Over the weekend the UCI announced 20 men’s teams had applied for a spot in the UCI World Tour. With the existing 18 teams and Cofidis as the 19th there’s been a small surprise with Arkéa-Samsic joining the applicants. Here’s a quick look at how the system works and some of the questions and issues around it.
First the UCI World Tour is a semi-closed system where teams get multi-year licences with certain entry into the top calendar of races. Teams with a World Tour licence, or “UCI WorldTeams” to use the official jargon, are guaranteed a start in the Tour de France, the golden ticket all teams and sponsors crave, by some measures the Tour counts for 70% team’s marketing exposure, ie more than the Giro, Vuelta and spring classics… and everything else combined. In return for this certainty they’re compelled to field teams in all the other UCI World Tour races, under threat of a fine and even putting their licence in jeopardy. In order to better provide for this, teams now have to have a minimum of 27 riders for 2020, up from 23 this year. WorldTeams get their licence by satisfying five criteria with the UCI:
- sporting: based on UCI points, more of this in a minute
- ethical: whether the team has followed the UCI rules, respects contracts, pays its taxes, files accounts and so on (and not the anti-doping record as could be assumed)
- financial: teams are audited by accountants at Ernst and Young to evaluate their funding and financial security for the season ahead
- admin: gathering all the required documents, assurances and filing them on time and coherently
- organisational: this relates to how the team is run and cares for its riders, with sufficient support staff and planned rest periods. This is the newest criteria based on the ISSUL audit
Five sections but really two areas, as in teams must satisfy the UCI rules while the sporting criteria is a moving target. This sporting part is complicated though as for 2020 it’s based on a little-known “UCI world ranking for men UCI teams – 3 years” ranking. It’s tucked away in the UCI rulebook and the actual rankings are not made public. Here’s the relevant UCI rule:
It reads like it’s been poorly translated from another language… the French version on the UCI website is a little sharper. In short you add up the points scored by each team during 2017, 2018 and 2019 and then each team is rated on this basis. The top-18 ranked qualify for the World Tour for 2020-2022. Then there’s a special rule saying any current World Tour teams that sit in 19th and 20th place can still keep their licences, ie if Dimension Data and Katusha-Israel Academy meet this they’re ok. This was added after these teams discovered they could be relegated and argued they didn’t know they were facing relegation in these years so it was unfair to impose this on them.
Based on a home-made spreadsheet that’s a bit rough to publish in full, Cofidis qualifies as the 18th best team and so will get a World Tour spot for 2020. Wanty-Gobert are 19th but haven’t applied for promotion. Dimension Data are 20th and so would normally be relegated… but the rule mentioned above means repechage and they stay in meaning a UCI World Tour with 19 teams. Arkéa-Samsic don’t look to have made the cut based on the current rules, they’ve not scored enough points.
Let’s assume 19 teams in the World Tour…. this leads us to an important second order effect. New for 2020 is also a rule – 2.1.007 bis – saying the best “UCI ProTeam”, the new name of the Pro Continental teams, at the end of this season gets an automatic invitation to the World Tour races, it’s elective as they can start but they can also decline which makes sense as they may not want to race everywhere nor have a roster to cope with this. It’s a nice spot given this elective position and currently Total Direct Energie sit in this spot although Wanty-Gobert are only 80 points behind meaning there’s a tight contest in the days ahead, for example fifth place in today’s Tre Valli Varesine lands 85 points while Wanty-Gobert race the upcoming Tour of Taihu Lake, presumably not to market Wanty’s tarmacking services around the Yangtze Delta but to poach precious points.
Given races can invite a maximum of 22 teams to a race we have 19 WorldTeams, plus the top ranked ProTeam… and so two wildcards left. In the past the winning team of the Coppa Italia series got an invitation to the Giro d’Italia but this has been dropped now meaning RCS can pick two teams. But another rule says one must go to an Italian team, or rather in event there’s no automatic invitation of a team from the host nation, and Italy has no WorldTeams, then one spare spot has to go to a ProTeam of the host nation, ie an Italian team. If somehow Arkéa-Samsic do get the spot they’ve applied for then there’s only one wildcard. The quick version is gone is the choice of a race organiser to pick four teams at leisure, now they’re probably choosing between two and nationality counts.
Outside the grand tours there’s room for up to four wildcards for other stage races. For the one day races the same new rule sees the best three ProTeams of 2019 get automatic invites (currently Total Direct Energie, Wanty-Gobert and Correndon-Circus) and up to two wildcards are left for race organisers to grant. The upshot is very slim pickings for ProTeams, especially teams hailing from countries where there’s a rival, for example Androni vs Bardiani-CSF, Caja Rural vs Fundacion Euskadi-Orbea.
Like plenty of other blog posts, writing this up helps work through the rules to better understand them. More than ever the World Tour is closed ecosystem. Rather than a league with relegation and promotion, the top teams enjoy a relegation protection rule at the moment and it creates an environment where the second tier teams are left chasing even fewer crumbs. This is an acceleration of a trend that has been the direction of travel for some time. We’ll see what happens come 2023, the plan is to shrink back down to 18 teams… but it was only a year or so ago the World Tour was going to have 16 squads and now it has space for 20.
Even assuming the paperwork and money are in order it’s hard to be sure which teams make the World Tour for 2020 as the rankings aren’t public. Homemade crude calcs say Cofidis will stay up, Dimension Data get saved but Arkéa-Samsic won’t make the cut. Meanwhile the top-ranked Pro Conti team is a valuable spot and there’s a tight battle between Total Direct Energie and Wanty-Gobert for this, the French team lead. Earlier this year Total Direct Energie boss Jean-Marie Bernaudeau explained his team’s lacklustre season by virtue of them chasing points rather than wins and whether this is an ex post excuse for poor results or a tactical masterstroke depends on the next coming weeks.
Ultimately we’ll see the same teams and riders in the same races and if this sounds like the status quo it’s more than that, it’s the entrenchment of this with fewer second tier teams getting a start in the big races.
Confused? Then ask away in the comments below and we’ll try and work through the questions.