By the end of this season, Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto Soudal will have competed in over 100 events, 20% more than in a typical season.
This program-stacking is highly unusual, but in 2022 it's not a total surprise. Both teams currently occupy the WorldTour’s two relegation places, and unless they pick up UCI points, they’ll lose their licences for the next three-year cycle.
“If we had ridden more races in the last two years, I doubt that we would have been in the same situation,” Lotto Soudal team director Nikolas Maes tells Cycling Weekly. “The program we are doing is stuffed, it’s quite stuffed, and then you have the exceptional races that really take a lot of energy.”
By exceptional races, Maes is referring to the Japan Cup and the Tour de Langkawi, two events that require the team to send riders and resources to Asia to compete.
For Lotto Soudal, these trips won’t be made in vain. As ProSeries races, each event offers 200 UCI points to the winner, and with the team currently 700 points adrift, any opportunity to add to their tally is to be seized.
In fact, on 16 October, the team’s final day of the season, Lotto Soudal will field riders at four different races; Chrono des Nations, Veneto Classic and the two Asian ProSeries events.
“For the riders, it’s like an extra mission,” Maes says. “They like the extra idea that there's not only the victory at stake in the race, but also the extra thing with the point system.”
In the latter half of this season, teams have been accused of sacrificing their chances of victory in favour of placing multiple riders in the top 10 for a more lucrative points haul. Maes believes this is not what the sport is about.
“The basic idea of racing is to win the race,” the Lotto-Soudal team director says, “and if you’re second, you actually lose the race, in my opinion. So starting to preach to those guys to finish [with] five guys in the top 10, that’s really against the culture of cycling, I think, and I don’t want to speak these things to my riders.”
Another team facing an uncertain future is Cofidis. The French team currently occupy 18th place in the team rankings, meaning they’d be the final team to secure their WorldTour licence if things stay as they are. Like Lotto Soudal, Cofidis are targeting a series of Belgian, Italian and French one-day races over the next month in a bid to score UCI points.
“We’re gearing up to do 13 race days from now until Sunday,” Antoine Grenapin, a representative of Cofidis, told Cycling Weekly yesterday morning. “The whole team, staff and riders are fully mobilised to deal with this challenge.”
“We know that to keep our WorldTour status, we’ll need to go looking for big performances, victories, and everyone is aware of that in the team. Since the start of the season, we’ve known that we would have to fight in every race and that’s what everyone’s spirit is like.
“We’re really trying to give everything until the end of the season.”
For Israel-Premier Tech, the outlook is a bit more bleak. The team, managed by millionaire businessman Sylvan Adams, are currently bottom of the table, with only a slim chance of WorldTour survival.
In a recent interview with Cyclingnews and Velonews, Adams said: “I am still hopeful that we will still end up on the right side of relegation, although it’s looking worse and worse.
The Israel-Premier Tech team manager went on to urge the UCI to cite “force majeure”, suggesting they make an exception due to the global pandemic and expand to 20 WorldTour teams for the next cycle.
“If I lose, I am going to take them to court,” Adams said. “If I lose my sponsors and it costs me millions, somebody has to make me whole. If I show that they do not apply the rules consistently, I think I have a very good case.”
The WorldTour relegation takes place in November, with points accumulated up to 18 October taken into account. Despite the impact of Covid-19 on the racing calendar, the UCI have said that no extenuating measures are currently planned.
Maes says that this is something that his Lotto Soudal team will have to accept.
“I don't 100% agree with the whole system and the way it's going because I think in the end the UCI should protect its teams,” Maes says. “But okay, at the end of the day, they decide how the system will go down, and we work with it.
“If we are not a WorldTour team [next season], the world doesn't end for us. And that's a whole different approach than saying it's do or die. That would create a lot more stress.”
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