I want to pick up a point touched on in this morning’s L’Equipe: are the UCI ranking points influencing the outcomes of races? With several riders in the top-10 overall, Team Radioshack went into the final stage of Paris-Nice in a strong position. Although short, the route had five climbs, some tricky descents and the weather was grim. It seemed ideal to try something, to put Tony Martin under pressure. Only nobody moved.
This isn’t to single out the US team, it’s more they had the strongest representation at the top of the GC. The only moves of the day came from Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil) and a late but sneaky move by Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). What we had is a stage where, to use a French phrase, “everyone camped on their positions”. Rather than risking things, the idea was to bank the GC standings instead of trying to turn the race upside down. Riders like Bradley Wiggins, Rein Taaramae, Janez Brajkovic and Levi Leipheimer seemed to have preferred the certainty of a top-10 position to the risk of moving up the GC.
I can understand this conservatism here, after all a top-10 placing in Paris-Nice is a very worthy result. Yet is the UCI encouraging this defensiveness? One thing that incentivises conservatism is the World Tour and its ranking points. 100, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 and 4 ranking points are available for the top-1o riders on the GC in Paris-Nice. At the same time 10, 6, 4, 1 and 1 points go to the top-5 on the stage. So it’s much safer to play for 9th place on GC than to try and grab the last stage. Put simply it’s better to finish, say, 12th every day rather than gamble for the stage win.
As a result Jean-Christophe Péraud finished in 6th place overall after a steady but, from a TV perspective, near invisible race. Yet he bags 40 points compared to 20 for Thomas Voeckler. Of course Voeckler got a lot more than points: gushing praise, live TV images, newspaper images and more.
But all the same, dredging up the UCI’s race radio ban again, the radios are supposed to be scrapped to encourage “more exciting” racing. Yet maybe the points are also a big factor here. Obviously the long time trial in Paris-Nice played a big part but the point here is that once this set the order, there was little incentive for riders and teams to change things.