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After the excitement of promotion and relegation from the WorldTour in 2022, it is time to do it all over again, but this time with the women's peloton.
At the end of this season, 15 teams will be awarded licences to race on the Women's WorldTour for the next three years, based on points from 2022 and 2023. Mathematically, very few of these licences are in doubt, with the top teams like SD Worx, Trek-Segafredo and FDJ-Suez all but guaranteed their spots for the next year.
Alongside this, the other members of the top nine: DSM, Movistar, Canyon-SRAM, UAE Team ADQ, Jayco-AlUla, and Jumbo-Visma are all basically safe.
Like in the men's WorldTour last year, it is the teams at the bottom of the points table and the top Continental-level teams who should concern themselves with promotion and relegation, and tackle this season accordingly.
This is the first time that WWT teams will be awarded their places on sporting merit, rather than meeting criteria laid down by the UCI such as financial structures, so in theory there is a lot to play for this year.
With Fenix-Deceuninck stepping up to the top table this year, there are 15 teams for the first time, meaning this season will be the first of scrapping over points to stay in the WorldTour.
As the graphic below, designed by Mathew Mitchell of Procyclinguk shows, the teams that should be worried are Human Powered Health, Israel Premier Tech Roland and Uno-X, all of which are in the relegation spots at the moment.
Should Life Plus Wahoo, Ceratizit-WNT and Parkhotel Valkenburg apply for WWT status as the table currently is, all three of these teams would be destined for Continental level. While this is not guaranteed, there will be a fight for the status, with AG Insurance - Soudal Quick-Step also being clear about their objective to be promoted.
The battle has been made slightly easier by Valcar-Travel & Service, the highest ranked Continental team, being turned into a development team by UAE, and therefore they cannot be promoted. However, it will still be fiercely fought.
WWT promotion/relegation this season will be decided by combining the 2022 + 2023 world ranking points - we've had some 2023 scores nowTeams like @TeamIPTRoland, @agi_sou_qst, @HumanPwrdHealth, @UnoXteam have all got a job to do to finish above the blue line in the top 15 pic.twitter.com/oy1yC9LtvDJanuary 20, 2023
As we saw in the men's WorldTour relegation scrap last year - one that Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech ultimately lost - there are different ways of going about the chase for points.
AG Insurance have shown their desire by signing Ashleigh Moolman Pasio from SD-Worx, a top level rider who should bring points, while Human Powered Health have brought in both Marjolein van't Geloof and Alice Barnes.
Israel Premier Tech Roland will be looking to Tamara Dronova-Balabolina to continue scoring points. It is Norwegian squad Uno-X who look the most in trouble currently.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly last week, Van't Geloof made clear that WorldTour survival was something that Human Powered Health is thinking about this year.
"It's something we're already focused on," she said. "If you compare us to Wanty [Intermarché-Circus-Wanty], everyone thought they were going to go down last year, and once they did their season they came up so much, and they had two years where they were in danger.
"We just need to cancel out one year, and I think we've shown in Australia that we can score points. If we can keep that momentum going, we could be safe halfway through the season. I don't think that's going to be the biggest issue, because we have people who can finish off races."
At the Tour Down Under in Australia, the American team got their survival plan off to a strong start, with a stage win through Daria Pikulik, and top-10 finishes from Nina Buijsman and Henrietta Christie.
It was Christie’s seventh-place finish in the general classification, however, that really helped the team out, and saw it move from 27th to 20th in the two-year table.
Barnes, who joined the squad from Canyon-SRAM, said that the talk around WorldTour relegation was helping motivate the riders for this year.
"We're aware of it, obviously it's important to remain in the WorldTour, but I don't think we're stressing about it," she said. "Every time we race we will do our best, and the points will come with that. I don't think you can focus on it too much, because that takes away from the main goal, which is winning races."
Kenny Latomme, Human Powered Health's manager, stressed how important it was for his team to continue at at WorldTour level.
"First of all it's important for our sponsors, because all the races are on television," he said. "It gives you the opportunity to set up a full calendar, whereas if you're a Continental team you have to wait for invitations, which is sometimes last minute."
As for what the team are aiming for, Latomme said that the main aim was 14th place, not any higher. Survival would do, and then they can plan for the future.
"The relegation battle will definitely impact our season, because we are fighting for that 14th and 15th spot," he said. "Luckily we took a lot of points in the Tour Down Under, and we are hoping to score a lot of points this weekend too. It's hard to predict how we will continue this season, we hope we can remain at this level, and score at every race a little bit, but to be top 10 is almost impossible.
"To be reasonable, 14th would save us, and that's the goal. Then we want to create a gap to the 16th team so we are not stressed out about always scoring, because that would definitely affect our racing. The best racing you do in an easy environment, but this points system can bring stress."
Points can be scored across .1, .Pro and .WWT races, so teams (which average around 16 riders) might stretch themselves across the season to get those points.
Whatever happens, it will be a big year for the likes of Human Powered Health, if they want to stay in the vanguard of women's cycling. Expect to see point-hunting across the board.
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