Points earned in pro cycling races have never been more important for the top teams. In past years, points by country were used to create the little considered UCI rankings and to determine team size for World Championships and Olympic Games. They became a lot more valuable after the WorldTour reforms in 2018.
As part of these reforms, the UCI has set a firm limit of 18 teams in pro cycling’s top tier to 18 for the next WorldTour licence session of 2023-2025. To establish this limit, along with financial and ethical rules, the UCI have instituted a system whereby teams can be promoted or relegated from the WorldTour based on their sporting performance in the previous three seasons.
Although after the loss of Qhubeka-NextHash there were already only 18 in 2022, three or four second-tier ProTeams intend to bid for the WorldTour for next season – Arkéa-Samsic, TotalEnergies, Uno-X and possibly Alpecin-Fenix, making for an intense race to earn points.
Here Cycling News unravels the complex points structure that will determine which teams stay and which teams go.
Alpecin-Fenix, who boast Tour of Flanders winner Mathieu van der Poel among their ranks, and Arkéa-Samsic with Nairo Quintana, who is always in the stage race mix, were the top two ProTeams in 2020 and 2021 and remain so through April 26 in the latest unofficial rankings.
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At the other end of the spectrum are three teams who have had worryingly slow starts to the season. There has been much talk of QuickStep-AlphaVinyl’s dreadful Classics campaign, salvaged by Remco Evenepoel’s solo victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the Belgian outfit had ample wiggle room and remain in the top four of the rankings. Team DSM and Astana Qazaqstan also have some room to play with despite their small gains this year.
Lotto Soudal, Israel-Premier Tech and EF Education-EasyPost, however, are less secure.
On their current trajectory, Israel-Premier Tech will soon be eclipsed by Lotto Soudal, meaning the battle for stage wins between Caleb Ewan and Giacomo Nizzolo at the Giro d’Italia will have an added dimension. Expect EF Education-EasyPost to be on the attack for stages and praying that Hugh Carthy and/or Esteban Chaves can finish high up in the overall classification.
In the three-year rankings, Alpecin-Fenix are so far in seventh and Arkéa-Samsic in 13th and looking pretty solid. Van der Poel’s Tour of Flanders win signals more success this season after his off-season back injury, while Quintana’s strong performance in the Volta a Catalunya was a major factor for his team.
Of the WorldTeams, Intermarché-Wanty Gobert have made the most strides – they scored 500 points with Biniam Girmay’s victory in Gent-Wevelgem. They’ve increased their three-year points tally 48% since the start of the season – only Arkéa-Samsic have done better with a 52% increase – and they’re ranked eighth for the year so far.
WorldTour relegation would not be the end of the road for a team. As long as they continue to perform, teams can make it to the Tour de France and other major races thanks to the UCI rule that requires organisers to invite the two highest ranked ProTeams to all of the Grand Tours, and the top three to WorldTour one-day races. French ProTeams like TotalEnergies and B&B Hotel-KTM are also favoured with wild card invitations
However, riders’ contracts have an exit clause in the event of the team not maintaining a WorldTour licence. If teams cannot keep their top riders it is increasingly difficult for them to secure a WorldTour licence.
WorldTour status is important for sponsors but the guarantee of a Tour de France start is by far the most critical factor in securing funding.
Alpecin-Fenix have not yet confirmed if they are seeking WorldTour status next year: the step up comes with additional financial requirements and a more intense race schedule, which means a bigger budget is necessary to perform in order to avoid relegation.
Why did the UCI create the promotion/relegation system?
When the UCI created the WorldTour (then called the ProTour) in 2004, they hoped to create a system where the best teams and riders would be at the best races throughout the season.
However, the UCI came up against intense pressure from the most powerful player in professional cycling – Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation – who objected to being forced to invite teams based on their UCI licence and argued for a way for teams to be promoted or relegated based on sporting performance (among other demands).
The ProTour became the WorldTour in 2009 after the first major reform and has been a continual exercise in negotiation with various stakeholders. In the latest reforms, the ASO got their merit-based system for inclusion and a limit of 18 teams in the WorldTour and a firm number of two ‘wildcard’ teams they can invite. In return, the WorldTeams won a more stable three-year licence, and the ProTeams earned more opportunities to be promoted.
What is the WorldTour points system?
The system, implemented in 2018, tallies the points scored by individual riders, assigns them to their respective teams, and comes up with a total from which the rankings are derived.
Every three years, the previous three years’ rankings are added up and the top 18 teams – be they WorldTeam or ProTeam – are deemed to have satisfied the ‘sporting’ criteria for a WorldTour licence.
The scheme was actually supposed to start with the 2020 WorldTour but was delayed until 2023 due to the risk of a legal challenge. This may have arisen as teams raced in 2017 and 2018 before the rules were put into place, when they did not know how important points would be.
Which teams earn points
Before 2016, only WorldTour teams could earn points toward the WorldTour team rankings but, in preparation for the promotion/relegation system, the UCI instituted the “World Ranking” in 2017 which allows both ProTeams and WorldTeams to gain points in WorldTour races.
Any UCI-registered team can earn points toward the World Rankings but the most valuable races in terms of points come at the WorldTour level, and only WorldTeams and ProTeams are allowed to compete in them.
All WorldTeams automatically qualify to race all WorldTour races. UCI rules require WorldTour races to invite the top-ranked ProTeam of the previous season – the top two teams when there are 18 WorldTeams for the Grand Tours, and the top three ProTeams for one-day races.
How are World Ranking points tallied?
The World Ranking teams points system tallies the points scored by the best ten riders who are under contract with the team, and are published on Tuesday each week.
Riders earn points in races, with the points from the top 10 riders in a race added up to create the team rankings.
Every January, the teams reset to zero and earn points throughout the season. Then, every three years, the team points for the previous three seasons determine who will be in the WorldTour for the next three years.
Confusingly, the UCI also has individual, nation, one-day and stage-race rankings that are on a 52-week rolling basis but are not used for the promotion/relegation system directly.
What if a rider changes teams?
The points scored with a team stay with the team even if a rider leaves, and points earned before the rider joins – even if they raced without a team – do not transfer along with them to the new team.
For example, Lotto Soudal hired African Continental champion Reinardt Janse van Rensburg in May but his points for that victory will not count toward their 2022 season tally.
Where do teams earn points?
All of the UCI races count in different degrees for the World Rankings.
There are five tiers of races and, unsurprisingly, the Tour de France general classification is at the top, offering more points than any other race and in a tier all of its own, with the winner earning 1,000 points. Other points are rewarded on a sliding scale for placings.
The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España are next with 850 for the top step, while WorldTour stage races like Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico have the same points structure for the overall champions winners in the Monuments: Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia among others, with 500 points for the victors in tier 3.
Interestingly, also in tier 3 are the Tour Down Under (cancelled because of COVID in 2021 and 2022), newer Canadian WorldTour races in Québec and Montréal (cancelled in 2020 and 2021). These races, typically not a focus for the top teams, provided some opportunity for lower-ranked teams to gain big points. Races like Tour of Guangxi, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Brugge-De Panne and Strade Bianche in tier 4 offer only 300 points for the winner.
The UCI awards 600 points to the road world champion for elites, while a 200 point score for the U23 winner makes recruiting top young riders more attractive. All other races offer smaller points hauls, with 200 for ProSeries race winners, 125 for class .1 races and 100 and 250 points for national and continental champions respectively.
Due to the vagaries of the system though, the points on offer don’t always match up with the prestige of the respective races, with one-day races outweighing stage wins in longer races in terms of value. For example, there are zero points on offer for a rider finishing 6th on a Tour de France stage, whereas a rider will score 40 points for finishing 6th in a 1.1 one-day race.
This has led to teams such as Arkéa-Samsic sending quality teams to lower ranked races and coming away with a stack of points. Some might say they are playing the system, but the system is what the UCI have made it and arguably, it’s a wise strategy given the French team’s WorldTour ambitions.
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