Promotion and Relegation

In the absence of any big World Tour races and out of competition news like Egan Bernal’s crash and rehab, the promotion and relegation battle among teams has been a big story of the start of the season. Perhaps you haven’t been watching races with a spreadsheet to hand, but watching Cofidis win this and Intermarché-Wanty win that has been to think of all the points they’re racking up.

As a reminder, at the end of the year normally the best 18 teams based on the sum of the team ranking points from 2020, 2021 and 2022 will qualify for World Tour licences, as long as they’ve applied and meet all the admin and financial requirements.

Among the top-18 teams on these rankings today are Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic, while Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal currently face relegation. Here’s the ranking of teams from last Sunday, the red line marks the drop zone.

The data for the chart is public as in you can find the 2020 and 2021 standings but there’s no official ranking, you need a spreadsheet to tot up the points for yourself and then drop in the 2022 standings each week.

With Jan Hirt winning the Tour of Oman that finished on Monday that’s an extra 125 points for Intermarché; Arkéa-Samsic placed two riders in the top-10 their so they harvest more points (you can see all the points per race in this blog’s UCI Points and Rankings Tables Explainer). Tim Wellens was second in the Clasica Jaen Paraiso Interior one day race, more points while Arkéa-Samsic and other Lotto-Soudal riders also scored big.

So far this season there’s actually no change. Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic are still both in the top-18, Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal are still out. But there’s a charge by Arkéa-Samsic and Intermarché who have been rising up the ranks, and others are beginning to slide. Bike Exchange are and Israel face nervous times if Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal keep scoring. But these two need to score 1,000 points to overtake Bike Exchange and Israel. Bike Exchange are interesting because they don’t race that often, they tend to do the World Tour races and fewer events outside the big series and while this means they show up fresher than a VB in a stubbie holder out of an esky for the World Tour, but it’s costing them points because they’re not fishing in smaller ponds.

Now it’s mid-February and the season goes onto October so, obviously, there’s a long way to go. But it’s still worth noting a couple of things. First we’ll have the World Tour races start and our lesser teams will find it a lot harder to score, although Caleb Ewan will surely be fine here. So the teams in this battle have been making hay while the sun shines in races where by definition not all the World Tour teams can start and where a chunk of the field is made up of pro-am UCI Conti teams. And there are a surprising amount of races early in the year, this Sunday there are four overlapping stage races in the Tour des Alpes Maritimes, the Tour du Rwanda, the Volta ao Algarve and the Ruta del Sol… plus the World Tour UAE Tour and the overall classification in these races offers a lot of points. Sensibly few teams will try to take on UAE and Pogačar in the UAE Tour but they can score big by winning elsewhere this weekend.

Also a strong start to the season doesn’t mean the rest of the season is a runaway success either. I’ve looked at wins (not points) in the past and there was only a mild correlation between a good or bad start to the season between January-March and winning in the rest of the season from April to October in the more recent years. So you can come out of the traps flying into 2022… but turn stale by Easter. If you want to nerd out on the stats and rho rates, see Does Early Season Success Bring More Success from 2017.

There’s a lot at stake. Arkéa-Samsic have turned down a place in the Giro d’Italia because as a French team they’re all in for the Tour de France and their B-team of riders are better deployed on the French calendar in May to score in races like the Four Days of Dunkerque rather than try and, probably struggle to win any UCI points in the Giro. Lotto-Soudal is an institution of a team with a lineage that goes back to the 1980s but they risk becoming Lotto as we know Soudal is going to Quick-Step for 2023 and any interested inbound sponsors will be nervous about sponsoring a team that, as things stand, is not going to be in the World Tour for 2023. Which is probably why Caleb Ewan’s been lined up to race Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (200 points) rather than stages of the UAE Tour (40 points).

One question is will Alpecin-Fenix will move up? They’ve done very well under the current system but having a UCI Pro Team licence but exploiting the rules to win qualification to all the biggest races. It’s like buying a second class ticket but being upgraded to first class every time they travel. But there’s not that much of a difference in price actually, the UCI licence fee difference is small and if they ride one grand tour a year they have to pay the World Tour race of anti-doping so the cash saving on the admin side is about €50,000, nice but tiny. The real cost is having the roster of riders, support staff and logistics to ride the all the World Tour events all season. Still better to apply to be in the World Tour and get the assurances that go with it, what if the UCI rewrites the qualification rules? Or what if they don’t score enough points this year because they’ve had a bad start and are very dependent on Mathieu van der Poel which means they might not get automatic invites in the future. Getting that World Tour spot is cheap insurance against being left out.

Which brings us to the relegation point. Teams that do drop down can still hope to keep their heads above water. The rules that give Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic qualification to all the top races still apply next year, only it’s for the best scoring UCI ProTeams in cycling second tier… plus any World Tour teams that are relegated for 2023, their points from this year will be compared as well. Which means a World Tour team facing the drop can still get plenty of invites if it scores enough in 2022 (2022 only, no 2020, 2021 points in play) to beat all the other teams.

Teams can only try to hunt for easy points, they can game the races they ride but have to win, it’s hard to buy points. Mid-season transfers are possible but should a rider change teams, their points haul scored with their old team stays with the old team. So a team can only buy in a rider capable of scoring big, rather than a rider who has scored big but you wonder if any emergency transfers happen. All the while Covid is a big issue in the peloton with riders and whole teams dropping out of races because of positive tests and this feels unfair, you can accept a puncture or a crash stopping a team from scoring as a sporting risk but the viral aspect seems too random.

For all the success of Arkéa-Samsic, Intermarché, Cofidis and Lotto-Soudal, no change so far in the standings with the former on track for promotion, the second staying still and the latter two still in the relegation hole. But they’ve all scored so well that the tension’s rising and the likes of Bike Exchange and Israel will be nervous already as they been standing still.

53 thoughts on “Promotion and Relegation”

  1. At first, I thought that Arkea should have given a shot at the Giro with Quintana, who on such a course might get a GC top-10 and perhaps some extra in terms of stage placements or GPM final classification.
    Of course, the trade-off against showing up at your very best on TV at the TdF for sponsorship reasons was still a big question mark, yet I imagined that in terms of points the Giro would have been way better (at the Tour, Quintana would be able to collect much less, although the Tour awards more points).
    I had a look to the category awarded to those minor French races in May, and, wow! As inrng says, it’s pretty much a no brainer.
    They sure can make for the Giro absence in GP Morbihan, Tro-Bro-Léon, Dunkerque and Mayenne.
    However, that made me notice how crazily tilted towards France is the point system.
    Nice races and all, of course, and I’m totally favourable to supporting this way smaller races against more established ones, i.e., the Giro, but what stroke me as barely consistent is the comparison with the other races in the same category. GP Morbihan as valuable as Brabantse Pijl? Tro-Bro-Léon as valuable as Paris-Bruxelles?
    Same goes throughout all the calendar, GP Deinan vs. Milano-Torino, Drome Classic vs. Kuurne, Gp Fourmies or Giro dell’Emilia…
    Again, in stage races you can observe the same bias, comparing Dunkerque or Mayenne with the likes of Tour of the Alps or Vuelta a Burgos.
    If you have any doubt about the difference in proportions, just check the list of previous winners.
    The UCI apparently acted under a very strong nationalist perspective, whose consequence are strengthening an already strong part of the movement (French teams, which have long been taking advantage of the TdF, already), while at the same time weakening the position of those other historical organisers in Italy, Spain or Belgium, as well as of their respective movements (notably, teams).
    It’s funny that with all the debate about China or Australia and os on, very little – or nothing at all – has ever been said about this situation which is just as absurd in terms of the relation between point and race value (or even more, given that at least in non-European countries you can have the motive of expanding cycling or supporting growing realities elsewhere, whereas France is struggling even less than other cycling hotbeds).

    • This is a fascinating insight, and I’ll be interested to read the thoughts of others regarding the origins of the discrepancy (I’m taking for granted that your analysis is correct – at first blush it does seem to be).

    • Agree Quintana could have mopped up points at the Giro, although his director was quoted on The Cycling Podcast this week, saying NQ still thinks he can win the Tour. Didn’t seem like his director was convinced, but he didn’t want to be the one to break the news to NQ, so he gets to chase his dream again.

      • He could score points at the Giro but I suspect the team will be willing to give up some points in exchange for some kind of success in the Tour. It could be GC but also the mountains jersey (he was a contender until late when Pogačar swept in) or just a stage win via a long breakaway if he’s lost time. Plus while Samsic have some business in Italy, Arkéa don’t do much outside of France, they really want the coverage in France.

        • Are those French races part of the French Road Cycling Cup competition?
          I vaguely recall looking at the rosters of the French teams 3 or 4 seasons ago and around half their races were located in France itself.
          I suppose on the one hand you could say that the points that the races attract can help to sustain the cycling pyramid in France, but on the other hand there’s less of the ‘world tour’ aspect about it, plus their main sponsors are French.
          It does hint at an insularity or a kind of protectionism perhaps?
          I don’t know, I can’t fully trust any country that can butcher The King as badly as this, would be booed off in the Tenerife bars 🤣 –

    • I’ve tried to have a look at the calendar before and yes, France has a lot of race days:

      Interestingly for the points, the new “*.Pro” label for the UCI Pro Series, the old *.HC label, now means a race has to have live TV which might explain why some races are in and others are out but need to go over this and check.

      France is also pretty big in other measures though, the most World Tour teams (more if Arkéa join and Cofidis stay) and I think the most professionals in the peloton, although Italy is close here, haven’t seen the count of active pros for 2022.

      • My point isn’t just about the total race days or the teams a country’s got – both factors which do indeed mirror if that specific national movement might actually *need or not* a further political push by the *international* institution – my point is rather about… points (!) vs. race value under the current UCI classification.

        No much analysis is required (but it surely could be carried out in quantitative terms, of course, if one had time to spare) to see that the French races in the .Pro category are actually several sporting steps down when compared to races from other countries in that same category. And *all them* do have live TV, of course… otherwise, the races from different countries wouldn’t just be there!

        By the way, the TV element is a self-reinforcing one: if you raise a race’s UCI category and hence lure in better competitors and WT teams, it will become easier to talk TVs into live racing… and the other way around, of course.

        An example of the latter? Giro dell’Appennino, Coppa Agostoni, Giro della Toscana, Memorial Pantani are all *one category down* (.1) when compared to the above mentioned French .Pro races. They all used to have live TV, but now it’s becoming harder and harder: I even guess some of them already lost it (I don’t know because I wasn’t in Italy during the very last editions).

        A race like Memorial Pantani (not a climber race, curiously enough) has been won in the last 5 years or so – that is, I’m not speaking of “old traditions” – by the likes of Colbrelli, Lutsenko or Ulissi while, even more important, perhaps, on the podia you had the likes of Gaudu, Bernal, Guillaume Martin or Hayter. It’s actually a recent race (15 years or so) whose wings you’re actually clipping.
        And what about the Settimana Coppi & Bartali? .1, too. Quite absurd for a race whose last 5 editions saw on its podia the likes of Vingegaard, Almeida, Carapaz, Mollema, along with other excellent riders as Narváez, Lucas Hamilton, Bagioli, Calmejane, Diego Rosa… if you have a look at the French races which sit *above* it in terms of points.

        We’re speaking of minor races, of course, but I feel that *these* are the races (if anything!) which can be compared to the French ones which are now classified as .Pro as, say, the Boucles de Mayenne.
        I made examples from Italy because when speaking of minor races, those are the ones I know better, but you can see that neither GP Cerami or Binche-Chimay-Binche, Le Samyn in Belgium, Rund um Köln in Germany, Klasika Primavera, the Mallorca races, the Getxo circuit, the Vuelta a Asturias in Spain etc. etc. do get a .Pro classification, and although I don’t know if they now have live TV, I’m pretty sure that at least several of them used to have live coverage, sometimes in the past.

        The Vuelta a Asturias (2.1) is a stage race with a huge tradition which was won in the last 5 years by the likes of Quintana (2x), Carapaz (2x) and Hugh Carthy, while Dunkerque’s (2.Pro – which is one step above) last 5 editions were won by Teunissen, Claeys, Venturini, Coquard and Konovalovas.

        The Gp Morbihan (1.Pro) was won by Marit, Cosnefroy, Pasqualon, Vuillermoz and Dumoulin (Samuel), while, say, the Giro della Toscana (1.1 – one step down!) was won by Valgren, Gaviria, Visconti, Moscon or Guillaume Martin.

        These are not isolated cases, it’s systematic. Maybe the UCI should think about helping races which are *already strong races* from a sporting POV (how long for?) to get a live TV coverage, if they don’t presently get it for whatever reason, instead of pushing a higher classification than they’re worth for French races (which, surely, this way will probably get a better TV coverage, no doubt).
        And, of course, please note that such a lack of proportions between actual sporting value and UCI points is notable in the case of France vs. pretty much all the rest of traditional cycling hotbeds. A matter of pure chance, I suppose…

  2. I enjoyed this post, and especially the very clear graphics, and I hope you’ll do update posts throughout the season. Perhaps once at the end of the spring races, and another at the end of summer? It needn’t be too elaborate, mostly an update of the chart, since I think a lot of us are interested and as you say it isn’t easy to find and keep track of this info oneself.

  3. I’m not even sure what I think about the concept of the WT relegation system but it seems typical of cycling that such a system would be in place, of interest and importance, but not published as a league table by the UCI.

    (Presumably because sponsors don’t want to see their name at the bottom of a league table.)

    • I think that’s the reason, can imagine lots of people want to see the table updated in real time like a league table in football etc… but the teams really don’t like this and it’s an extra pressure on them and so the rankings are not shared… and left to bloggers and others to calculate.

      Sounds like ProCyclingStats is going to do a promotion/relegation page so people can see things updated more often but I’ll try to share the tables when things happen on here and/or Twitter.

  4. There’s one fairly major exception to your statement on mid-season transfers, and the points staying with the old team. When one team takes over another, as Wanty-Gobert did to CCC, then not only did they get their riders, but they also got their ranking points too. Without that IWG would be 700 points further back.

  5. Another thought is that if the points distributions are similar to previous years (which it won’t be, not least because of Covid), then the 18th placed team is likely to have a total of around 13,000.

  6. Thank you for your blog, Inrring.

    Interesting that the relegation is already affecting the race tactics, as I noted in one of the early season Spanish races that Arkea had all of its remaining riders in the group sprinting to top 10 places. Will be fascinating to see how this works out over the course of a long season.

  7. If the relegation thing ever happens (i recall it was supposed to happen once before but they just increased the number of teams). And a team folds because the sponsors walk away (a very real possibility) then it may also as collateral damage take out the female teams associated.

    Personally i don’t think cycling is the correct sport to have relegation. In soccer a relegated team will still exist but in cycling the teams don’t have a large established fan base and the income to survive. Especially in a sport were if your one top sprinter crashes you lose half your chances of winning. If a team is completely not competitive then you would remove the license for sporting reasons. But all the world tour teams have enough competitive riders to be there even if there win rate is low.

  8. Just curious how you can do a running tally when, according to the UCI regulations, only the top ten riders on each team count towards the ranking? Don’t you need to wait until the end of the season and see who the top ten riders on each team are? Or am I misunderstanding the system (not difficult to do as it is pretty convoluted and secretive).

    • The UCI publish a 2022 ranking updated each week that will include the top 10 riders in each team so it’s a matter of adding those numbers to the final 2020 and 2021 points. Isn’t this crazy? Why on earth don’t the UCI publish this? They want a season long narrative and this is the best they have but people are having to build spreadsheets to see what the situation is. Imagine football not producing league tables to see who is heading for promotion and relegation.

      • The seasons affected by Covid really throw a shadow over this though, if we’re comparing to football leagues then many domestic football calendars were declared null and void if they weren’t able to complete all / most of their fixtures.

      • I’ve only got this second hand but I think it’s not published because the teams don’t want to have it in the spotlight. As mentioned above, imagine you’re running Lotto-Soudal and hunting for a replacement sponsor for Soudal, seeing the team in the relegation zone every day in some league table in Het Nieuwsblad is going to give sponsors cold feet. And unlike football teams who get relegated, cycling teams are much more at risk of vanishing.

        That said, better to publish an official ranking, say, every month so you can control the story a bit rather than have every newspaper, website, blog and Twitter account pumping out their own versions complete with likely mistakes (you can add points but need to have all the commissaires reports in case riders were fined UCI points, eg Nizzolo lost 25 points in the Almeria sprint for scrapping with another rider in the approach)

          • Apologies for the lack of clarity.

            PCS also publish UCI rankings, as Gabriele says. From time to time they note on social media that the UCI’s own rankings don’t match PCS’s count of the UCI rankings. Presumably one of them has missed out a fine or other deduction. So the “official” ranking isn’t necessarily an accurate one.

        • Is the reason for not publishing these standings one of post hoc plausible deniability? – If the outcome at season’s end is not desirable, it’s a lot easier to set aside with a statement about ‘intent’ and ‘interpretation’.

          Also, and from Gabriele above, is there a Lappartient angle to the points tariffs for races in France? And was there a previous head of the UCI who protected the reputation of riders from his own country? Such things can be pre-ordained when a subject is yet to become important…

          • A bit conspiratorial? The rules are public and have been for years. As mentioned here, I think it’s more that it’s awkward for teams to be in a relegation battle, existing and potential sponsors won’t like this, so it’s not been public. It’s not new, other rankings have been used for the UCI’s sporting criteria before based off rankings that the teams get but are not public.

  9. At the end of last year I thought BikeExchange were in a hole but then they signed Groenewegen. He will win some stages and boost their morale. Groves is starting to look interesting as well so suddenly Matthews is no longer their only sprint card.
    It is crunch time for Yates in the stage races so he will either develop some consistency or he won’t.

    • It’s a nice case study because cycling is not as much an individual sport… and isn’t totally a team sport, either.
      The Australian team has been losing some valuable support for its leaders, especially in stage races, which means that it won’t be just about the ability to deliver of the household names. During the last couple of seasons, Adam Yates and Jack Haig went elsewhere to be leaders on their own right, but they also lost (or let go) the likes of Nieve, Zeits, Chaves…
      As for flatter terrains, Tuft, Bookwalter and Albasini retired, Impey went into virtual retirement on Israeli sunny beaches, Affini moved up to Jumbo Visma.
      Valuable young talent also came in with Sobrero or Colleoni, and Kangert is a good try to make for those experienced gregari who went away, but the general balance is clearly pointing at a more complicated situation for the leaders.
      Of course, they still count on home talent: Groves, as named above, or the definitive coming of age of Lucas Hamilton. It doesn’t look enough, when compared to the pipelines of European development teams.
      Sponsoring cycling is becoming more expensive even for sugar daddies.
      And the Orica project, at the end of the day, has been collecting consistently some thirty victories a year through nearly a decade – pretty much with the same group of riders for most of those seasons: in 2014 most of the core guys were already there. They need a true rebuilding or general shift, which isn’t ever an easy task, even when you’re ready to throw in the loads of money which BikeExchange now lacks.

  10. Would anybody be very surprised if some time later in the year there is an announcement saying that this scheme will not be implemented in its entirety for 2023 because of the effect of Covid on the qualifying seasons? This may apply more in terms of keeping any relegated teams in the WT if they kick up enough fuss, perhaps also if they have enough money and the right connections, rather than stopping any teams moving up.

    • I think the UCI may have addressed this by the recent rule change, which Inrng alludes to above: the relegated WT teams might get automatic invites to the next year’s WT races if they get more points in 2022 than the remaining ProTeams.

  11. I wonder if this will result in negative racing. Normally the aim is to win the stage or the race but this has created conditions beyond the race which mean that it may now not just be advantageous to win but also to stop particular teams winning. If you are threatened with relegation and have no chance of winning yourself then you would prefer a team that are not a threat to you to win instead of one that are.

    • I think it’ll be hard to create this kind of situation, and regularly enough for it to make a difference. But we could see riders in stage races cruising to defend their GC positions to safeguard points rather than launching risky moves to reverse the situation and win the stage…

      …that said look at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes-Var over the weekend where Quintana, Wellens and Martin – all riding for teams that want points – were making big moves and it was great to watch.

      • At one point yesterday I tried to work out what result would benefit Cofidis the most from a points perspective and whether that would explain why Martin wasn’t giving Wellens a turn. I quickly realised it was a waste of time and just carried on enjoying watching the race. Early season Quintana is something to behold.

        One example I was thinking of was whether they will try and control who gets into a break. I wouldn’t imagine it will be a factor at this stage in the season, more later on if things are still close.

      • Agreed about Tour des Alpes Maritimes-Var, and that at least so far (acknowledging that it’s very early season) the teams that need points really seem to be going for it. Also, it’s already a part of the sport that teams sometimes make strategic alliances that don’t directly lead to more exciting and aggressive riding.

      • Great race, indeed… and an exception in another sense, too: it’s a race which, inheriting the old “Haut Var” legacy, could well be classified as 2.Pro instead of 2.1 – as it is now, although it’s French! And it was live on TV.

        Quintana solved the equation winning both it and Provence (2.Pro) and in great fashion, too.

        I guess that now it’s quite much easier for everybody to see the correlation between racing for Movistar (thus progressively limiting his originally very aggressive racing style, with few exceptions, especially from 2016 on), and that sort of negative or “prudent” racing so often associated with Quintana by journos and twitter content-creators.

    • I can’t remember exactly the circumstances, but I think that something along those lines actually happened sometime in the Coppa Italia series, when winning it awarded a Giro wildcard.

    • The UCI website, road section, rankings and then team rankings.

      For the 2020 season, take CCC’s points and add use them for Wanty’s score rather than Wanty’s score because the team bought the CCC licence that year and with it, their points.

      I’d thought about updating a spreadsheet with results but it’s not so simple, you can’t just say “X rider won Y race and so earns N points”, you also need to know if any riders lost points from UCI fines, eg Nizzolo in Almeria lost 25 points. So it’s easier to wait for the UCI to compile the rankings every Monday night/Tuesday morning.

  12. Again re: BikeExchange. Apparently, they’re suffering on a different scale from the same problem which Total Energies and the likes are facing. They once were the first choice for the riders from a specific geographical context which has tended to “produce” abundant talent, be it thanks to traditional grassroots or because of a steady and solid growth for the last two decades. Nevertheless, now richer teams started to harvest there, too, and the likes of Storer or even more so Plapp barely spent a short time in the team, if any at all. Surely, Ganna would have preferred not to have Plapp in his team today, given that the young Aussie showed eloquently enough both his physical qualities and his (understandable) lack of tactical vision. However, jokes apart (I don’t think that Ganna will spend many waking nights thinking about the jersey he won’t sport for a further day at UAE Tour…), Plapp is a pure talent which just by-passed the “natural” option to gradually grow as a rider which Orica might have represented a few years ago.

  13. But the riders have another choice, go to BikeExchange, Total Energies… and have some chance of a protected place for GTs, or go to Ineos and wait in the queue behind Bernal, Carapaz, Martinez, Sivakov… The same applies at Jumbo-Visma and others. Simon Yates would be lucky to have protection at the Giro with both but he’ll get it at BikeExchange.

    • Of course, but apparently many see things differently… and at the end of the day, S. Yates might find himself without enough support all the same. I’ll be rooting for him rather than most riders from the juggernaut teams, but I’m afraid that it won’t be such a decisive impulse at all ^__^

      • That’s right gabriele, and Guillaume Martin is an even more stark case. Protected at Cofidis but would he even get on the roster at Jumbo-Visma, Ineos..?

        I’ll be rooting for the underdogs too.

Comments are closed.