The elephant in the WorldTour relegation hall remains a topic that teams and riders don’t want to discuss, but the issue has noticeable effects on racing that also hurt the show.
In the fall of 2019, the UCI introduced a three-year points system whereby the top 18 ranked teams would earn a WorldTour license for three seasons starting in 2023.
At the time of writing, Israel-PremierTech and Lotto-Soudal are at risk of being knocked out of the cycling rankings, but there are six teams who are also looking nervously over their shoulder, fearing a demotion in the ProTeams ranks that would not guarantee them. their place in the biggest races, such as the Grand Tours and the Classics.
Teams have long expressed their dissatisfaction with the system and pledged to try to make changes with the UCI this fall, but right now the current points system forces changes to racing, including during the current Vuelta a España.
Take EF Education-EasyPost, for example, which is currently in 17th place, just over 500 points better than Lotto. They have three former Grand Tour podiums in their eight-man roster, but rather than building a GC challenge around just one of Hugh Carthy, Rigo Urán or Esteban Chaves, they are instead aiming for high placings for all of them because that could pay more The UCI points to ward off the threat of relegation.
“We’re aiming to put as many guys as possible as high as possible because points-wise it’s better if we have Hugh, Esteban and Rigo all in the top 12 than we have one of the guys on the podium,” said James Shaw, and he’s right. If one of the three finished third, they would accumulate 575 points. If Team USA finishes sixth, 10th and 11th, they will earn 580 points.
Shaw added: “It’s crap because the sport shouldn’t be like this right? Everyone should be racing for first place but because of the way points work we take a different angle.
“It’s a weird tactic, I know, and people might be watching TV and wondering what’s going on, but that’s what we need to do at the minute. It’s just for this year, but we aim to get points, get us over the finish line and next year we’ll see what we can do.”
EF is not alone. Movistar, the team below them in 18th, are confident of at least one podium place with Enric Mas and are therefore not targeting multiple riders in the top 10.
But Carlos Verona recalled that just a month ago he was under pressure to fight for his top-30 finish in the overall Tour de France classification, which earned his team 30 points.
“I was 27th and the last few days the team told me that if I shouldn’t waste any time, I should try to stay there and be in the top 30,” Verona said. “It’s something that happens a lot and I think the UCI needs to see that and change the points system in the future.
“I’ve been cycling for 20 years and never in my life thought I’d be in the top 20 of a race. It’s kind of crazy. People like to see riders win, not be 13th, so it’s is really something we should change.
“In our case at the moment it’s a bit different because Enric is at his best and we have a chance to win the Vuelta, and I think it would be stupid of us to go for 100 points for 10th. position. [ed – 140 points] and sacrifice the 800 points [ed – 850 points] to potentially win.
“But if Alejandro [Valverde] and I can get into the top 20, so those are good points for the team. But we’re not going there. We will try to stay focused, do our best in the Vuelta and be on the podium in Madrid.”
Arkéa-Samsic currently sit 14th in the standings with an advantage of just over 1,000 points over Lotto, but they have been thrust back into the relegation conversation by news of Nairo Quintana’s disqualification from the Tour de France.
They have not changed their aim of winning stages at the Vuelta, but their sprinter Dan McLay has drawn attention to the fact that the big teams are forced to send star riders on small one-day races simply because of the number of points offered.
“I don’t think it affects things here very much. [at the Vuelta] because at the end of the day some teams are always going to keep their options open, but in some other races there is definitely a continuation of the panic,” said the Briton.
“But it affects the schedule and who goes to which races. That’s the most important thing because those smaller races have a stronger start list now and maybe that keeps those races alive, but the riders don’t are not the biggest fans of the system.”
weekly cycling understands that a slew of teams will meet with the UCI in the fall to try to restructure the points system, but they may face a wall of denial from cycling’s governing body which fears races more small one-day businesses lose their prestige and appeal and eventually lose their funding.
Verona, however, will continue their efforts to impose change. “I’m part of the Riders Union and when the season is over it’s something we’ll have to talk about,” said the Spaniard. “I hope we can have a meeting with the UCI and [its president David] It belongs because I think it’s important for the sport. I know the teams will do it and I hope they change things.”