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Simon Yates slams UCI WorldTour relegation system ahead of Vuelta a España

Simon Yates before his disastrous Giro d'Italia 2022
Simon Yates before his disastrous Giro d'Italia 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images)

BikeExchange-Jayco leader Simon Yates has slammed the UCI team rankings system and the risks of relegation from the WorldTour that it has imposed on his squad.

As of August 9th, BikeExchange-Jayco were lying 15th overall, having moved away from the relegation zone. But with a Grand Tour and multiple teams at risk in the lower rungs of the WorldTour, the squad's situation is among those which remain precarious.

Yates is currently in the countdown for the Vuelta a España, a race he won in 2018 and where he will battle again for the overall classification.

But apart from being in fighting form for the Vuelta, Yates pulled no punches when asked about the UCI points system.

"For us, specifically, it's been terrible," Yates said.

"We've not had our [Australian] season" - a reference to the Santos Tour Down Under, which has been cancelled for several seasons because of COVID-19 though it will be back on the calendar next year - "for several years now."

"Going back to 2020 I had to pull out of the race with COVID and on paper, those are races where we could have swung a lot of points and we'd be nowhere near the bottom."

"I'm sure that there are other teams in the same situation, not scoring points here or there or whatever, and from that point of view I don't think it's necessarily been fair over these three years."

Yates said that in terms of his day-to-day racing program and how the ongoing relegation battle could affect him, "nothing has changed at all. For the team, we're racing the same way and always trying to win and race as best we can. I don't know how we can improve that. The last time I checked we were fine. We'll see how we get on at the end of the season."

Although he has come back with a string of minor wins in Spain this summer, Yates had a rollercoaster first half of this season and in the Giro d'Italia in particular. A hugely promising start including a time trial win was followed by a bad knee injury and some major time losses, a mini-comeback in the race's second half, an abandon and a spell of almost a month completely off the bike.

Yates could have ridden the Tour de France but said he would not have been in any state to go for a good result. Instead, he paced his recovery, and "then I went from there."

This brings him to the Vuelta. Yates has not taken part since he won, but he enthused that it "was great to be back. It's a race that suits me and I'm looking forward to it." He was equally upbeat about his chances, saying "I won it before, so I don't see why I can't do it again."

Any victory bid would start with a solid performance in the opening team time trial in Utrecht, and BikeExchange-Jayco have a long history of strong performances in team time trials, both in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.

However, there has been a fair amount of water under the bridge since the team's last one in a Grand Tour in the 2019 Vuelta, and Yates himself has not done a team time trial since the Tour de France stage 2 that same year.

"It's a hard one to judge, on paper we have a strong, fast team, so potentially we could do a really good time. But there have not been that many in the last couple of years," Yates pointed out. "I think we're pretty dialled in, we did a nice session here on a closed circuit away from the traffic, doing the turns and trying out different scenarios and all that jazz.

"We've also done good sessions in Girona and Andorra, it's been very productive."

Yates' main mission for the Dutch stages is to get through them in one piece and head into the more familiar terrain of northern Spain.

"I need to get out of Holland safely and from there on, it's a typical Vuelta with something hard every day. You never have time to rest.

"But I like getting stuck in, with lots of aggressive racing where you need to defend yourself one day. I enjoy that."

Unlike other Grand Tours, BikeExchange-Jayco have come to the Vuelta with a strong line-up for the sprints, too, with Kaden Groves the Australian squad's point man for the flat stages. But whereas a solid team of backup climbers is all but obligatory for a GC bid in the Giro, Yates pointed out that the format of the Vuelta's stages did not make that so necessary.

"A lot of the time the stage comes down to the final climb in the Vuelta," he pointed out. "And I've got Lucas Hamilton and Callum Scotson. For me, that should be enough." 

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