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CHAINTRÉ, France (VN) — Teams are pulling riders out of top WorldTour races to send them to high-scoring second-tier races in order to keep their squads in the men’s WorldTour going into 2023.
Belgian superstar Wout van Aert pointed out the observation when asked about the ever more controversial relegation/promotion system that will award the next round of WorldTour licenses.
“It’s a bit contradictory,” Van Aert said Thursday after blazing to a stage win at Critérium du Dauphiné.
“I think it’s a shame to see that some teams come with not their best riders to a race like the Dauphiné, because they need to send their best riders in one-day races,” Van Aert said.
“I completely understand the tactic, because it’s part of the system now, but they should rethink how to divide the points on the races to stay in the WorldTour level, because now teams are racing in one level lower in order to stay in the WorldTour.”
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Van Aert’s comments come as several teams on the relegation bubble are being forced to tweak their respective racing calendars and ambitions in an ever desperate chase for points.
Going into 2023, the UCI will deploy a running tally of points across the past three seasons to reward the next round of WorldTour licenses, with the top-ranked teams assured of a spot in the top league.
The number of WorldTour licenses that will be awarded is not yet determined, but if it remains at 18 as it is right now, a handful of existing WorldTour teams could be relegated to second-tier ProTeam status.
Backers of the UCI’s new “relegation/promotion” say it injects new energy and excitement into the fight among teams to earn top spots in the WorldTour.
Team owners and riders, however, suggest the fallout could be catastrophic for any teams that lose their WorldTour status and the assured starting spots in the Tour de France and the calendar’s other most important races.
Without the guarantee of a spot in the Tour, some team owners fear that sponsors will back out and leave their teams in peril.
In turn, riders are growing worried about their contracts and future in the peloton.
With the Tour de France looming and the season nearly halfway over, however, the battle for points is a hot topic inside the bunch right now.
Teams are bringing ‘hit squads’ to chase points
With the 2022 season nearly half over, WorldTour teams are clearly making adjustments to racing calendars in order to chase points.
And as Van Aert pointed out, lower level one-day races often pack as many points compared to a strong showing in a one-week WorldTour-level stage race like the Dauphiné.
As a result, teams are sending “hit squads” to lesser races in a desperate chase for points.
Israel-Premier Tech, for example, sent its A-team to the otherwise unknown Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes, a 1.1-rated race in France last week.
The team went one-two, with Jakob Fulgsang and Michael Woods sweeping the top-two spots on the podium.
The success gave the team a much-needed injection of UCI points, but it illustrates how desperate teams are becoming.
Riders across this Critérium du Dauphiné have grumbled to VeloNews about the looming UCI points battle and how it’s playing out across the peloton.
‘It’s not the position we wanted to be in’
Team’s points ranking will be used in part to determine which teams receive the next round of WorldTour licenses for 2023-25.
EF Education-EasyPost is another team that is keeping a close eye on points and its relative ranking against its fellow teams.
Like many teams, the U.S.-backed squad was racked with illness this spring, meaning that it might not have earned as many points as it was expecting in the spring classics and early season stage races.
So far, the team is sticking to its mapped-out schedule, but riders say they’re feeling the pinch.
“It hasn’t changed how we’re racing. It is stressful to get dragged into that kind of relegation fight,” EF’s Owain Doull told VeloNews. “The team is pretty good in giving us space from that and allowing guys to prepare properly for our main goals.
“We’re not going to race these small, one-day races in Belgium to chase points. [Management] believes in the team and they believe the team can score points in the biggest races,” he said.
“It’s not the position we wanted to be in at the start of the year and now we are midway into the year,” Doull said. “There is a real feeling of confidence that the results will come. I think it’s about keeping to the process.”
Some riders wonder why the WorldTour license ranking isn’t determined solely from points earned at WorldTour races.
Instead, it’s measured by points earned at both the WorldTour and ProTour races during the span of the past three seasons.
So that means a one-day race with a relatively light field like the Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes can net a team like Israel-Premier Tech as big of a haul of points as it might earn racing all week at the Dauphiné, considered one of cycling’s most prestigious races.
Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team, with plenty of wins and a big budget, won’t have much to worry about the battle for points.
In fact, Van Aert thinks the overall concept of promotion/relegation isn’t so bad, but suggested the allocation of points needs to be tweaked.
“To be honest, I think it’s a good system that the best teams stay in the highest league,” he said when asked by VeloNews.
“I do it see it affecting the racing and affecting the start lists of some races,” Van Aert said. “Everybody can see that the points in some races are too much compared to other races.”