UCI World Tour: The Secret Points System Explained

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Winning a race is joyous and often a moment of great personal and team satisfaction. But the lesser placings matter, and not just for pride but for points.

Lately the UCI points system has taken a lot of blame for problems in the sport. Out of work riders lament the dash for points by insecure teams, unsure of their place in pro cycling’s top tier, some say the points system is an incentive for doping, all whilst some outside of road cycling rate the points so highly that they want them too.

But what if all this was wrong?

Let’s take a look at how the points of a team are calculated in order to qualify for the World Tour licence. This might sound like a dry and technical subject but it’s fundamental to the sport today. And totally misunderstood.

The First Rule of Points Club
Forget the UCI rankings. The accumulation of points and the published rankings on the UCI website are not the same thing used to score a team’s position for its Pro Team licence, the automatic entry into all the World Tour races. There’s often a correlation but they’re not the same. Teams are ranked on a different measure called sporting value. Forget the UCI rankings.

Sporting Value
Have you heard of the term “sporting value”? It’s the term used to define a team’s ranking in the internal system used by the UCI to judge whether a team is relegated or promoted from the World Tour, cycling’s first division, or Pro Continental, the second division.

Unlike most sports where the weakest teams are relegated and the strongest promoted according to obvious and visible rankings – like a league table – the UCI’s public rankings are not the basis by which teams are judged. Instead sporting value uses secret internal points system to rank the teams for promotion and demotion. This is not made public.

What is sporting value?
It’s not sporting as in fair-play, instead this is the term used to describe points won thanks to placing well in races. Only read the UCI’s giant rulebook and, trust me, there’s no explanation. Teams get their licence based on four criteria: administrative, ethical, financial and sporting. The only mention of sporting value is that it is “calculated on a the basis of a points scale approved by the UCI Professional Cycling council.” But this scale is not explained.

We know how many points the winner of the Tour or Milan-Sanremo wins for the UCI rankings but once again the points scale used for “sporting value” is not the same. It’s odd because, in reductive terms, automatic qualification for the Tour de France is often the single most important point for a sponsor and so even those putting millions into the sport can’t see the requirements in black and white.

How it works
The deadline to register a pro team for 2013 has passed, it was back on 20 October. Before this date each time submitted their application for renewal.

When calculating a team’s sporting value the points of riders under contract for 2013 are used. This means the system is forward-looking, a team that loses its star rider will not qualify thanks to past results. Instead it is the addition of points from riders it has signed for the year ahead that counts.

Top 12
If you’ve got that it’s based on the team for the upcoming year, the next most important thing to grasp is that the UCI looks at best 12 riders on the team. So the points of the 12 riders with the most points count for the sporting value. The accumulation of rider points is confusingly named the “individual value” because it is the sum of the individual points.

It used to be 15 riders but now come down to 12 for 2013 onwards. The reduction is crucial because it means the team only needs to think about 12 riders and their points. So on a squad where up to 30 riders can he hired only a dozen count for their points meaning the team can have plenty of domestiques without a single point between them. Only the best 12 riders bring sporting value.

  • Update: it’s been decided in 2013 that only the top-10 riders will count when it comes to ranking teams for 2014.
Iranian Cycling

Points mean Persians

Qualifying Races
All UCI races qualify but the points are weighted. For example the winner of 2.HC stage race receives the same number of UCI ranking points wherever the race is. But for the team value calculations, more weight is given to races on the UCI Europe Tour compared to those on the UCI Asian Tour, to reflect the relatively difficulty. Anecdotally we’ve seen how riders like Iranians Amir Zagari or Mehdi Sohrabi were very successful in Asia but struggled when they signed contracts with European teams Ag2r and Lotto-Belisol respectively. Nevertheless the weighting was still an incentive for these teams to sign them, the ratio of their points to their salary still made hiring them attractive.

Multi-year basis
Next, another important matter. Points are won from the past two years, so for 2013 the UCI looks at the points haul from 2011 and 2012. This is important because it stops a rider’s value being too determinant on just one season’s performance, for example if they have a serious injury in one year then they can still count on the results from the previous year to help them rather than finding teams saying “sorry, you have no points, therefore no value”, this helps smooth the data.

Collective value
Teams are also given bonus points for their teamwork. For example if team has topped the UCI Europe tour it wins bonus points, the same if a team does well in team classifications in stage races. This is new for 2013 because the points earned here go the team itself and do not follow with the rider. To explain, if a team wins a team prize in a race then the team itself wins points for this in the UCI sporting value, even if all the riders who won the prize sign for another team. This retrospective “collective value” is new for 2013 and these points are called “collective value.”

Making the selection

Statistical adjustments
There are some manipulations to the data. For example the top-10 riders on the World Tour rankings see their haul modified downwards and an equal level of points is attributed to them. This is designed to stop teams going after one leader with a giant haul of points and pairing him with a lightweight roster. The same happens for the next ten riders and so on down the scale.

Special situations
Special consideration can be given to a rider signed by a team who has no formal ranking points on the road but has had other success. For example a track or mountain bike world champion can be given synthetic individual value points to contribute to the team’s sporting value although the scenarios are limited, for example an omnium champion can get points but not a team pursuiter. Cyclocross star Sven Nys has just said he thinks top cross riders should be able to bring points to road teams… but this very idea is in place under the existing rules already. Only nobody knows about it.

Licence duration
One regular question is why teams with a reported licence for several years still have to worry about relegation every year. It’s true that teams get multi-year licences that can last for four years. But there is an annual assessment. It makes sense,a team that meets all the requirements for its first season must continue to meet these levels for the remaining four years. This is protective, for example a team could signed riders with points to qualify for the World Tour in its first year only to let them go and hire some second-rate riders but still qualify for the Tour de France, sending a poor team but still cashing on on its presence in the race.

The flip-side is that sponsor holding a four year licence in fact has a one year licence followed by an option to renew annually. This is risky, the sponsor cannot know the state of the jobs market for riders in the upcoming years and the investment needed to keep hire enough riders with points.

Secrecy
The exact arithmetic of the points system is top secret although last year cyclingnews got a glimpse. It’s not just UCI cageyness. Instead the idea is that if riders don’t know the points scale then they won’t race for points, unaware of the exact arithmetic they will eschew calculation and race to win.

However this good intention is having the reverse consequence. Many riders have the impression that they must have points to have a good contract when in fact only the top-12 on a team need to bring the points. If they only knew that points count for a few riders then they’d sleep better at night and race better in the day.

Summary

  • Sporting value is based on the “individual value” of rider with points signed for the next season plus points from “collective value” of team results earned in the past year
  • Only the top 12 riders on the team count towards the “individual value”
  • Points are won in all UCI registered races but weighted towards the biggest events with the deepest fields
  • An individual’s points come from the two past seasons, so for 2013 the rider’s results in 2011 and 2012 score points
  • Bonus points for “collective value” are won for team rankings, whether the UCI rankings or classifications within stage races
  • Special individual points can be attributed to non-road cyclists who join a pro team

Conclusion
Is it clear now? If the precise arithmetic remains top secret hopefully you get the idea that teams are scored using an internal points scale based on the 12 best riders they have under contract for 2013.

I think the secrecy has backfired, the sport has got to the point where many riders are scrambling for points and blaming the system when in fact they might not need to worry so much. Even Sven Nys who sits on the UCI’s athlete commission appears confused by the system. With the move to counting the points of only the best 12 riders, down from 15 before, the majority of a team’s roster can be packed with valuable but “pointless” riders.

It’s right that a four year licence is not set in stone otherwise cynical team managers could sit on a four year licence and send weak teams to races but at the same time, this annual review is awkward because a sponsor who signs up today for a four year licence cannot be sure how much it will cost to assemble a qualifying team in three years’ time, which makes durable sponsorship hard to secure.

DeeJay November 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Good to see this public information assembled into 1 easy to understand article. It is hard to believe teams would not know about this, or riders. There were a number of riders whining about not getting a new contract because they do not have points. No journalist asked any further. Of course, the UCI should make a transparent way of determining the points, but the ignorance of teams, riders and journalists is unbelievable.

The Inner Ring November 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm

The teams know all about it, they have all the data tables and charts. But obviously the riders don’t get this and certainly not the followers of the sport who are left scratching their heads over how a team qualifies.

Ad November 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm

There seems to a theme of quite worrying ambivalence from teams towards their riders, be it on training (Dowsett at Movistar and Nibali at Astana two recent examples) or just explaining the points system. You can expect a healthy degree of antipathy between riders and management as employee/employer in any job, but do teams generally consider themselves to have a duty of care for their riders? Maybe this is one of those things an effective riders’ union could work on.

Bob November 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

The reason that it’s not identical to the World Tour or Europe Tour rankings is that all the riders from all categories of teams are attributed points from any result from any tour calendar, which is not the case for individual tour calendar rankings. In that way, it makes sense that a different algorithm should be applied for the purposes of assessing the sporting value of a team whose riders could be derived from multiple levels of competition in the previous years. Assuming no major budget fluctuations, the only real instability caused by the system is among the bottom five WT teams and the top five PCT teams.

The system does not necessarily disadvantage domestiques. Good domestiques can (and do) maintain their value on a team without points since only a subset of the roster is used for the calculation.

J-lo November 13, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Surely though if the teams know about it, then the riders will also know about it? A team wanting to increase it’s points haul for next year could tell a rider which races are worth sprinting for, and which aren’t worth bothering.

If the teams are keeping an eye on next year’s points, then it would be in their best interest to make sure that the riders they have signed for next year are bringing in the points.

Ronan November 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Another interesting post. To cite the recent examples of Matt Brammeier and Posthuma, who both have blamed the points system for not getting a new contract, is the points argument a soft excuse for teams who no longer want to employ a rider?

However is top level domestique wants to drop down a level and ride for himself, he has no points and is not attractive to a Pro Conti team who would have to pay high wages for no points. That’s one obvious flaw.

DeeJay November 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

@Ronan: PCTs don’t need points

Bundle November 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Great effort at shedding light on this embarrassing topic. I miss an explanation of why points and team ranking have to exist in the first place. I suspect there is not a good one (except the power and money 18 team managers extract from the fact that races are not free to choose who takes part). But if we had to rank teams it would have to be only on the basis of placings in the team in every race’s team classification.

The Inner Ring November 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm

It’s good to create a list of teams with automatic qualification for the Tour and other big races and to do this by a ranking of the team’s ability to win races, it’s sporting ability. But how you go about doing this is not easy.

Bundle November 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

But what makes that “good”? What’s wrong with letting the races decide for themselves?

Rod Diaz November 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Uncertainty. If I’m mega-bucks company and looking for exposure, I might consider cycling. But only if I can be reasonably “sure” that I will be on TV on certain events before money changes hands.

See the fiasco with Unibet.

Bundle November 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Unibet, like Geox, should have chosen to sponsor races.

Ankush November 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Thanks for this article Inrng. I still think that the current points system is broken and something needs to be done to help the domestiques situation. The secret formula of allotting the team ranking should be made public so that teams can set specific goals for average riders on their roster.

Bundle November 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm

It’s tremendously broken, in many ways. It also promotes conservative tactics, since it creates a big incentive not to risk losing things like “valuable top-10 placings”.

DeeJay November 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I disagree. Paris-Nice: 1st place 100 WT points, 10th place 4 WT points. For the rider values those 4 points are probably worth even less.

Eskerrik Asko November 14, 2012 at 8:54 am

The incentive not to risk a valuable top-ten placing is fairly huge in all three GTs, though.

andrewp November 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Makes you wonder exactly what Bugno does at the CPA all day every day.

He sits on the PCC (along with Cioni) on behalf of the riders. Receives every single doucment each year with full details of all changes to the proposed system etc, gets to vote on its approval.

Yet the people he represents seem to have no/limited knowledge of the system

John November 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Silly question maybe but what is the definition of a “team”? Is it based on the owner or the sponsor? i.e. Movistar is the latest edition of various teams from the past with different names/sponsors but which have always been the same “team” owned by the same owner. How is a team separate from a sponsor?

DeeJay November 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I believe the UCI uses the term “paying agent”: a company which hold the license, pays the salaries and receives the sponsor money. For example: Slipstream is the paying agent for the current Garmin team, Tailwind Sports was the paying agent for the famous US Postal/Discovery teams and Brixia Sports took over the Liquigas stuff to start the Cannondale team in 2013.

The Inner Ring November 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm

That’s right. The paying agent can be the sponsor itself, it can be a company created to run the team or it can be an individual who owns the team.

Bob November 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm

And the paying agent does not need to be the same person or entity as the license holder.

Brian November 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Another great write up. Was not aware of only the top 12 riders are considered. Thanks!

mullummer November 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Argos is one of the sponsors of the team of CX world number one Kevin Pauwels.

Maddave November 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm

All points should be ‘collective value’. The individual gets the glory and the fame, the team gets the rewards and the trophy. Happens in most other ‘team’ sports.

Gerrald November 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm

So how can this be still secret? Is the UCI still having such closed ranks that the excel sheet is not leaked into the public?

The Inner Ring November 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm

It’s not on the website but is given to the teams. The secrecy is explained above but given so many riders and fans think it’s all about points, it seems the story is bigger than the reality and it’d be good to see the position explained for all to see.

Soab November 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Good article. That only 12 riders count for points is very interesting. The griping about individual riders needing points should now fall on deaf ears. Riders aren’t renewed and have to retire every year, points or no points. There’s a fresh crop of neo-pros every year pushing out mid-level riders.

Brendon November 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm

The current system does seems to create issues when a rider is leaving one Pro Tour Team for another, in that the “old” team is reluctant to enter that rider in end of season races. Presumably this is because the “old” team can’t see any point in allowing the departing rider the chance to score individual points when another rider on the squad who has signed for the following season could be given that chance. I think that is a problem which needs to be “fixed”. The points system should not operate to effectively sideline good riders with good form at the end of the season.

ROC November 14, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thank you INRNG for this post, for this blog, and for the pleasant novelty of a comments section without the sewer-like quality of many other blogs and forums!

I agree with @Brendon re riders that have signed for another team next season. It’s not right when top riders are denied to start races for no other reason than not being able to collect points for the current team’s next season sporting rank. Maybe some part of a rider’s collected individual points should remain team points only, and not follow the rider over to a new team for the next season?
Not easy to find a way to cover all interests here, but this problem really needs a solution.

There are three more criteria…
“Teams get their licence based on four criteria: administrative, ethical, financial and sporting.”
Adm and financial I guess are more or less straight forward, but how about ethical? What’s the real substance of that criteria? Are there “non-secret” measures to that?

Daniel November 14, 2012 at 1:07 am

What’s the reason for not splitting the points, half each to the team and the rider?

ave November 14, 2012 at 1:13 am

Again, new info for me.
The 12 rider/team limit is actually a very clever way to enable teams to have domestiques.
I wonder who’s benefit is it that the average cycling fan does not know about this??

David Mclean November 14, 2012 at 1:59 am

Why not allow the team leader (who won the points) to distribute them as he wishes amongst the domestiques that helped him win? Just like prize money… points mean prizes!

The Inner Ring November 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

I’ve seen this argument and am sympathetic to it but it’s not without risks. Imagine you are a classics specialist on Radioshack and all set to help Cancellara win in Belgium. Then he breaks his collarbone. No more points for you. In other words your points collection and therefore your income and job prospects can be dependent on fate.

Tricky Dicky November 14, 2012 at 3:17 am

I can see some continuing themes developing from this:
– even higher wages for the small number of “prestige” riders (ie. the top 10 globally) who haul in the most points
– potentially higher wages for the “super domestiques” who may not have points but who the “prestige” riders insist receive good treatment
– renewed focus on teams classifications and team time trials
– a greater number of “cross-over” riders from CX and MTB ranks
– lower wages and less certainty (if that was possible) for everyone else.

I do think @Daniel is right: the team should get a proportion of its riders’ points to enable them to “invest in the future” (eg. where’s the incentive here to develop a promising young rider who may be a couple of years away from being in the above categories?).

I also think I read somewhere that no points are awarded for other jerseys in tours (eg. nothing for green or polkadot jerseys in the Tour. That sounds plain crazy – competition for these jerseys are often more interesting than a “team classification” for example.

The other staggering point, touched on by @ROC, is that the “ethical” criteria don’t seem particularly transparent or hard to satisfy it seems!

lfx November 14, 2012 at 4:56 am

Inrng, thanks for a great post, you have made sense of the sporting criteria for me.

With regard to the ‘ethical’ criteria, this seems to me at present one of the biggest paper tigers in the sport, has any team that has qualified in the sporting criteria ever been refused a licence on ethical grounds?

I see this as a great opportunity, new champions leagues and other structural changes not withstanding. If a firm criteria which threatened worldtour status for doping positives or other ethical breaches such as race fixing or gambling (Vino, ahem) were implemented, teams may be more interested in making sure riders make it to the start line clean. The recent Mobistar rider who was quoted as saying that the team wanted to know nothing about a rider’s program and just expected them to turn up ‘fit’ for training must go with the dinosaurs. The implementation of a strict ethical component could help do that.

Deiter November 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

The rationale for the secrecy really does not make sense in my mind and I feel like there must be more to it than that! The UCI is always so zealous about maintaining their “control” and authority over these kinds of things, even to their extreme detriment. It seems like textbook over-compensation. I bet they drive huge trucks or stupid fast sports cars too.

Kasper Sørensen November 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm

What is the advantage of having the individual riders points weigh in on the decision if i team should be relegated or not?

Why not simply have a pure team ranking system, like we know from other team sports? When any rider wins a race, the points are given to the team and counting towards the overall ranking? The rider, who won the race, will get points that contribute to the individual ranking, which Joaquim Rodriques won this year.

Nick November 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm

So by hinting at the factors that are taken into account, but not publishing the weightings or calculations, the UCI has a model with enough free parameters that it can decide on the 18 teams it wants in, and manipulate the parameters to eliminate or promote any fairly borderline team it likes.

Peter November 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Of all things, this is a testament to Bruyneel. Who was the team manager who put nearly single minded focus on as many team ranking victories as possible in the spring? Inner Ring, you have done a marvelous job of showing us why this makes perfect sense for Bruyneel and his sponsors.

Setting that individual’s personal history aside, this strategy is a good one for the second rank of riders. As former pack fodder, I can appreciate that I might be kept around for team rankings and TTT opportunities even though I get few points in a year. That RSNT gets to keep my points may just be enough for them to keep someone like me.

Of course, in a strange way, this makes me more useful year to year than a star who likely to garner points in his own name and then jump to Astana. In the current point system, there is value to pack fodder riders and Bruyneel and others are smart enough to see it.

Does that make the point system right? No, it just increases the complexity of the chess match on wheels that our sport has become since we started stage racing.

By the way, ‘pack fodder’ is my term, and it applies to me. I mean no disrespect for the hard working journeymen who make racing work. In word, they rock.

Thank you for a great column.

Peter

Daniel November 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Why not allocate all points to the team? Team management have a good idea who of their support staff, lead out men, and domestiques actually contributed to the team’s success whether they earned individual points or not, either in an outstanding way in certain moments or on a reliable consistent basis. The team, well actually the license holder, is a league franchise who can be bought or sold. Points backward looking for two years. If you want to create an entirely brand new team, you must work your way up from the bottom level, and the only other option is to buy out another team’s license. Ensures you can’t start up a Team Leopard at World Tour status level in one year by buying up riders, and shoving another team off the top level which has been there for years, only to fold or merge a year later when the billionaire’s interest wanes or finances dry up. The team ownership gains value as a franchise. This model attempts to get riders, teams and sponsors all thinking long term, or at least longer than now.

Daniel November 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm

What’s the reason for the current points system? The teams are completely beholden to the UCI’s control. As a regulatory body they ought not be picking winners and losers in the license game. But they won’t give up that manipulative control easily or ever. Time for a breakaway league, provided the anti-doping effort is outside its mission, handled by a third party and monitored by WADA.

Bob November 15, 2012 at 2:46 am

UCI doesn’t like it any more than you do. They lose their ability to grant a true 4-year license. It’s part of the deal with organizers to get the Grand Tours back into the World Tour.

Mike November 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

How about awarding points to everyone in the team that places a rider in the top 10? So the rider who wins gets X points, but all of his teammates get 1/10 X for helping to win? That would give the good domestiques some points as well.

Adam November 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Bear my ignorance. Am I getting this right? On the one hand, only the top 12 riders count. On the other, sporting value is forward looking. Let’s say Johnny Rocket is the No. 15 rider for Team A. Rocket transfers to Team B, where his points would rate No. 9. Does Team B get to count Rocket as its No. 9 rider?

Wataboutya November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

So, am I right in thinking that the Asia tour riders signed up in the past and blamed for others loosing their places in a team;
Firsty – had no effect on these riders employment
Secondly – amassed so many points on their own, that they too a place in the top12/15 even without team points past or present
Thirdly – only lasted a year as they served their purpose solely of providing much needed points

Or is there more to it?
You mention ethics among the criterea thats top secret, what if they receive support in whatever form, from taking on a top rider from another continent in a similar way to a trial year.

The biggest positive I can see from the system is just that – Asia Tour riders have had an opportunity that they otherwise would never had regardless of how good they where because European teams fail to notice them and find no commercial value to them until pressure is applied. Given that financial security is also tied up for IRO 4 years, you have a long wait to get a chance otherwise, financial backing or not.

On that note, finances may also be a reason for these AsiaTour riders being signed up, im sure they dont always require a brand name to be added to a shirt.

For me the biggest question is not in the detail of how its calculated, but what can a domestique rider do to secure his place in the top flight without disregarding team orders?
We could also do with transparency from riders/teams as to why theyve been dropped though this wouldnt help them get another job in many cases I suppose.

We all know whay this exists: Its

Wataboutya November 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

We all know whay this exists: Its…..to appease the GT organisors who wanted to make decisions on who entered their races all by themselves and the UCI wanted to run a league for financial security for teams via qualification for the big3.

Overall you gotta admit that weve seen some security amongst team finances given recent hard times, poor press and controversey. If it wasnt for the Olympic effect, Id imagine a few less teams at the top and much less concern for UCI points.

That said – the UCI again bathe themselves in secrecy and poor PR.

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