Amid the chaos surrounding the potential Soudal-Quickstep/Jumbo-Visma merger and the latter team’s reported release of Primož Roglič, the bulk of the 2023 season’s results are in and the rest of the men’s peloton are likely already thinking about the next WorldTour relegation to come in 2026.
The UCI implemented a promotion/relegation rule for the 2020-2022 seasons that adds a sporting requirement to WorldTour license requirements where teams must be in the top 18 in the World Rankings at the end of each three-year cycle to earn a spot.
The first changes under the new rule at the end of last season were fraught with drama, with Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto Dstny losing their places in the top tier as Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkéa-Samsic were elevated into the WorldTour.
Teams were displeased with the points system that led to the relegations and complained the scheme weighted the one-day races and ProSeries events too heavily relative to the Grand Tours.
After the dust settled, the UCI rejigged the points structure, giving points deeper into the stage finishes of Grand Tours, and giving the Monuments – Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia – a tier of their own just below the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. The rest of the WorldTour races remained spread across three lower tiers with less points value.
They also expanded the number of riders from each team whose points contribute to their World Ranking tally from 10 to 20 riders.
(Teams with potential promotion in yellow, demotion in purple, and top ProTeams in green)
In the above graphic, the latest UCI World Ranking from September 26, 2023 shows the new scheme hasn’t made much of a dent in the top of the rankings, with UAE Team Emirates, Jumbo-Visma, Soudal-QuickStep and Ineos Grenadiers still in the top spots.
Astana Qazaqstan and Arkéa-Samsic are in danger of losing out come relegation time, with TotalEnergies and Uno-X still not in sight of the WorldTour. Lotto-Dstny and Israel-Premier Tech have made great strides in getting promoted back into the top tier.
There have been some surprising outcomes so far and signs that the smart teams have learned from their mistakes using the system to their advantage in the first year of the new relegation cycle. Other teams are struggling to repeat their strong outings in the previous three years.
There are a few distinct strategies that appear to be working.
Lift all boats
UAE Team Emirates are currently the top team even though Jumbo-Visma won all three Grand Tours this year.
They made the difference thanks in part to Pogačar’s springtime Classics storm – he raked in 800 points for winning the Tour of Flanders alone and 2400 points through his five top Classics placings – more points than he accumulated during the Tour de France.
While Jumbo-Visma won the Tour de France with Jonas Vingegaard and stacked the Vuelta podium with Sepp Kuss, Primož Roglič and Vingegaard and had one more rider in the 1000+ point club, UAE Team Emirates made the difference with 10 riders scoring between 600 and 900 points, where Jumbo-Visma had only one.
Additionally, all UAE Team Emirates 20 scoring riders have earned more than 300 points and the highest minimum score at 310 this year while Jumbo-Visma have eight riders with fewer than 300 and a minimum of 87 points.
Ineos Grenadiers were another team that had a tight cluster of top 20 scores. They are currently in fourth in the rankings but only have the 11th-best top scorer with Tom Pidcock. But, their average is the sixth best and their minimum score was second highest.
This strength in depth is what has put these teams on top and, while few teams can have a rider like Pogačar or Vingegaard in their midst, when it comes to staying in the WorldTour one strategy clearly works: giving all of your riders a chance to score.
The top 20 riders are graphed in a scatter plot. The box represents the middle 50% of the values while the line inside the box is the median, or middle, point value per team. The lines at either end of the box (whisker) represent the other 50%. Riders whose points are way outside the norm are past the whisker. Hover over each dot to see the rider’s name and point total.
Sacrifice for the winners
Lidl-Trek and Alpecin-Deceuninck have the exact opposite points spread to UAE Team Emirates, both having a hole in the mid-range scorers and a handful of top performers.
With Mads Pedersen’s Classics-strong campaign and a slew of top Grand Tour stage finishes, he leads Lidl-Trek’s roster with Mattias Skjelmose next after his Tour de Suisse win and strong ride in the Tour de France. Giulio Ciccone, Toms Skujins and Jasper Stuyven round out their 1000+ club while Edward Theuns is the only rider in the middle. The rest of Trek’s team scored under 400 points.
The US team would do well to strengthen their Classics team and incoming rider Tim Declercq is a great support rider. If the Soudal-Visma merger goes through, they’ll definitely want to pad out their roster with a rider like Kasper Asgreen if they can get him or maybe Florian Senechal.
Alpecin-Deceuninck have an even more stark hole in the middle. Jasper Philipsen, Mathieu van der Poel, Søren Kragh Andersen and Kaden Groves earned in the thousands of points while the rest of the scorers are averaging around 200.
The Belgian team are not in danger of losing their license in eighth but will want to get riders like Quinten Hermans, Dries De Bondt and Stefano Oldani back to scoring more points as their new recruits are mainly neo-pros.
Throw the spaghetti at the wall
If you’re a WorldTour team and don’t have a big-name rider or two, the best thing you can do is throw as many riders at the problem as you can and see what works – the proverbial ‘throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks’ approach.
It’s worked this year for Soudal-QuickStep, Bora-Hansgrohe, EF Education-EasyPost, and to a certain extentm Intermarché-Circus-Wanty.
While Soudal-QuickStep have Remco Evenepoel to keep them in the top of the rankings, they’ve relied upon a clot of riders to mop up results across the calendar from Ilan van Wilder, Mauro Schmid and Yves Lampaert in smaller stage races to Tim Merlier in the one-day races. They’ve been more solid than the spotlight around Evenepoel shows.
EF Education-EasyPost probably didn’t see Ben Healy’s 2,153-point haul in the tea leaves at the start of the year, after last season’s rather ordinary pro debut. But after a few good results at the start of the year, the Irishman had an amazing couple of days in the Classics at Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, earning him a spot on the Giro roster where he went bonkers in the breakaway and came away with a stage win.
Healy was definitely the noodle that stuck to the wall this year, as was Derek Gee with his breakthrough Giro d’Italia, and Corbin Strong with second at the GP Québec, who helped keep Israel-Premier Tech in the hunt for promotion along with Michael Woods.
Healy more than made up for Rigoberto Uran and Richard Carapaz’s unlucky Grand Tours, as did Neilson Powless who fits into the next category after a huge haul in the one-day races with only a single win (and a 2.1 stage race win at Etoile de Bessèges).
Just be up there, anywhere
Lotto-Dstny are sitting solidly in the top 10 of the UCI rankings as the top ProTeam and have done this largely without the Grand Tours. They have Arnaud De Lie to thank for a lot of this, as most of his 2,414-point haul has come from one-day races. The GP de Québec was a big part of it, but he’s got seven others in 1.1, 2.1 and ProSeries races (eight after Circuit Franco-Belge on September 28, not yet included in the weekly rankings).
Similarly, Florian Vermeersch has made most of his 1,342-point take in unassuming top-10 finishes. While Andreas Kron has had some fine results including a Vuelta a España stage win – most of his points are from finishes off the podium, as are Milan Menten’s (976), Maxim Van Gils’ (972), and Jasper De Buyst’s (849).
You don’t have to win to stay in the WorldTour – but if you can get up there and score points consistently, that’ll do the trick.
At the other end of all this are Astana Qazaqstan, who are languishing in 21st place. Their ranking is so dire the UCI’s system is broken for them and their rider’s points tally page is currently not functioning. Fortunately our friends at FirstCycling have the points totals (without subtractions for penalties) so we’ve used that data to estimate their performance.
The team relied heavily on Mark Cavendish who’s Tour de France came to an unfortunate premature end, along with Alexey Lutsenko, who hasn’t been as frequent contender for smaller GC races as he once was. Simone Velasco’s late-season one-day points hunt has been a big factor but the rest of the team haven’t been exactly racking up the results.
Astana’s 20th rider, Vadim Pronskiy, earned just 53 points this season. If any team needs an influx of talent, it’s this team. They’ve got Davide Ballerini coming in from Soudal-QuickStep, Ide Schelling from Bora-Hansgrohe, Max Kanter from Movistar and promising climber Henok Mulubrhan from Bardiani, which should help some.
Arkéa-Samsic, after gaming the previous points system by stacking the top 10s of minor races, haven’t had as much luck doing that in the current points structure. However, they’ve brought in Arnaud Démare in a mid-season move which would have given them a significant rankings boost.
Unfortunately, his points with Groupama-FDJ stay with that team and his tally this year wouldn’t have been enough to get them ahead of 18th place AG2R Citroën.
Similarly, Uno-X – despite having Alexander Kristoff on board – haven’t yet shown the depth of other teams, but are bringing in Magnus Cort from EF-EasyPost and Andreas Lekneussund from DSM.
TotalEnergies had Mathieu Burgaudeau their top scorer and languish in 22nd. With Peter Sagan’s exit, that should free up some resources to bring in recruits but so far no significant signings have been announced.
The race for the 2026 WorldTour has only just begun and the current standings should make for an interesting late transfer season if the mega-merger materialises.