Battle for WorldTour ignited as low-ranked teams come out swinging

AL ULA SAUDI ARABIA FEBRUARY 05 Maxim Van Gils of Belgium and Team Lotto Soudal green leader jersey celebrates winning the race after the 2nd Saudi Tour 2022 Stage 5 a 1385km stage from AIUIa Old Town to AIUIa Old Town SaudiTour on February 05 2022 in AIUIa Old Town Saudi Arabia Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Soudal) (Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2022 season is one of reckoning when it comes to WorldTour status, and the teams set to scrap it out for a place in cycling’s top tier have all come out swinging from the first whistle. 

Lotto Soudal, Cofidis, Arkea-Samsic, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, Movistar, and BikeExchange-Jayco all have victories on the board already and all have started building the tallies of rankings points that will ultimately decide their fates.

The races of late January and early February will be a faint memory come the end of the year - and the bigger teams will soon grind into gear once the WorldTour calendar gets underway - but right now the early-season skirmishes are an important tone-setter in the fight for WorldTour survival. 

Licences for 2023 and beyond are set to be awarded based on ranking points upon conclusion of the current three-year cycle at the end of this year. With 18 WorldTour spots available and 21 teams expressing an interest, it will simply come down to who has accrued the most UCI World Ranking points over the past three seasons. 

Lotto Soudal and Cofidis began 2022 in the ‘relegation zone’, behind second-division outfits Alpecin-Fenix (who were way up in ninth and out of any trouble), and Arkea-Samsic, who were very much part of the battle in 18th. From 17th to 14th sat Intermarché, Israel-Premier Tech, Movistar, and BikeExchange-Jayco, all at risk of being dragged into the relegation mix. 

For those teams, there has simply been no luxury of easing into the season, and the stakes are evident from the way they’ve all burst out of the traps. Movistar, Arkea-Samsic, and Lotto Soudal currently sit 2-3-4 in the 2022 UCI team ranking, behind frontrunners UAE Team Emirates. 

Alejandro Valverde, 41, has been the driving force for the Spanish team, winning a round of the Challenge Mallorca and finishing second and sixth in others, before placing fifth overall at the Volta a Valenciana, where his teammate Enric Mas was fourth. It’s difficult to see Movistar having any real difficulties given Mas’ Grand Tour pedigree but if Valverde is back near his best in his final season then they’re automatically well clear of trouble. 

Arkea-Samsic, meanwhile, have made the perfect start in their push for WorldTour status, having already secured invites to all WorldTour races this year courtesy of a combination of their second-place in the second-division rankings in 2021, and the demise of Qhubeka-NextxHash. Like Movistar, they have only won one race so far, through Amaury Capiot at the GP La Marseillaise, but they’ve also had a number of top 10s, spreading more than 200 points across nine riders, including Warren Barguil and Elie Gesbert. 

Lotto Soudal, who went into the season as the lowest-ranked WorldTour team and nearly 1000 points off safety, made a strong start thanks to their talisman Caleb Ewan, who struck at the first time of asking on the opening day of the Saudi Tour. With an inexperienced squad, he was thought to be key to the Belgian team’s fortunes. However, others have already stepped up. 

21-year-old Maxim Van Gils won a stage and the overall of that Saudi Tour, while 19-year-old Arnaud De Lie beat some big-name sprinters to claim the Trofeo Palma at Challenge Mallorca. Tim Wellens added to the mix with a strong run in Mallorca, including the win at Trofeo Tramuntana, to help the team to a perfect start. 

Bora-Hansgrohe, sixth at the start of the year in the three-year cycle, sit fifth so far this campaign, shortly followed by Cofidis, the other WorldTour team who started in the relegation zone. New signings have already paid off for Cedric Vasseur’s outfit, with Benjamin Thomas claiming a huge stage win and overall title at the Etoile de Besseges, while Bryan Coquard also won a sprint at the same race. 

Big-hitters Ineos Grenadiers, QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, and Trek-Segafredo all follow in the season ranking, followed by Peter Sagan’s TotalEnergies, who started the year 21st in the three-year cycle but too far off to realistically aim for promotion. 

Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert got off to a flyer with Biniam Girmay’s win at the Trofeo Alcudia in Mallorca, with Kobe Goossens also collecting some valuable placings. Girmay, the 21-year-old Eritrean, could be a crucial figure if he continues his rise and has a breakthrough campaign.

BikeExchange-Jayco are next up in 12th place, having picked up a pair of stage wins at the Saudi Tour through new signing Dylan Groenewegen, plus a raft of more valuable top-10s through Michael Matthews at Challenge Mallorca. 

Of all the team’s in the initial relegation mix, Israel-Premier Tech have made the slowest start, currently 15th, with no wins on the board but some points through Giacomo Nizzolo and Jakob Fuglsang. 

At this point, it’s still very early days, and it seems foolish to read too much into the points won and lost. And yet, come the end of the season, literally every point could count. 

The battle will only intensify from here. The Tour of Oman, Tour de la Provence, Volta ao Algarve, and Ruta del Sol are all on the horizon, with the UAE signalling the start of the lucrative WorldTour campaign later in the month. 

There are bigger battles on the horizon, but the tone of this war has been set and the teams involved have all come out fighting. 

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Patrick Fletcher

Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.