The fight to avoid WorldTour relegation has sparked tension between teams and national federations targeting the UCI Road World Championships, with former world champion Alejandro Valverde blocked from travelling to Australia because Movistar needing him to compete for ranking points in the final races of the season.
Valverde won the world title in Innsbruck in 2018 and has a haul of other medals but is now unlikely to race in the Spanish national team before he ends his long career.
Other teams have opted for similar strategies, with no Lotto Soudal riders selected for the Belgian team and Cofidis keen to retain their riders in the fight for every ranking point.
At the other end of the WorldTour rankings, Ineos Grenadiers are locked in a battle with Jumbo-Visma and so are reportedly trying to stop Carlos Rodriguez being selected for the time trial and road race so he can help in the fight for points. According to reports in Italy, UAE Team Emirates are keen for Diego Ulissi to focus on the end of season races rather than be selected for the Italian national team.
The fight for control of rider’s race programmes has highlighted the conflict between the professional teams who pay the rider’s salaries, the goals of the national teams and the UCI who organise the World Championships and who created the rules that have sparked the intense relegation battle.
Ironically, the UCI Road World Championships offer significant points that count in the battle to avoid relegation from the WorldTour but most of the teams locked in the fight for the 2023 WorldTour want their riders to avoid the long trip to Australia so they can be at their best for the numerous end of season one-day races.
20 teams are fighting for the 18 WorldTour licences. Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto Soudal currently occupy the bottom two places and would, as it stands, be relegated from the sport’s top-tier. Above the bottom two sit Movistar, BikeExchange-Jayco, EF Education-EasyPost, all separated by just 105 points. Every point scored between now and the end of the 2022 season on October 18 could be vital.
Spanish national coach Pascual Momparler has confirmed to AS that the Spanish Federation considered not sending a men’s team to Australia due to teams refusing to release their best riders for a near three-week absence due to the travel, jet-lag and recovery time needed for this year’s World Championships.
“They pay me to put together the best team, with the riders they deem appropriate, but this time it won’t be possible,” Momparler told AS during a visit to the Vuelta to try to convince riders and their teams to compete in Australia.
“We had a meeting on Friday to decide whether we would go to the World Championships or not and we finally decided that we will. Juan Ayuso and Marc Soler will be the leaders and we will try to form a team around them.”
The likes of Pello Bilbao, Luis León Sanchez and Mikel Landa have all raced significantly this season and so are keen to avoid the long haul to Australia.
Valverde is apparently ready to travel down under after finishing the Vuelta a Espana next Sunday but his Movistar are refusing to give him permission.
“It’d be nice if Valverde could take part in the World Championships alongside young riders like Ayuso and Rodriguez so they can learn from him. He would love to come, he has said so but he does not have permission. The team is immersed in the fight for points. It’s the same with Alex Aranburu,” Momparler explained.
Many teams are refusing to release their riders and this could be a catastrophe for many teams. Including ours,” Momparler told Marca.
“The UCI has put everyone between a rock and a hard place. It’s going to be an unusual World Championships.”
The men’s time trial will take place on September 18, the road race on Sunday September 25. National teams have to select their squads before September 13.