UCI points are not the greatest talking point. But points are the currency of pro cycling and influence the sport, from the racing to the promotion and relegation of teams.
Changes are coming to the system that will affect riders, teams and the racing alike. It looks like good news for some but worrying for others like Euskaltel or Vacansoleil-DCM. Let’s see what’s planned and how this might change things.
First remember the UCI uses a secret internal system to rank teams by their points although . This is called sporting value and sometimes known as team value. The arithmetic is given to the teams but many riders don’t know how it works giving rise to calls that the points system is distorting racing when this might actually be unfair; although if riders think they have to have points then they will race accordingly.
Top 10 per team
Currently the UCI works out a team’s ranking based on the points of its best 12 riders. It used to be 15 but when the numbers were done last October it was dropped to 12. And now the rule change will go to 10 riders. This means a team of 30 riders can employ 20 riders without a single point between them. Moving from 15 to 10 over two years diminishes the value of holding just a few points a rider with one point will probably find this is meaningless compared to the team’s top-10 best riders. It will have the effect of making riders with a lot of points even more valuable, a team can’t rely on grabbing points here and there with 20 riders but instead has to ensure its leaders get them.
Right now teams are ranked at the end of the season on the basis of their prospective team for the following year. For example at the end of 2012 Astana’s ranking included the points of Vincenzo Nibali even though he’d yet to formally join the Kazakh team. This is unlike other sports for example a soccer league table where teams are ranked on the basis of their wins during the prior season.
But this is set to change according to the UCI. Now 20% of a riders points will remain with their team should they leave. The idea is that a rider’s points haul is a function of the team. It takes coaches, masseurs, riders, mechanics, managers and more to win a big race so the team will keep some of the points from a big win if a successful rider moves to another team. The Spanish website said teams wanted a figure higher than 20% but the UCI rejected this because to reward the teams more would be to diminish the individual’s earning power, a reasonable point.
With the points system skewed towards high overall places in stage races, especially the grand tours, some teams might have to change strategy. For example Vacansoleil-DCM is famous for the attacking riders but they’ll need to harness some of that energy to guide Lieuwe Westra, Thomas De Gendt and hopefully Wout Poels to high overall positions rather than sending everyone on wild attacks with the hope of a big pay-off. The same is true for Euskaltel who could really struggle here. They’ve hired a few riders for their points but the talent is spread across the team with only a few riders capable of scoring muchísimos puntos. Even Katusha has reasons to be nervous because Rodriguez counted for more than 50% of their points. If he crashes or falls ill then the whole team’s points are diminished. Meanwhile the big teams like Sky and BMC have nothing to worry about.
Spreadsheets at the ready
I’d welcome all these changes. The move to only counting the 10 best riders means any valuable domestique or gregario who toils for their leader should never have to worry about earning points. In fact their service should only help their leader to win more, thus supporting their supportive efforts.
Leaving a share of points with your old team is also another interesting idea that’s worth a try. Actually what is needed is a regression scenario where the UCI and Pro Teams have gone back over the last five years and calculated the impact of these changes. Because what sounds intuitively fine on paper can be different when the numbers are crunched for real.
Talking of numbers all these changes only make the system more complicated and impenetrable for fans. If riders struggle to grasp the system, new things like 20% carry-overs are going to make spreadsheets and calculators as essential as a wheel and a saddle for riders, or at least for team owners and agents.
Ideally all of these rankings should be open. It’s bizarre that the UCI’s ranking system is kept hidden from fans (full details here) but instead of just publishing the rules it would be great to see the UCI show live rankings so that promotion and relegation from the World Tour become part of the story, something that can only enhance the value of the UCI’s prime calendar.
Few understood the rules in the first place so these proposed changes aren’t obvious either. If so these plans should support both the riders and teams that work together to achieve things. It’s not like the days of old with one leader and a devoted team of helpers, after all today’s World Tour means having to compete in many races and often simultaneously so a team has to have several captains. The proposals sound right but I hope they’ve been tested to reduce the chance of unexpected outcomes.
Ultimately though these changes only make the system yet more complicated. If the system can’t be explained in three sentences then don’t expect TV commentators to explain it to viewers like they might explain what an echelon is or another of cycling’s sophistications.
If you saw the image at the top and wondered what the UCI minimum wage is…
- Neo pro = €29,370
- Other rider = € 36,300