Ranking points, incentives and race results

Monday, 14 March 2011

10 points

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.

JC Péraud

Jean-Christophe Péraud, in case you missed him

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.

Gadi March 14, 2011 at 11:19 am

What about the relation concerning the sponsors and the Teams – It looks like UCI points and ranking is more important for the teams than giving the sponsors their money worth by their names and colours etc. being exposed in TV

Tom March 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

Could it be that the riders simply aren’t willing to take risks while the season is still fresh. Most of them have a lot of races coming and know you can be good in only a couple of them.

I can understand the view on the points btw. Maybe rewarding a stage win with more prizemoney will encourage escaping & the usual hunt by the sprinterteams.

Starr March 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

And the ridiculous thing about “points” chasing, is that even the purists fans rarely follow the score.
Cycling is about two-armed salutes, not “hoping-for-a-top-ten”.

Nick March 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Gilbert also mentioned in his post race interview that it’s important for him to amass as many points as possible. Which I thought was a bit of an odd thing to say, at least to the media. Whether that’s for a big money move or to simply get a bigger contract out of OPL you can be sure it’s not so that he can tell the grandkids of it one day down the track.

Tried finding the article where I read it but for the moment no luck. Sorry.

leif March 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Job security, negotiation and risk management…an investment or at least money in the bank.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Gadi: teams want all the publicity they can get. But if 9th place brings no publicity, the points help a team to get invited to the big races with the big publicity opportunities.

Tom: yes, there’s more than one factor at work here. As I alluded to above, it’s hard to grab those seconds.

Starr: indeed. Nobody knows who is atop the UCI rankings. But it counts for a lot in a rider’s pay, especially for the second tier of riders. For example last year Roger Hammond had more points than Pozzato, a valuable haul for a prospective employer.

Nick: apparently he just wants to be World Number 1. In his case the points don’t matter since he has so many of them.

Leif: exactly. But at a time when the UCI wants more exciting races and believes a radio ban is the answer, what about changing the points to encourage more risk taking?

Johnny March 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Strikes me that it’s similar to that other UCI invention, the track omnium. Someone can and possibly will win some Rainbows or even Olympic gold without crossing the line first once in 2 days!

With this years points qualifying for London as well as Copenhagen, not to mention the guaranteed Grand Tour places World Tour status brings you, the old football adage of ‘points in the bag’ could even get an airing. Actually I think Sean Yates even said words to that effect on Friday.

What to do eh? The Bernie Ecclestone medals approach, bigger points gaps, more weighting for stage wins?

Robert March 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

We keep being told (in the radio debate) that it’s a team sport. So, why not only award points to a teams first rider ? There is then no incentive to fill the top 10 on GC without attempting to improve on the team leaders position.

Jarvis March 14, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Take Wiggins as a case study. Who knows the real reason, but he said on Saturday evening that he would defend third rather than risk losing the place. If points are behind the decision, then it raises issues of conflicts of interest.

Points won’t really matter to Wiggins himself, he’s already announced when he’ll retire and he’s set his goals and his contract is substantial and secure until then.

Team Sky are likely to accrue enough points to remain Proteam next year, with or without the Paris-Nice points. They were stung last year by a lack of results and you would have thought the sponsors would have preferred another step or two up the podium rather than a “safe” third.

However Great Britain are desperate for points and this is what the British media report, the National rankings. This is also where the conflict of interest comes in. Britain have a great chance to win the Worlds this year with Cavendish – an HTC rider of course – but to maximise their chances they need the maximum number of riders. To do this Britain need to be ranked in the Top-10 nations so they need points. So did Wiggins sacrifice any attempt at glory for Team Sky – he only needed six seconds to take second – in return for certain ranking points for Great Britain in an attempt to benefit Cavendish and ultimately rival team HTC

gilbert March 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

a question not too far from the argoument:
it’s not so strange to see a team sponsor put its name on the various posters in a race, last year for example doimo (co-sponsor liquigas) in the giro, or cofidis in the vuelta, not to talk of lotto in belgian races. apart from the marketing strategies of each company is it a case if vacansoleil sponsored either paris-nice and tirreno-adriatico, and the fact that this questionable team was selected by the uci in its world tour, big investments are a sign of the real motivation for that choice?

Touriste-Routier March 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Gilbert, this is certainly a separate topic worthy of the Inner Ring to explore.

A good sports marketing strategy does not end with writing a check to a team for sponsorship; it involves ancillary sponsorship and presence in other areas of the sport, including direct sponsorship of events, as well as hospitality functions.

Could this lead to tipping the scale in terms of decision making at several levels? Sure.
Is it by design a flagrant conflict of interest? Not really.

quarantipuu March 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Since their respective teams are not part of the WorldTour Voeckler and Rein Taaramae both earned zero points in this race. And still the Estonian focused on the GC while Voeckler went for stage wins. They just did what they do best. Voeckler is a stage hunter and no man for the GC in a race with a long time trial. Taaramae is a complete rider and the GC is the best way for him to get a good result at Paris-Nice.
Same goes for a rider like Peraud. I think that its a great accomplishment for a rider like him to finish 6th out of 176 starters after one week of racing. So why should he or any other rider who will not be able to finish top10 at the Tour de France( i better say win the TdF because we will hear the same questions “Why do they settle for 4th-10th?” again by the end of july) or to win LBL, etc throw that away for the chance of a stage win? Is winning a stage really a bigger accomplishment than finishing 6th overall?

About the lack of attacks on the last stage:
Since they ride Nice-Nice as the last stage the overall lead changed just once. 2007 Contador/Rebellin
There are just a few seconds two gain in this stage & that takes a huge effort and taking some risks. I guess with the bad weather the risks just outweighed the slight chance of overtaking Martin. Especially when you are a rider whose reputation does not depend on a race like Paris-Nice anymore. And who knows how many riders in that group were just happy to hang on and didn´t have the legs for an attack anyway?

The Inner Ring March 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Jarvis: yes, it’s quite a thing with Sky because of it’s mixed role as the backup national team. I wonder if, say, Britain was jostling with Norway for a higher ranking, whether they’d secretly think about leaving Boasson-Hagen and Nordhaug at home in a big race? Who are the team loyal to, Sky or Britain?

Gilbert: I’ve wondered about Vacansoleil. It didn’t help them last year, all that money to ASO but no invite for the Tour de France. Don’t forget it allows hospitality and other marketing benefits.

quarantipuu: I believe the riders do get the points. Only someone riding a World Tour race in a national team gets excluded from the points.

ColoradoGoat March 14, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Well,

if points matter, then they need to just change how they are awarded. A couple of suggestions:

A) Award points for moving up in position as well as placement overall. Deduct points for falling out of position.

B) Award points for certain types of attacks or breakaways. This may require some judgment, and is not perfect, but a rider willing to give it all only to be caught with 2 kilos left seems deserving of some rewards. On the other hand, Boonen’s attack a few weeks ago at KBK was clearly not to try to win, and should not necessarily be awarded any additional points.

It is all about building in the correct incentives, and right now, the incentive is to maintain versus improve position at these smaller races where many riders are indifferent in some ways to whether they win, and are using this somewhat to train for bigger races down the road.

Ronan March 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Could it not also be the fact that it is early in the season, the roads were very wet and treacherous and many of the big GC guys would prefer to take a top 10 now rather than risk a crash and be out of form for the bigger prizes further down they line, whether it be the classics, the Giro or the Tour?

db March 15, 2011 at 3:22 am

@ColoradoGoat re suggestion B
Interesting point. That would add more meaning to the “most aggressive/ most combative rider jersey too.

The Inner Ring March 15, 2011 at 9:28 am

Ronan: yes, I’ve touched on this above. There’s no single factor but points, and their influence on pay, do weigh on the outcomes.

ColoradoGoat / db: it gets difficult, if you start to set more points then riders race for points and this is what I’d like to avoid. My worry is that a rider says “9th place on GC will do”. I’d rather everyone races for the win but that’s dreaming, points or no points a top placing is good, I just don’t want the points to encourage defensiveness.

Tom March 18, 2011 at 1:36 am

So why don’t lower placed teams take advantage of the upper placings’ complacency to make a move?

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