As the prospect of relegation from the WorldTour looms increasingly large for a number of teams, Israel-Premier Tech insist they are not panicking, but are tweaking their approach in order to maximise their point-scoring in the months ahead.
Having joined the WorldTour in 2020 and after an early-season in 2021 ravaged by illness, Israel-Premier Tech have tumbled down the UCI rankings and now find themselves bottom of the virtual three-year table that will decide top-tier status from 2023.
With second-division teams Alpecin-Fenix and Arkea-Samsic strongly ensconced among the 18 top-scoring teams and thus set for promotion, it appears that two WorldTour teams will be relegated, and Israel-Premier Tech are currently in the drop zone along with Lotto Soudal, although several teams remain in danger.
"There is no panic," Israel-Premier Tech’s general manager Kjell Carlström told Cyclingnews.
"We are making decisions based on our team strategy and tactics. It’s about our strategy and making sure everything goes well. Hopefully everyone can stay healthy - that’s the most important thing."
Carlström believes that simply having riders fit and healthy will lead to a natural uptick in results. The situation became so severe in the spring that they were unable to even field a team for the Tour of Flanders, but now the majority of riders are said to have been able to work their way into fitness and form.
The recent one-two finish at the Classic Alpes-Maritimes, courtesy of Jakob Fuglsang and Michael Woods, was seen as a turning point, even if it didn’t lift them off the bottom of the rankings straight away.
"I think now we are back on track," Carlström said. "That shows more our normal level - we should be up there fighting with the best."
Despite this faith in a natural turnaround, the team are not leaving everything to chance. Carlström mentioned the word ‘strategy’ and a more calculated, points-oriented approach to racing has been deemed a necessity.
"Basically, we have more or less the same strategy as in the past but with maybe a bit more attention on trying to put our best resources we can get the best results,” he said.
"The thing we need to look at is whether we reallocate riders’ schedules depending on what has happened in these past three or four months. Normally, what we do is consult with the riders about what they’d like to do and balance that with the ambitions of the team, and in this case I think everyone understands it’s more important to put first the priorities of the team and not the personal priorities.
"Beforehand, we would be more lenient if a rider has a home race that doesn’t give a lot of prestige or points. We’d say ‘OK you can go and do that race’, and maybe we’d lose a better opportunity on our side. Now in this case, everyone understands the priority of the team is definitely the most important."
Those concerns extend not only to a small ‘home race’, but also to the biggest race in the world. Sep Vanmarcke recently revealed he will skip the Tour de France in order to ride a series of smaller one-day races in Belgium. The weighting of the UCI’s points system, exploited to good effect so far by the likes of Arkéa-Samsic, renders certain lower-level races potentially lucrative, with more points on offer for victory in a third-division one day race than a stage win in the Tour de France.
"It's really trying to collect points everywhere. That is why my program has been changed and the Tour has been canceled for more Belgian work, where I can score points myself or help a teammate in the final, such as preparing the sprint for Giacomo Nizzolo in the Heistse Pijl,” Vanmarcke told Het Nieuwsblad.
“That work is more useful than riding the Tour, where there might be one stage that suits me.”
Chris Froome is currently in action at the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Fuglsang and Woods will hope to continue their form into the Tour de Suisse and on into the Tour de France. The programme of their top scorer so far this season, Giacomo Nizzolo, who has yet to win a race in 2022, has yet to be defined. Meanwhile, plenty of smaller races in the background will be given due attention.
"We still have more or less half of the season left, so in that sense, everything is still wide open," Carlström concluded.
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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.