With a heavy concentration of top category races, the last two weeks have been key for teams in the fight to avoid WorldTour relegation. As custodians of this invaluable fortnightly ranking, it was incredible to see UCI points darling Biniam Girmay graduate from top 10 results in .Pro one day races like Laigueglia, to 5th at E3 Saxo-Classic and then a stunning victory at Gent-Wevelgem.
For the first time this season we see a change in the relegation zone, as Cofidis have managed to overtake Israel – Premier Tech who have been unable to get out of their slump since the beginning of 2022. In case you are new to the world of the cycling relegation battle, you can see our list of previous articles explaining the system here.
The Past Two Weeks
Illness, crashes and physical problems, ever present at the start of the 2022 season, have heavily influenced the fight against relegation. On the GC side, Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Valverde (Movistar) and Woods (Israel) were unable to finish the Volta a Catalunya whilst Nairo Quintana’s consistent run of form for the last two months has been the bedrock of Arkéa’s success.
In one-day races, Lotto Soudal have been the most affected team with Caleb Ewan missing Milano-Sanremo, Brugge – De Panne and Gent – Wevelgem classics due to stomach problems. They were almost level with Cofidis in our article a fortnight ago and now sit nearly 1000 points behind. Also absent from the classics was last year’s Gent-Wevelgem runner-up Giacomo Nizzolo, who fell on the descent of the Poggio, which ruined not just his Sanremo result but also caused him to fracture a bone in his left wrist and miss several important races as Israel’s leader.
Cofidis’ strong start to the year is not the only problem for Israel, as other teams at risk including Intermarché, BikeExchange, Movistar and Arkéa have increased their margin of safety to the 19th spot enormously. In fact, such a clear gap has been established between Intermarché, Arkéa and the relegation zone, that it may not be much longer that they will be included as a ‘team at risk’ in these articles.
The past two weeks have not just been disappointing for Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto Soudal but also for a first time entrant in this series, EF Education – EasyPost, who have moved from 13th to 15th in the last two weeks. The team led by Jonathan Vaughters is the worst performing WorldTeam so far this season by UCI points and their margin of safety from the relegation zone has shrunk from 2652 points at the start of the year to 1587 now.
Illness and injury have weighed heavily on them, with a broken collarbone for Magnus Cort in Tirreno and a covid infection for Alberto Bettiol causing them to miss the early classics. Whilst having their big stars out of action has certainly cost EF, it is clear that increasing their UCI points total is not a focus for their team either, with Vaughters unaware in January this year that the UCI WorldTour licence triennium ends in 2022 rather than 2021.
EF have riders who can compete for the biggest wins on the calendar like Carthy, Bissegger, Padun, Urán, Chaves, Valgren, Powless and the aforementioned Cort and Bettiol, but a characteristic of almost all of those riders is their lack of consistency in producing top results. There is no steady (but maybe boring) Enric Mas who is a lock to top 5 the Vuelta and they also lack any bunch sprinter with whom they can at least compete for results in flat one-day races. Without Powless and Valgren’s incredible results in the World Championships in 2021 (which may not be replicated) they would be at serious risk of relegation.
Undoubtedly, the winning team of the last few days has been Intermarché, led by Eritrean Biniam Girmay with fifth at E3 and an incredible victory in Gent-Wevelgem, a race that scores at the same level as the monuments with 500 points to the winner.
However, the team has decided to let Girmay end his classics season to return to his family in Eritrea and prepare for the Giro d’Italia, which will be his first Grand Tour. Intermarché are now 1700 points clear of the relegation zone which reduces the pressure on them to aggressively hunt points, with sport director Steven De Neef telling Wielerflits:
“We let him race without pressure for now. It’s great what he’s doing, but we’re not going to burn him because we need UCI points. We will give Biniam every chance to prepare the way he wants to”
The engine behind Cofidis’ 1100 point fortnight was the big german Max Walscheid, who scored 525 points between Nokere Koerse, Bredene Koksijde and Brugge – De Panne.
Unfortunately, Walscheid suffered a heavy collision while training in Germany last Thursday and will be out of action for a few weeks, in an accident where it is described that he was “lucky to survive.” Frenchman Guillaume Martin played his part in the Volta a Catalunya, scoring 100 UCI points with an eighth place overall, and Bryan Coquard took the podium at La Roue Tourangelle (1.1), adding to the team’s hot streak.
Unsurprisingly, Arkéa continued to score consistently with their stars Nairo Quintana, Nacer Bouhanni and Hugo Hofstetter. Despite missing out on the win and looking vulnerable in the last two stages, Quintana’s fourth place in Catalunya brought almost 250 valuable points for his team. Bouhanni has earned podium places in Milano – Torino and Brugge – De Panne and victory in La Roue Tourangelle (his first since September 2020), while Hofstetter scored 210 points between Nokere Koerse and Bredene Koksijde. Arkéa are virtually safe from falling into the relegation zone this year (even though they are a ProTeam), so it will be interesting to see if they amend their race and scheduling strategies for the rest of the year.
BikeExchange had their best two week period since the start of the year, thanks to Matthews’ fourth place in Milano – Sanremo and Groenewegen’s second place in Brugge – De Panne. In the Volta a Catalunya they were prominent with the stage victories of Matthews and Groves, but from a points perspective they would probably have preferred a podium in the general classification with Simon Yates, who had to abandon the race due to sickness contracted during Paris-Nice. With Matthews able to achieve top results in the biggest one-day races and Yates a podium favourite for the Giro d’Italia, if BikeExchange continue this trajectory they should be safe this year.
DSM and Movistar have not had brilliant weeks, but they scored enough to maintain their wide gap to the relegation zone. In the case of DSM, Søren Kragh Andersen has given them peace of mind with 7th place in Sanremo and 5th place in Gent, scoring 375 points on his own. For its part, Movistar scored 395 points between García Cortina, Aranburu and Kanter in the classics, partly alleviating the potential loss of points derived from Valverde’s abandon in the Volta a Catalunya.
Israel have certainly had bad luck this season, but so have many other teams, who have been able to rely on their deeper squads to achieve some sort of results in the face of adversity. Their four leaders (Woods, Fuglsang, Nizzolo and Vanmarcke) have all been suffering from illness and injuries rendering them unable to compete at their big targets. The team has adopted a strategy of paying top dollar for older riders in the past few years, rarely spending big on young stars who can pick up the slack if things go wrong for the top riders (as Biniam Girmay has done for Intermarché whilst Kristoff has been slow in the classics). With the exception of Clarke, they have been very disappointing. If Woods and Fuglsang are not able to perform in the Ardennes Classics, the team’s situation will become critical and they will need to fervently chase points.
On the other hand, Lotto Soudal has had to mourn the stomach problems of Caleb Ewan, and only the neo-pro Arnaud De Lie is giving them good points in the classics. Victor Campenaerts has continued to show strong physical condition in E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem, but ill-timed mechanicals and poor race decision making has cost him the ability to achieve top 10 results with a late attack like Kragh Andersen in the run in to Wevelgem. With the advent of the big WorldTour races, the team’s good trend of results from the start of the season has stalled and they are back to almost 1000 points from salvation.
As the 2022 UCI Points ranking stands, Israel would not receive automatic wildcards to any 2023 WorldTour races if they were relegated. They would likely need to buy invites to races or convince the race organiser that they possessed enough star power that they merited an invitation – like Sagan to the Giro d’Italia in 2020. With the current condition of their marquee signing, Chris Froome, the latter seems to be an unlikely proposition.
Turgis and Van Gestel’s podium finishes at Milano-Sanremo and Gent respectively have massively boosted TotalEnergies in the fight for automatic 2023 invitations, although the French team is still waiting for Peter Sagan to perform at a competitive level. If Arkéa is promoted to the WorldTour, Cofidis is saved and TotalEnergies obtain the automatic invitations for next year, France would have 5 teams in all of the world’s biggest races in 2023.
For just the WorldTour one-day invitations, Uno-X currently have a narrow lead over Israel, but it will be impossible for Uno-X to maintain this lead with Israel present at all WorldTour races for the rest of the year and Uno-X riding a smaller schedule.
What are ‘Discarded’ Points
Following our last article, several readers asked about the concept of discarded UCI points in each team. The UCI rules clarify that only the points from the top 10 riders from each team in each calendar year count for the team ranking, so the rest of the points are discarded. The reasoning behind this rule is unclear, but it could be to avoid penalising teams that cannot afford a very large squad. In practice, it benefits teams that score with a few leaders and disadvantages those that score with a large number of riders in a larger calendar, such as Arkéa or Intermarché. In the following graph, we show the valid and discarded UCI points for each team at risk so far in the 2022 season.
As you can see, Intermarché and Arkéa lose more than 500 points because of this top 10 riders rule, while BikeExchange has only lost 35 points. At this stage of the season it is difficult to determine which riders will be part of the top 10 for each team with one good result able to move a rider from 11th into 6th. In our view it is actually a positive that Arkéa and Intermarché have a few riders in 11th and 12th positions with good points, in case riders in the back half of their top 10 suffer injury, illness or a lack of form later in the season. In contrast, Movistar and BikeExchange are extremely reliant on stars Mas, Valverde, Matthews and Yates.
At some point in the year, perhaps after the Tour de France, the teams at risk should analyse their riders’ points and prioritise riders who are already in the top 10, while those riders outside the top 10 should be compelled to play a domestique role. For example, if we arrive at the Tour of Guangxi (the last race of the year, if it is not cancelled) with the fight still open, the teams playing for the relegation should make sure to field riders from their top10, otherwise the points they score in that race will be useless.
In the following interactive graph, you can see the points of each rider of the teams at risk. By clicking on the name of the team, a graph opens with the points of each rider of that particular team. The black colour represents the discarded points. For example, Arkéa’s 11th rider, Daniel McLay (110 points), has only 3 points less than EF’s best rider, Alberto Bettiol (113 points), but McLay’s points do not count towards Arkéa’s valid points total.
The Next Two Weeks – 28 March to 11 April
The next two weeks are not as full of races as the previous two, but we will still have Dwars door Vlaanderen, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold Race (which scores as a 500 point monument) and Itzulia Basque Country as the main courses in the WorldTour. The Amstel Gold Race will be brought forward by a week to the detriment of punchy riders who double as one-week GC contenders, like Mike Woods. They will have to choose between racing the hilly Itzulia or Amstel Gold Race, as the Basque race finishes on Saturday and the Dutch race takes place on Sunday, with Woods on the provisional startlist in Itzulia but curiously Jakob Fuglsang absent from the Amstel Gold Race startlist. With Israel desperately in need of points, it would be a mistake not to send Fuglsang, who was on the podium in 2019, to an Amstel edition with potentially a weaker startlist.
Arkéa do not have a deep roster of GC contenders, and with Itzulia Basque Country’s parcours not suiting Nairo Quintana, they have turned down their invitation and instead appear to be sending him to the .Pro Tour of Turkey, where he will be a heavy favourite in GC. Do not be surprised if Warren Barguil is their highest points scorer in the next two weeks. WaWa took his first World Tour win in years on a punchy stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and lines up at GP Indurain and Amstel Gold race with leadership for the french outfit.
The next couple of weeks are almost do or die for Lotto Soudal. They need Campenaerts and Vermeersch to score big points in both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Ronde van Vlaanderen as well as Wellens in the Dutch races of Limburg and Amstel Gold. They are however sending Caleb Ewan to the Tour of Turkey and only Arnaud de Lie to Scheldeprijs, which indicates that they perhaps do not appreciate the severity of their position in the relegation standings. A stage win for Ewan at Turkey nets a measly 20 UCI points, whilst 4th at Scheldeprijs is worth 100 points. Ewan has even won Scheldeprijs as recently as in 2020, so the clear choice in our view would be to send both Ewan and de Lie to sprint for themselves in the Belgian sprinters’ classic, like Arkéa-Samsic have been doing for years.
Movistar need to recover the best versions of Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas, who will coincide in the .Pro GP Miguel Indurain, where the former world champion defends his 2021 victory. Then, Enric Mas will lead the team in the Basque Country and in theory Valverde will lead the team in the Ardennes, a heavy ask for a 41 year old who was clearly battling sickness in Catalunya. A bright spot could be Ivan Garcia Cortina, who has struggled since joining Movistar but took his best result in a long time in Gent-Wevelgem on the weekend. He has a good chance for another top 10 at Dwars door Vlaanderen if it comes down to a slightly thinned out sprint.
Cofidis will of course be sending Basque rider Ion Izagirre to aim for the general classification of the Itzulia however it is Bryan Coquard who has the potential to score huge points for them in the next fortnight. He is in an incredible patch of form and even has the potential to win Dwars door Vlaanderen or at least the bunch sprint for podium places like Laporte did for Cofidis last year.
Otherwise Intermarché are expected to continue to fill the top 20 of WorldTour one day races with strong riders like Petit, Pasqualon and Kristoff, even if Girmay returns to Eritrea. EF will be hoping that Bettiol and Valgren can achieve their career peak level across the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race combination whilst DSM need new signing John Degenkolb can show some competitiveness in the remaining Belgian classics. BikeExchange appear to be sending an uncompetitive squad to Basque Country but with the consistent Matthews lining up at Flanders and Amstel, they should continue to score solid points.
We will see you here again in two weeks on Monday the 11th of April. As always, make sure to let us know on twitter if you have any thoughts on the article or what teams could be doing differently – if you enjoyed it, share it with a friend (or a Directeur Sportif in need).
Editor’s Note: This article was prepared by Raúl Banqueri with contributions from the Editor, Patrick Broe and cover art by Louemans. Raúl Banqueri is a Spanish journalist who has been tracking the UCI points system for a number of years, with the UCI often correcting their ranking to accord with his.