Friday Shorts

The big story right now is one that’s not public. The end of the season is looming and several teams are getting nervous about their points haul with World Tour places in jeopardy, notably Dimension Data

First Dimension Data’s World Tour spot for next year isn’t certain. Once upon a time a team had to be among the 18 best on an internal system of UCI rankings based off the total of points for the team gained over the last three years. But the UCI already created a special rule to allow existing World Tour teams to stay up as long as they were among the top-20 teams. Only Dimension Data are currently 20th with Total Direct Energie now just 100 points behind them and if the French team overhaul them the African team is dropped from the World Tour. Now relegation isn’t ruinous as another new rule says any team relegated can still get invites to all the top races for one year as a cushion but it’s not ideal, it could even trigger sponsorship and employment clauses. Meanwhile are similar concerns chez Cofidis as they’ve applied for a top spot and have enough points to move up because they’re 18th overall, but only just and could still be overtaken by Wanty-Gobert. All these rankings though are based on an internal ranking not made public and various versions are doing the rounds – French newspaper LeMonde published their version online yesterday – and they’re all different, some have even led to the UCI correcting their records after third party work by the likes of procyclingstats and Velobs has found errors in the rankings. Given the stakes these rankings need to be watertight to be litigation-proof.

Meanwhile in a separate contest, next year the best second division team from this year will get automatic invites to the World Tour races this year. Total Direct Energie lead, but again only by a few points. Correndon-Circus made a late charge but haven’t entered any more races for the year which leaves Wanty-Gobert as the challengers. The upshot is that the Tour of Guangxi matters for Dimension Data, Wanty and Total Direct Energie and all of a sudden the unloved Chrono des Nations this Sunday, a lowly 1.1 individual time trial, is suddenly seeing a surge in entries from the same teams as 125 UCI points go to the winner and there are points down to 25th place. As things stand both Dimension Data and Cofidis should make it but goes down to this weekend’s racing.

One race where few are calculating the points is the Japan Cup this Sunday as none of the teams mentioned above ride the HC-rated race. There’s a downtown criterium for show on Saturday and then a hilly circuit race on Sunday on the course of the 1990 World Championships and a decent field with Michael Woods, Bauke Mollema, Steven Kruijswijk and more. They travel because Japan matters for the bike brands and the likes of Trek, Scott, Bianchi, Cannondale and Merida find this is a good way to meet and greet the fans. It’s not as famous as Eibar or the Koppenberg but the crowd on the Kogashi forest is as great as you’ll find anywhere else.

The Japan Cup will be Taylor Phinney’s last race. Simplistically his pro career had two parts, pre and post the horror crash where he broke his leg. I could be wrong but think he was the highest paid neo-pro ever when he signed with BMC and with this came the expectation to perform and deliver, a lot of pressure on young shoulders and it was mentally that he seemed to detach from the sport more recently with new interests in art. It’s a good reminder that when we look around at all the talent among the neo-pros anything can happen.

Mark Cavendish isn’t retiring yet, he’s due to sign for Bahrain-Merida where he can link up with long time mentor Rod Ellingworth who has now taken over as the boss. For a moment it sounded like “friends reunited” at Bahrain but it’s probably win-win, if Cavendish can win on the road or in the Olympics then it’s successful and if he can’t then they’ve got first claim on him for a team manager, a role he’ll probably be very good it with his famous attention to detail. For a glimpse of this via an anecdote, try the Songezo Jim story told by Nathan Haas to Mitch Docker in the Life In The Peloton podcast.

The track cycling in the Tokyo Olympics could be very fast, the Izu velodrome is quick and in August you can both heat and low atmospheric pressure, ideal for record times thanks to the reduced air density. Less than ideal for those outdoors and the IOC is considering moving the marathon and walking races for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to Sapporo, a previous host city of the winter games and over 800km to the north so that the competitors don’t face the fierce heat and humidity of Tokyo in August. There are no plans to move the road cycling which lasts much longer. Now cyclists can cope better with heat because of the speed on the bike means a constant breeze and so sweat evaporates helping to cool the cyclist. But this only works in dry heat and the defining characteristic of the Japanese summer is the combo of heat and humidity. It’s the sort of place where you can ride up a mountain pass and get hot and then get hotter still on the descent because it’s so humid that your sweat won’t evaporate while the sun, the road and big roadside concrete walls all radiate heat back at you. Put simply it’s hard to adapt and teams will need to work on the logistics of handing up cold drinks, ice packs and more.

Lastly, staying with rider welfare, the MPCC group of teams are to start testing riders for thyroid hormones. You might remember the Salazar/Nike case and reports of athletes being given thyroid hormones for performance enhancing reasons and for sometime it’s been rumoured to be something exploited by “doctors” in other sports, possibly cycling too. The MPCC is only going to test and see what the results look like. If anything rings an alarm bell then the team doctor of the relevant rider will be alerted and it’s up to them to decide on what course of action to take. It’s a good idea and where the MPCC goes, the UCI often follows for example the MPCC first introduced a “no needles” policy, it first started testing for cortisone/cortisol and it did Tramadol tests too and the UCI is copying all of this.


62 thoughts on “Friday Shorts”

  1. After the dramas of last weekend I wonder how well prepared the Tokyo Olympics organisers are for the inevitable typhoons. Especially in the middle of the prime season.

    • They tend to come later, typically September but they can happen into October (as we’ve seen and part of the road race course has been damaged, plus the start area has seen some of the worst flooding but things tend to get mended quickly too).

    • Odd that it’s taken until 10 months before the event to relocate some of the outdoor events to Sapporo due to the heat and humidity. I suspect the road races are much less easy to move as the courses are long and will have been designed well in advance.

      • I suspect that the intention was always to wait until after test events with international quality fields had been run before considering relocation.

        I’m sure that the road cycling could be relocated as well – it could use the Japan Cup course, or laps of the same roads as the marathons and race walks.

        The bigger obstacle to shifting the road race will be UCI politics. After the humiliation of being forced to accept having the track cycling being hosted way outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area at the Izu velodrome, there’s no way that they’ll accept a similar loss of prestige for the road races.

        • Unfortunately, the Japan Cup course in Tochigi Prefecture could still be hot at that time of year. It is located far outside of Tokyo as well. As I understand, the initial proposed course for the Olympics would have started in central Tokyo, followed by laps of uninspiring hilly circuit on the outskirts of the city, ending in a long flat return to central Tokyo finishing near the Imperial Palace.
          The existing route starts in Tokyo, goes over a few mountain passes and finishes at the famous Fuji Speedway at the base of the iconic Mt. Fuji (one of the most famous symbol of Japan. I can see why this route was chosen to showcase this country. Also, likely it would be less hot than riding in Tokyo.

          The track and MTB events are not too far from the finish area as well. Budgetary constraints was the likely one of main reasons for the final decision for these events.

  2. Its interesting that the Japan Cup is fairly long running, on a decent course and popular amongst top riders and yet it has not been added to the World Tour whilst races that are neither long running or popular and on dull courses get foisted on it. Obviously the Japanese don’t need the label and aren’t bothered.

  3. Thanks for your noble efforts to try and unpick the World Tour rankings issue. Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for less. A strange lack of transparency. Even if it’s not made public, I’m presuming the teams are sighted so they know what they are chasing and what points are available? And the issue of the top Pro-Conti teams getting wild cards for GT’s seems especially ripe for challenge. How on earth are the teams left outside looking in supposed to break in if they aren’t able to race and score points? Wanty were able to double up during the TdF by sending another squad to the Tour of Austria, Cofidis got to race two GT’s which distorts the playing field for teams like Vital Concept and Neri Sottoli.

    • Yes, the teams get updates from the UCI but it seems some don’t trust them so they’ve been hiring third parties to recreate the rankings for them from scratch. For example Tim Merlier joined Correndon-Circus mid-season and it was only recently that the UCI suddenly included his points in the team’s total and this was after the Velobs agency told them Merlier’s points were missing, this meant the Dutch team shot up the rankings all of a sudden just as they had some great results too and almost overtook Wanty and Total Direct Energie causing these teams to suddenly wonder if the had a third rival. Procyclingstats have pointed out other mistakes too.

      The whole system is like this because the World Tour teams want a closed system where the current 18 teams stay up, no matter. It’s rational for them, why would they want the risk of relegation after all but comes with a price. It explains why the rankings were moved to take the three year basis (fair enough, a team can have an injury to a star rider, a crash etc) then we got the special rule that even if they dropped to 20th they’d still stay up at a time when falling this low seemed inconceivable because as you say the big teams ride the big races and so they can score big points and sometimes on multiple fronts with simultaneous World Tour races. The smaller teams can’t and so their chance of challenging for a top spot gets harder and harder.

      • A look at the Women’s WorldTour team regulations *may* provide some insight as to where the UCI is looking to take the WorldTour team regulations. Or it may not.

        The English version is a bit clumsy and my French isn’t good enough to benefit from reading the original version, but it appears that the WWT will move to rolling renewal of licences each year (using a two year ranking) for the 2024 team licences and onwards. Teams 1-5 will get extended for four years, teams 6-10 will get three years, teams 11-15 will get two years.

        A similar system would work well for the WT team selection, and the use of a two year ranking would give the UCI the best part of a year from now – ideally before the opening of the transfer window on 1 August – to introduce the regulations for the new system. It would then take effect from the start of the 2021 season.

        • This would allow for 15 WT teams, potentially a couple more for short periods if a team drops outside the top 15 while still having at least a year left from a previous renewal.

          Add in automatic invites for top ProTeams or a demoted ex-WT team to take the total to 18 automatic invitations for grand tours and 20 for other WT races and I think you would have a system that would be acceptable to both the teams and race owners.

  4. World Tour teams? No problem, just threaten lawsuits and the UCI will cave like a house o’cards. Screw the wild-cards, any team with a high-powered lawyer will get in.
    Phinney’s a smart kid, smart enough to know when to hang it up as a pro and work on a “real life” something a guy like Cavendish seems too dim to understand? Will the Manx Missile go on until he can’t even get off the launch pad? Did he not invest any of his salary and instead blow it all on fancy digs and an expensive wife? Can’t see him being lead-out man for anyone else so how many times will the team waste their energy setting him up only to be let-down when he comes up short in the sprint?
    Finally, good on MPCC – somebody’s gotta step up and put a dent into the doping madness!

    • Even just getting to the sprint is getting to be a struggle these days. He hasn’t been a factor in anything since either that last Tour when he won 4 stages in or the Worlds in Qatar, whichever was most recent! He seems to get a lot of motivation out of proving people wrong so presumably he is well motivated at the moment. Bahrain will be an odd team next year, they’ve always seemed to me to be just a sponsorship vehicle for Nibali and his entourage. Without him they’ll seem a bit pointless.

      • His last Tour stage wins and his 2nd place at the Qatar Worlds were both in 2016.

        He won a handful of stages in early season races in 2017, but then he hit the wall and crashed out of the 2017 Tour. Since then he has only managed a single victory (2018 Dubai Tour, stage 3) and completed his first winless season since he turned pro.

    • An ‘expensive wife’ is just a bit rude and unnnecessary Larry. You’re making an assumption that he is carrying the financial burden in the family and I’m guessing you have no evidence. But hey, you’re a shoot from the hip kind of guy which makes your posts so endearing.

      • Jealous? Gimmee a f–king break! Peta Todd made her living before marrying the “Manx Missile” as what’s called a “Page 3 girl” so what’s rude about my describing her as an expensive wife? I’m sure she’s used to the finer things in life and someone’s gotta pay for ’em. I’d guess “shaking her money-maker” probably came to a quick end once the family got started so it’s up to Cav to keep the bank accounts up to snuff, kinda like the current Mrs. Donald Trump – I don’t think she’s contributing much to The Donald’s coffers these days but those designer rags don’t fall outta trees!

          • Rude and insulting: yes. But I wouldn’t say sexist. ’Sexism’ is a charge which is loaded, stigmatising and banded about in a thoughtless manner, and is too readily accepted and unchallenged in the battle of the sexes by those with a feminist agenda. I’m not going to get into politics of it, but if he was going to say something sexist it would need to be generalising of women in a pejorative way. He knows who Peta Todd is and has made sweeping statements about who he perceives her to be, which are probably unfounded, but he’s not denigrated her because she’s a woman.

        • I don’t often comment as I come here to learn. However your contribution, Larry, moves me to make an exception. I will even presume to represent the opinion of many readers in suggesting that your vulgar and unpleasant remarks are not welcome here.

          • That is fair. Please accept my apologies. I really didn’t think “expensive wife” was anymore offensive than if I’d written “expensive husband” (and I know people who have spouses in both categories) so the sexist argument is a stretch, but again, I’m sorry and will refrain from further comments in this vein.
            My point was that perhaps “The Manx Missile” is broke and needs to continue the large paychecks he can only get from cycling vs any other occupation? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a pro continued his career solely because he needed the money.

    • Think you’ll find Cav as a very high IQ. He’s also got a photographic memory and spends his free time doing mathematical puzzles.

      “Dim” he’s not…

    • Jesus. Cavendish dim. He gave up a financial career for his love of bikes. Loves doing mental puzzles for shits n giggles. Likely a future career as a tactician in cycling. Thinks bikesbikesbikesbikes 24/7.

      Not all Brits sound like the royals mate. Just because someone has a regional accent doesn’t make them ‘dim’. Give me the honest dialog of a Cummings, or a Cav anyday. If you started to diss anyone in the majority of local pubs for their non RP speach or ‘dim’ communication you wouldn’t get to the end of the sentence.

      Then theres the slagging off his wife and mother of his kids…..

      Red card mate. Straight red.

    • Larry’s personal comments about Cavendish go too far but the overall point about him being on a steep downward curve appear correct.
      The only doubt, which I’m guessing Cavendish is testing out, is whether that is in large part due to the debilitating illness he had or whether it is mostly because the legs have gone.
      I for one would love to see him pull out at least one last big win.

  5. Poor Taylor Phinney. There were always going to be high expectations on him. His parents experienced some interesting times in and around the LA Olympics I think.

    I hope that whatever he applies himself to now he enjoys.

    I’m looking forward to finding out what a revelation cycling in Japan will be. I lived in Singapore and did some triathlon’s in the equatorial humidity. Cycling (and running) are fine, as long as you keep moving. Stop and you might spontaneously combust. It’s an experience.

    If I was Cav I might want to prolong my cycling career for as long as I could, so I don’t blame him. But I also doubt that he finds himself in a profession which is much suited to him as a rider. The bunch sprints which he regularly crushed are dominated by different sorts of riders, most of whom he now pales in comparison to, so I wonder what he brings to Bahrain Merida except high salary expectations. Though a road captain he may become of sorts I cannot see that he’s the sort of rider that offers up the sort of protection and guidance at the front of a peloton that a GC rider needs. I have complete respect for him, and he may prove me wrong by winning some more races, but his career seems to have outrun his cycling potential. Very harsh, and I’d hate for him to read this, but one wonders if he shouldn’t just put down the bike and pick up the clipboard and become a DS to preserve his reputation.

  6. Seeing what the new UCI rules seem to be doing to Pro Conti (or whatever they’re called now) teams, as well as smaller races, is really sad. It seems like we’re potentially in for a mass extinction of both lesser teams and lesser races, and I can’t see a rebound happening if the worst takes place.

    Regarding riding in high heat and humidity and sun, the most miles I ever rode in a summer were a couple of years ago after moving to New Orleans. The key to doing well comes down to one word- acclimatizing. I started riding heavily in the early spring, and kept riding, in the heat of the day, for the next few months. It became no problem to ride for hours in 98 degree heat, with 95% humidity, at noon. I wore a long-sleeve ‘sun shirt’ as well as leggings, since I didn’t want to use a quart of sun screen each day, and I don’t sweat all that much so I didn’t even drink much water. I don’t think there’s a way to acclimatize rapidly to these conditions, but if you do it properly, it’s amazing what you can tolerate. Whoever really wants that Olympic gold should arrive out there at least three weeks early, if not a month.

    Cavendish seems like one of those athletes who define themselves by winning. I hope I’m wrong and he can get on with his life, as Taylor Phinney is clearly happy to do.

    Interesting that thyroid supplements are only now being looked at as potential PEDs. The good thing about testing thyroid levels is that it’s a very sensitive system but one where disturbances in levels have long lasting and easily measured effects. Anyone getting thyroid exogenously is going to have abnormal TSH for weeks. If this has been going on, the UCI could end it immediately if they spot tested some prior samples and announced that (a) they’d found abnormalities, which they weren’t going to publicize, and (b) going forward such abnormalities would be carefully scrutinized and lead to potential bans.

    • I am confident that any rider who skips the Tour de France to arrive early in Japan will be throwing away their chance of a medal. Being a bit better acclimatised will only partially compensate for the form lost by going over a month without any serious racing.

      The Road Race at Rio 2016 was also held in hot and humid conditions, and saw the medals go to riders with the following program leading into the race:
      1 Greg van Avermaet – Tour de France (completed) and Clasica San Sebastian
      2 Jakob Fuglsang – Tour de France (completed)
      3 Rafal Majka – Tour de France (completed)

      In fact, 19 of the top 20 riders had ridden the Tour de France (all of them completed it rather than pulling out early for the Olympics) and the sole top 20 finisher who didn’t ride the Tour (Andrey Zeits, 8th place) was doing the Tour de Pologne at the same time. Nine of the top 20 (including the winner) had also raced in Europe on the weekend between the Tour and the Olympics at either Clasica San Sebastian, RideLondon or Rad am Ring.

      • And the period between the two events in 2016 was the same as 2020? You conveniently left out one Vincenzo Nibali who was headed to an Olympic medal until he fell off…something that had zero to do with whether he raced in Le Grand Boucle or not.

        • Larry’s consistency of tone at least gives me the constant joy that he is the exception rather than the norm to be found on other BTL comments sections.

        • I can confirm that GVA’s one week between Clasica San Sebastian and the Olympic Road Race in 2016 was the same as the period between the Tour de France and the Olympic Road Race will be in 2020.

          Nibali did race the Tour that year and placed 30th, so he doesn’t need to be ‘conveniently’ left out because he fits the same pattern as the top 20 finishers did. Maybe, though, he was fatigued after doing a Giro-Tour double and the dulled skills caused him to crash. Something for the Italian selectors to think about as July approaches and they need to consider which riders are undercooked or overcooked.

          • “I can confirm that GVA’s one week between Clasica San Sebastian and the Olympic Road Race in 2016” seems a different premise when your point was TdF vs Olympics?
            Then you finish with – “Maybe, though, he (Nibali) was fatigued after doing a Giro-Tour double and the dulled skills caused him to crash.” which is 100% speculation on your part. I’m not arguing your point about skipping TdF is wrong if you have ambitions in Tokyo, but the reasons you cite are rather flimsy at best.

  7. As for the 2020 WT teams, after what i read on Le Monde from Thierry Vittu, i’m becoming nervous.
    If i know my chickens (as we say in Italy) UCI will read the rules in a way that will allow who they want to get the licence.

    • If the UCI awards additional licences over those allowed by the regulations, the race owners will surely consider seeking an injunction to force the UCI to apply its regulations properly.

      Or they will offer to abandon the legal action in return for some significant concession in their favour, which may be something related to team selections (e.g. allowing an additional team in each race to preserve the number of wildcards) or something else not related to it.

      • I’m a bit pessimistic but, i mean, everybody will be fine, except me, with a WT of 19 teams, even if Cofidis drops to 19th and NTT 21st: they are not competing with other teams for these licences and race owners already accepted the reduction of wild cards due to ProTeams obligatory invitation. The only difference would be one wild card more or less (3 or 4) for one day races depending on Cofidis (NTT makes no difference at all because of art.2.15.193). I hope they won’t read the rules in the way Vittu was suggesting but, we’ll see…
        In case the ranking will be strictly applied, i wouldn’t be in Guillaume Martin shoes: scoring high at Guanxi will condemn Cofidis (and himself) to ride next year in ProSeries instead of WT.

  8. Thanks for this news wrap, I had completely missed the MPCC development in particular.

    It says a lot, I feel, that the most interesting anti-doping innovations come from a group of pro teams, rather than from the UCI.

  9. I’ve seen that lead image before as it was from the Tour of Yorkshire. Amazing shot. I manged to track down the photographer but they couldn’t/ wouldn’t do a one off print. I remember some Inrng posts did this for some Getty images (?) but does anyone know where I could get this one?

  10. So, it looks like the final team ranking says both Cofidis and NTT will race in 2020 World Tour, the french guys made it by a very little margin.
    TDE will be invited to every WT race, Wanty to every WT one day race.
    Two wild cards available for grand tours, 5 for other stage races and 4 for one day races.
    We’re into next season, finally.

    • It feels like TDE might have ended up with a better position than any of the World Tour teams…they’ve got invites to every WT race including the 3 grand tours, but presumably aren’t obliged to race everything so can turn down the invites?
      On top of that, there’s fewer criteria for them to fulfill (bank guarantees, license fees, roster size etc)?

      So all of the upside but none of the burden?

      • You’re right, and i also wonder what will be the timing for teams to accept or decline invites.
        Should they declare at the start of the season wich races are they going to or will they do it during the year? Wild cards are usually announced months before the races: january for Giro and all spring classics, march for Tour, may for Vuelta). Maybe there will be different terms for GT, stage races and classics?

        • The general regulatory deadline for a team to accept an invitation to a race is 50 days before the race.

          There’s a specific rule which only applies to WT teams entering the races added to the WT calendar in 2017 or later, where WT team participation is optional. The race owners must formally issue the invitations no later than December 10, and the teams must respond within 60 days of the invitation.

          Practically, I would expect that shared interests regarding promotion and logistics would dictate that there would be a healthy level of cooperation between the teams and races. We should see participation announced well in advance of the regulatory deadline.

          Given that their race starts in only 87 days and they run a very tight ship when it comes to logistics (they have no choice, given they have one of the toughest logistical tasks on the WT calendar) I bet that the Tour Down Under organisation started sounding out the intentions of the various teams in the mix for automatic invitations some time ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if the three year absence of PCT/ProTeams from the TDU (last one was Drapac in 2014-16) is about to come to an end, given it is the first major race of the new season and there is a good haul of points to be had.

      • I tend to agree but they still have to post bank guarantees, pay fees but with a smaller roster comes a smaller wage bill normally and so a smaller guarantee. They get a lot of the benefits of the World Tour but without the costs although they’ll still struggle to sign big riders because of the Catch-22 situation that a rider could join but there’s no guarantee of invitations next year.

        The next big challenge for them is to convince Total to stay as a sponsor and fund them, it seems they were shopping for Alaphilippe in the summer but once this fell through they’ve not waved much cash around, Julien Simon is their biggest signing. And they need to work hard to score more points again for this time next year with the difficult balance of being able to ride more races with more points versus opting sometimes for smaller races in order to bag points.

  11. Others “found errors in the rankings”? How can that happen? Seems like a pretty straightforward calculation to me. Doesn’t anybody at the UCI check their work? Lucky these folks don’t build bridges or airplanes!

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