The Eneco Tour starts today and it’s the penultimate World Tour race ahead of the Tour of Lombardy on 1 October. As things stand Dimension Data face losing their spot in the World Tour for 2016 and team manager Doug Ryder is even talking about legal action to stay up. Here’s a closer look at the promotion and relegation process, why it’s all bubbled up so suddenly and an explainer why Dimension Data’s five Tour de France stage wins are not enough.
As a reminder or explainer the World Tour has 18 teams and the UCI has announced it will have 17 teams in 2017 “with the objective to reach 16 a year later”.
So that means 18 teams go down to 17, normally not a problem given Tinkoff and IAM Cycling are both stopping and Bora-Argon 18 is going to become Bora-Hansgrohe and wants a World Tour licence so that’s 18 minus two plus one: 17 teams. Only the equilibrium is broken by the arrival of the new Bahrain Merida squad and there are now 18 teams aiming for 17 places.
How to get a World Tour spot
Teams get a World Tour licence by fulfilling four criteria: admin, financial, ethical and sporting. The first three overlap and relate to the team proving its got the budget and the internal controls to operate without hiccups. The sporting aspect is based on the team’s ranking in the UCI World Tour team ranking. This ranking is based on the individual rankings where the points accrued by the five best riders of each team are added together to get the team ranking. The individual rankings themselves are based on points earned in World Tour races only and in turn these points are awarded for wins and placing in races, there are no points for wearing, say, the yellow jersey in the Tour de France or winning the points competition in the Vuelta a España. You can see the full points scale here but the summary version is that a few stealthy places on the overall classification of a stage race can earn a team a lot of points, for example finish 11th overall in the Tour de France and you earn as much as winning two stages in the same race.
The top-16 existing teams on the UCI World Tour team ranking qualify automatically on the sporting factor; as long as they satisfy the admin, ethical and financial criteria they can continue to have a World Tour licence.
The drop zone
The other teams have to meet the admin, ethical and financial criteria and are then judged on their ranking position for the 2016 season. Here they either apply to be ranked on points score of their five best riders during the season past or to be ranked on the basis of their new signings for 2017, for example Bora will put forward their rankings with signings like Peter Sagan and Rafał Majka, Sagan alone brings enough points to, as of today, rank as the eighth best team. Bahrain-Merida can only apply on the basis of their new riders.
Dimension Data are facing the drop. Their five best riders are Mark Cavendish (80 points), Edvald Boasson Hagen (72), Nathan Haas (53), Kanstantin Siutsou (40) and Stephen Cummings (38) which adds up to 283 points putting them last in the rankings and by some margin. By contrast Cannondale-Drapac have yet to win a race in the World Tour this year but their Italian rider Alberto Bettiol has still managed to score 185 points, more than Cavendish and Cummings combined.
Dimension Data can still score points to move up but this is more in realm of the arithmetically possible rather than the achievable or likely. Dimension Data team manager Doug Ryder is even talking about seizing the Court of Arbitration for Sport if the team is relegated reports Independent Online, a South African website:
“We will fight it, so we will go to the PCC which is the professional cycling council and the licence commission that issues licences on behalf of the UCI… …If we fail, we will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) because we are an ethical, honest team“
It would not be the first time a team has used the CAS to get in the World Tour since Katusha appealed but it’s hard to see what grounds Ryder could use.
Same but different
None of this is new. For years many have lamented the points structure’s perverse incentives with riders and teams playing it safe to bank points rather than win. Defending 7th or 11th place on GC can become a valuable goal and discourages spectacular attacks and tactical risk taking. What’s newer is the move to rank teams on the basis of five riders only, a good idea since it means a lot of the team are freed from the tyranny of chasing points and even riding against each other. But what’s tipped the balance is late the arrival of a new team in Bahrain-Merida and the continuation of Lampre under new Chinese management. None of this scenario was known mid-season and it’s meant that the struggle to avoid relegation has only become an issue late into the season, as if some trapdoor has only been discovered this summer. This has caused a bidding war for riders with points and has helped encourage riders like Ben Swift (92 points) to move to Lampre.
The moral of the story is that points hunting comes in many forms and five stage wins of the Tour de France are not sufficient to keep Dimension Data in the World Tour. They can try to sign a rider with a lot of points but face competition from others, they can try suing but it’s hard to see this working. The rules are clear when it comes to the sporting criteria so it can be argued that the teams know on what grounds they’ll be assessed for 2017 but the move to shrink to 17 teams was only publicly confirmed in June and it was even later than that we’re seeing a rush for a World Tour spot, mid-season we knew Tinkoff and IAM Cycling were going and Bahrain was coming but we didn’t know Bora was going to be supersized and that Bahrain would be built independently of the Lampre team.