The Road Cycling Worlds parasitized by the fight against relegation

Belgian rider Sep Vanmarcke, from the Israel-Premier Tech team, on the left, at the finish line of the first edition of the Maryland Cycling Classic, in Baltimore (United States), on September 4.  The Israeli team is directly affected by relegation.

Pascual Momparler had a few headaches assembling his team for the World Road Cycling Championships, held in Wollongong, on the west coast of Australia, from September 18-25. Not that the Spanish coach didn't have any idea of ​​the eight men he wanted to send to New South Wales. But he had to deal with a fact that has been agitating the peloton for several weeks and which until then had been foreign to the discipline: the specter of relegation, as is the case for football, rugby and basketball clubs...

Impossible, thus, for the Valencian, to count on the veteran Alejandro Valverde, winner of the rainbow jersey in 2018 and mounted on six other occasions on a world podium. The Movistar, its brand formation, has made its maintenance in the World Tour, the first division of road cycling, its only priority for the coming weeks. Even if it means depriving its riders of one of the most anticipated deadlines of the season and drying up the pool of the Iberian national team.

The sense of urgency that seems to have invaded part of the peloton faced with the prospect of a possible descent into the second division would almost make you forget that the case is not new. It was in 2018 that the International Cycling Union (UCI) adopted a reform of the professional circuit. One of his goals? Better take into account the sporting merit of the teams, in a system hitherto closed and relatively opaque.

Read also: Julian Alaphilippe retained in the French team for the Road Cycling Worlds

Since 1er January 2020, the eighteen World Tour licenses are awarded for a period of three years and a general ranking bringing together all levels of the discipline has been established: the latter is established thanks to the accumulation of points collected over three years by the ten best riders of each formation on professional races, from the most prestigious to the most modest.

This first streak of the new classification system ends at the end of the current season. The count will be stopped on the evening of October 18 and, during the month of November, the names of the eighteen teams that will make up the world top until 2025 will be revealed.

In the current state, the Israeli teams Israel-Premier Tech and Belgian Lotto-Soudal would give up their place in the elite to the Belgian teams Alpecin-Deceuninck and French Arkéa-Samsic, two second division formations (Pro Teams). But Movistar, the Australian BikeExchange, the American EF Education-EasyPost and the French Cofidis are not yet completely out of the woods.

"In his place, I would have done the same, to be honest"

“A lot of teams err on the side of confidence. They only realized towards the spring of this season that the matter would be more complicated than expected, because the points system does not only depend on them, but also on the performance of others.underlines the Spanish journalist Raul Banqueri, who follows, for the specialized site red lanternthis "fight against relegation".

Like Pascual Momparler, Thomas Voeckler had to juggle this element when composing his group for the World Cup. “To be honest, I would have liked to have Bryan Coquard, but I called Cyril Vasseur [le manageur général de Cofidis] and he told me it was complicated because he needed him to score pointssays the coach of the France team. I replied that I understood because in his place I would have done the same. Everyone has their shop to run and there are jobs behind it. Everyone defends their interests, it must be respected. »

"In cycling, it's not promotion/relegation, it's promotion/death", Jonathan Vaughters, general manager of EF Education-EasyPost

Evolving in the World Tour guarantees access to the biggest dates on the circuit, such as the Grand Tours or the Monuments, the most popular one-day events. A major challenge for teams whose economic model is based on sponsorship and advertising investments. "In cycling, it's not promotion/relegation, it's promotion/death", argued EF Education-EasyPost General Manager Jonathan Vaughterson the American channel NBC, during the Tour of Spain, at the beginning of September.

Beyond staying in the elite there is also the question of “wild cards”, these invitations to the most prestigious events granted to second division teams. In its 2018 reform, the UCI provides for two of them to be automatically allocated to the best Pro Teams based on the performance of the previous year. Currently outstripped on this aspect by the other relegation player Lotto-Soudal and by TotalEnergies (which evolves in 2e division), Israel-Premier Tech would not be guaranteed to benefit from the jokers remaining at the discretion of the organizers.

Concentrate on the “alternative calendar”

Despite the threat of downgrading, some teams still agreed to send their flagship riders to Australia. This is the case, for example, of Magnus Cort and Alberto Bettiol for EF Education-EasyPost, or Michael Matthews and Matteo Sobrero for BikeExchange. It must be said that the road race of the World Championships is one of the biggest providers of the famous points – 600 for the winner, the time trial granting 350, in the event of victory.

But, for many, the chances are too slim and the competition too tough, with Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and other Mathieu van der Poel sharpened for the occasion. The 2022 edition taking place on the other side of the world, the brand teams would also be deprived, for at least a week, of their best elements, not to mention the effects of travel and jet lag on the organizations... The calculation is quickly done.

Read also: Women's Tour de France: American road cycling in search of a new lease of life

A fortiori when you know that second or even third level races sometimes reward more than a place of honor in a renowned event. The Tour de France, for example, is worth 1,000 points to the winner of the general classification, but raising your arms on one of the 21 stages is only worth 120 points, and a sixth place… nothing. On the other hand, a success on the Polynormande, one-day race of the Coupe de France, allows to pocket 125 points, and a sixth place, another 40 points. This Sunday, August 14, six World Tour teams took the start. They were only three in 2021, only two in 2019.

For Raul Banqueri, the observation is clear: the system is made in such a way that it is wiser to concentrate one's forces on the "alternate calendar"understand the events at the lower levels, which will still be numerous by the end of the season in Europe and on the lower level.

The option was chosen by Lotto-Soudal, including Belgian sprinter Arnaud De Lie and his compatriot Victor Campenaerts have a busy schedule until the end of the season. On September 25, instead of the Worlds road race, the two men will be on the classic Paris-Chauny.

Despite criticism from many professional cycling players and their calls for the abolition of a system deemed absurd, the UCI brushed aside any questioning of these rules, insisting that they had been ratified " unanimously " by the Professional Cycling Council, in which the associations of riders, teams and organizers are represented.

It can be argued that said reform will have had at least the virtue of highlighting second-tier races, many of which had been hard hit by the health crisis. As proof: six formations of the World Tour will be represented at the Tour of Langkawi (Malaysia), from October 11 to 18. In 2020, only the South African NTT Pro Cycling made the trip.

Source link