Can Quick-Step and Omega afford to let Gilbert go?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

UCI rankings

That’s the current team standings. Note Omega Pharma-Lotto are sitting in third place whilst Quick Step languish in 17th place. A lot of this is down to Philippe Gilbert. As of Sunday he held 568 points, meaning that if you subtract his 568 points from Omega-Lotto then the Belgian squad would be in… 17th place.

Everything is due to change for 2012. Belgian company Omega Pharma and its owner Marc Coucke is teaming up with Quick Step, whilst Lotto – the Belgian state lottery – is setting up a team on its own. We’re only five months away from the start of the 2012 season but there’s so much to be resolved.

Above all, Philippe Gilbert’s contract and the destination of those 568 points. Because the “Ogre of Remouchamps” is still under contract with Marc Coucke until the end of 2012. Coucke and the Quick Step manager are very keen for him to stay. But slavery has long since been abolished and whilst Gilbert has a contract, you can’t force him to work. If he is to join BMC Racing then he’ll have to compensate for breaking his contract. But imagine the sum involved: we’re talking enough to make the difference between being in the top tier with Pro Team status and being a smaller Belgian squad that relies on invitations for the big races.

All this demonstrates the odd way points are used. As a twitter correspondent suggested yesterday we have sports teams being formed for 2012 on the basis of a 2011 team’s results. Imagine if a soccer team recruits a new goal scorer… and the scorer joins with their goal tally. For as good as Gilbert is, he has counted on team mates to set him up for the win. If the points are next to Gilbert’s name, they were helped by Jelle Vanendert, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and others.

Garmin-Cervélo boss Jonathan Vaughters has suggested the points should be shared between a rider and a team and I’m inclined to agree. When a rider jumps to another team they currently take all their points tally with them. It means a team lives in fear of riders being poached. Now it’s fine for riders to jump teams but their results are the end point of a process beginning with training, coaching, massage, tactics, nutrition, support and all the other things a team invests in its riders.

Key man risk
In response you could say teams are over-reliant on certain riders with big points hauls for their position in the rankings. This is true but I quite like the idea of a team having a big champion instead of 10 above average riders who are capable of picking off ninth place in a semi-classic.

Summary
Philippe Gilbert might be on his way to BMC but he won’t come cheap. With his haul of points he alone can make the difference between the top league and automatic entry into the Tour de France and being on the margins of this. Look at Geox-TMC for example, you could be forgiven for forgetting about this team because it’s not been as visible this year. Points are valuable assets but for me a proportion of them are down to team work and any departing riders would do well to share their points haul with the team.

  • EDIT: as DeeJay points out in the comments below, the UCI rankings are not the same as those used internally by the UCI to calculate the top teams. I wanted to use the table above as an indication but don’t view this ranking like a league table where teams face relegation. It’s more complicated.
Winton August 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm

This only serves to underline that the system as it stands needs an overhaul. Whilst the rider over the line has a right of entitlement to some of the points, cycling remains a team sport and it is often the other riders’ four hours of work that has put a rider where he needs to be.

Jonathan Vaughters suggestion on twitter this week seemed eminently sensible to me and the sooner the UCI put this back on the agenda, the better for all concerned.

Yorkie August 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Why’s PhilGil called the “Ogre”? I’d love to know more about this guy and why he’s not universally popular in Belgium (I assume the Walloon/Flemish divide has something to do with this). But it strikes me that his kind of stellar sporting performance usually helps close divides…and still he speaks about feeling undervalued by the Belgian public

DeeJay August 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm

This is all mostly incorrect. The World Tour Ranking 2011 is not the ranking for qualification for the World Tour 2012. That qualification ranking (sporting value) consists of Rider Values and Team Values. The RVs are comprised from WT2010&2011 and the continental rankings of 2010&2011. The TVs contain points earned with leaders jerseys and team classifications. It is therefore not relevant for 2012 what position Omega Pharma has on the World Ranking 2011. The difference is: the best World Tour team in 2011 is that team that is highest on the World Tour ranking 2011, whereas the best 18 teams (more or less) on the sporting value ranking qualify for the World Tour next season.

This actually is a good system. You don’t want reasonably good scoring teams in 2011 qualify for the World Tour 2012, if they’ve sold their best riders to other teams. Europcar could be able to qualify for the World Tour 2012 based on a strictly 2011-ranking, but imagine that team without Voeckler and Rolland.

The Inner Ring August 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

DeeJay: good point, I should have made it clear that the UCI team rankings are not the basis for the Pro Team status. The table is indicative and shows how influenential a single rider can be.

Philip August 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

That qualification ranking consists of Rider Values and Team Values. Problem is that this ranking is not been made public by the UCI. According the UCI it was designated as a working tool. The UCI provides the teams with the ranking but does not disclose it to the public. The basis for the ranking is not easy to understand and also not well known to third parties. This makes it not easy to understand what exactly is going on in upcoming races and transfers.

KB August 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm

“we have sports teams being formed for 2012 on the basis of a 2011 team’s results. Imagine if a soccer team recruits a new goal scorer… and the scorer joins with their goal tally.”

this analogy is a bit warped and I’m not sure it helps to illustrate much…previous season’s results have a bearing on the standing of a team or club, but the wins (or goals) and personnel don’t automatically come along with them. soccer clubs qualify for 2011-12 Champions League or Europa League on the basis of 2010-11 results, and many (if not all) then recruit based on their new stature. some players (or riders) will always be found on a top team — if their current team fails to achieve the necessary status, the athlete is usually off to a team that does (e.g Cesc Fabregas).

Joeylu August 16, 2011 at 5:58 pm

not sure to agree with DeeJay that this is a good system.
So this would be a good system beacuse it prevents teams from competing if they have lost their “stars” ? but it also prevent them from recruiting.

To me a good system is a system that takes into account the teams investments in terms of training, anti doping, riders developpement etc… Which would be a system that allows to share points beetween teams and riders and shares TV rights too so that teams do not entirely rely on sponsors (see HTC Highroad) and can also afford to attract good riders.

Riders and teams deserve more than being considered as marketing tools

Jim August 17, 2011 at 7:57 am

JV @Vaughters published the 2012 UCI Rider Values on Twitter (including known transfers)
http://twitpic.com/66lhni
Shows #14 Lotto , and #19 Omega Pharma (& #15 Green Edge)

BDW August 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Yorkie: I don’t think that nickname is used in Belgium, a common nickname on Flemish TV seems to be “Roi des Belges”. He’s extremely popular now, but he didn’t get that much attention for winning Lombardia twice, even though it’s a monument, it’s not well known (compared to the spring classics).

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