour teams that are not of French, Italian or Spanish nationality. Right now there is only one French ProTeam (TotalEnergies), so there would be room to invite a foreigner to the Tour de France even if TotalEnergies need a wildcard invitation at the discretion of Amaury Sport Organisation. However, there are three Italian ProTeams and four Spanish ProTeams which, before this rule, left no room for foreign foreign teams to receive a discretionary invitation to the Giro or Vuelta.
The first top50 filter will not be a big change, as all ProTeams except Corratec and Novo Nordisk will probably be able to pass it. But the top40 filter for next year and especially the top30 filter from the 2025 ranking onwards will exclude many ProTeams from the Grand Tours. For example, no Spanish ProTeam has finished in the top 30 of the UCI ranking since 2019. If teams like Uno-X, Bolton Equities, Human Powered Health or Bingoal pass the filter and Italians or Spaniards do not, these teams will have a much higher chance to be invited to the Giro or Vuelta.
Starting this month, we will also take a look at the evolution of the Olympic rankings, as the nation rankings for the 2023 season will decide each nation’s places in the Paris 2024 cycling races. For the nation rankings, the top eight male cyclists and the top five female cyclists from each country are taken into account. There will only be 90 participants for each gender in the road race and 35 in the time trial. In the following tables, you can see the qualification system: the first image corresponds to the road race and the second one to the individual time trial.
The first 80 places in the road race are distributed according to the ranking and the other 10 places are for the countries that do not have a place by ranking and have obtained the best places in the World Championships, African Championships, American Championships and Asian Championships. As a result, these will be races with a very small peloton in which a good number of the participants will not be close to WorldTour level. Strategically, having a fourth rider in the road race to act as a domestique is a big advantage compared to the 10 countries who will have just two riders, for example.
In the following graphs you can see how the rankings of both genders are after the first three months of the season. Remember that the rankings started from zero at the beginning of this year.
Right now, the most interesting fight is to get those four quota places in the men’s road race, as just five nations will be able to start with the maximum number of riders. Belgium will almost certainly get them, but then it is very tight between France, Slovenia, Italy, Great Britain, Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Spain and United States. For its part, Colombia would be left with only 2 places, reflecting the crisis that Colombian men’s cycling is facing with Lopez and Quintana gone and Bernal struggling with injury.