Relegation watch: White says 'system needs an overhaul' as BikeExchange miss out in Baltimore

Matt White with his BikeExchange-Jayco team
Matt White with his BikeExchange-Jayco team (Image credit: Getty)

The past week of racing did not affect the rankings towards the 2023 UCI WorldTour, with the top teams fully focused on the Vuelta a España and not taking part in the only two races that had final scores tallied – Tour du Doubs and the Maryland Cycling Classic. But what has become increasingly clear is the stress and confusion over the new promotion/relegation system has teams on edge.

BikeExchange-Jayco director Matt White watched as his team's high hopes for Maryland went up in smoke when the breakaway went clear far outside the circuits in Baltimore, neither Dylan Groenewegen nor Michael Matthews made the move.

The UCI only counts the points of the top 10 scorers from each team per season towards the 2020-2022 rankings that will decide which 18 squads remain in the WorldTour next year, and only one of the team's top scorers made the breakaway.

Although Alexandre Balmer finished ninth, his 40 points didn't count towards the team's total. Nick Schultz's 30 points for 11th did, as did Groenewegen's and Matthews' 5 points for minor placings, which helped the team slightly in their quest to keep both Movistar and Lotto Soudal from overtaking them.

BikeExchange-Jayco, still 17th in the three-year rankings, have 108 points over Movistar and 363 on Lotto Soudal, but they lost Vuelta a España contender Simon Yates due to COVID-19 and his potential haul of points evaporated with that lateral flow test.

The top rider on GC is Lawson Craddock, 92 minutes behind and unlikely to score more than a handful of points in Spain, while Movistar are likely to surge ahead if Enric Mas holds his podium position. While Lotto Soudal don't have a GC contender in the Vuelta, they've put all their best riders into the hunt for points in the late-season one-day races.

White told Cyclingnews in no uncertain terms that he disagrees with the UCI points system.

"I don't agree with the system in general," White told Cyclingnews before the Maryland Cycling Classic. "If there are 20 teams with the budget to join the WorldTour, why are we removing teams? If you look at the last 10 years, we've struggled to keep enough teams in the WorldTour, and for the first time that I can ever remember we've got 20 teams who have the budget to be a viable addition to the WorldTour. So why are we keeping teams out?"

The team are looking for Matthews or Groenewegen to score in the upcoming WorldTour one-day races in Québec and Montréal, but unlike a Grand Tour where riders can make up for a bad day or a crash, one-day races are both heavily weighted in the UCI points system and subject to more misfortune. White thinks the points scheme is unfair considering the amount of work that goes into a Grand Tour compared with a one-day race.

"Finishing sixth on the hardest stage of the Tour de France gets you zero points. And here [Maryland] they're paying the top 30. So yeah, the system needs an overhaul. It's very heavily weighted on the one-day races," White said.

"When you look at the amount of work that goes into a Grand Tour, and finishing top 10 in a Grand Tour is not very not many points. I don't know off the top of my head what 200 points would be in the Grand Tour - probably seventh or eighth place. How do you equate three weeks of work versus four and a half hours, five hours?  It definitely needs an overhaul, but it is what it is for this year. And we'll see what happens moving forward."

Another knock-on effect of the points scheme is that some riders aren't being allowed to travel to Australia for the UCI Road World Championships because they need to remain in Europe to chase points. One of them is Alejandro Valverde, and there were rumours that Spain wouldn't send a men's elite team at all. More recent reports say they will send a reduced squad.

White called the concept of one of the top cycling countries in the world not sending a full team "ludicrous," adding, "there's plenty of good Spanish talent who could be pretty good on that course."

Israel-Premier Tech make gains but still face relegation, EF Education-EasyPost make gains

The podium at Mayland Cycling Classic, Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech) in first, Nickolas Zukowsky (Human Powered Health) second and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) third

The podium at Mayland Cycling Classic, Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech) in first, Nickolas Zukowsky (Human Powered Health)  second and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) third (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)

Sep Vanmarcke's victory in Baltimore ended a three-year drought for the Belgian, but it also put the 34-year-old back in the points-scoring mix. Before the race, he had only 83 points. Now, his total is 283 and he's now seventh-best rider on his team.

It means he now will have more freedom to go for results rather than work for the high-scoring riders. The team is also in the lead at Tour of Britain with Corbin Strong, and they still have Dylan Teuns in a good position. The mid-season acquisition of Teuns could well pay off in Britain, and Vanmarcke's momentum brings him into Québec and Montréal where a podium is more than double the points available at the ProSeries races.

Israel-Premier Tech's gap to Lotto Soudal is still  586 points, however, and the gap yawns to 841 to Movistar. It's still looking unlikely they'll avoid relegation, and they're still 679 points behind TotalEnergies for the top 2022 ProTeam consolation prize of an automatic Tour de France invitation.

Even so, Vanmarcke pledged his loyalty to the team and expects Israel-Premier Tech to continue in 2023 and still "have a nice programme".

Lotto Soudal had a relatively quiet week, tallying only 33 points for minor placings at Tour du Doubs but have - until the Vuelta results are factored in at the conclusion of the race - closed in slightly on Movistar with 255 points to go to overtake them and move into 18th.

Further up the rankings, the pink-clad outfit of EF Education-EasyPost remain in 16th but what was a double-digit lead over BikeExchange is now a healthier 214 point advantage. Neilson Powless' third place earned 125 points, while Magnus Cort's sixth place gained 70. With 85 points for fifth in Maryland added to 68 for a top-10 in the Bretagne Classic, trainee Andrea Piccolo moved into 10th in the team's 2022 rankings, so he further bumped the tally upward. Piccolo has signed on to remain with the US team for two seasons.

There were other teams making strides this week, with Groupama-FDJ winning Tour du Doubs with Valentin Madouas and Trek-Segafredo tacking on 100 points thanks to Toms Skujins' fourth in Baltimore, while TotalEnergies' Mathieu Burgaudeau's second in Doubs launched him into his team's top 10. He earned 85 points but the team gained only 82 points as he nudged Cristian Rodriguez out of the top 10. But every point helps towards becoming the top ProTeam of 2022.

Arkéa-Samsic made up some of Nairo Quintana's potential points losses with Matis Louvel scoring 70 points in third, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert continued to pile on points with Biniam Girmay, and Cofidis gained 55 between Benjamin Thomas and Guillaume Martin's finishes in Doubs.

The margins are still tight in the race to avoid relegation and few teams are truly safe with a slew of valuable one-day races, the final Vuelta a España GC and Worlds all worth plenty of points.

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