Fans of BikeExchange-Jayco can breathe a sigh of relief. With just a few races to go for this season, the Australian team has all but guaranteed its future in the WorldTour for three more years, with its haul from the World Championships among other races meaning it is 1243 points above the danger zone.
It is looking increasingly likely that Israel Premier-Tech and Lotto Soudal will be the teams left out of the WorldTour next season, with Arkéa-Samsic and Alpecin-Deceuninck taking their places at the top table. It means teams like BikeExchange, Movistar, EF Education-EasyPost and Cofidis are practically safe from the drop.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly on Wednesday, BikeExchange's head directeur sportif, Matt White, said that it was good "not having to worry about scrapping over points to the death" in the last races of 2022.
"We've tried to keep it away from the riders," he explained. "They were definitely aware of the situation though, they're not idiots. I know some teams and riders were saying they didn't talk about points. That's absolute bulls***. Any of those teams in the bottom six have totally changed their race programmes to adapt to this points system. We've added 40 race days this year. "
It has forced BikeExchange to adapt their whole plan, sending riders to races they wouldn't normally go to, as their rivals in the relegation battles have picked up points at small events on the calendar.
"We've had to cancel race days we were scheduled to do because small stage races don't give you any points," White said. "You can go to a one-day race and get the same points as a five-day race. You had to go to Belgium and do three, four one-day races instead of one stage race.
"The riders understood the situation, we made it clear to them that we needed to be in the top 18. The boys and our leaders have adapted really well, we've been very consistent post-Tour de France.
"The guys knew what we needed to do, there has been that pressure in the background, but we went into this year with a very good plan of where we're going to get our points."
It would have been a much easier run in for the Australian squad had Simon Yates not been forced out of the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España due to injury and Covid, respectively. Even if he had finished fifth in both these races, this would have been an almost 800-point bump that vanished. The points system has been a bit of a lottery through the pandemic.
"When you look at 2020, our biggest goal of the year was the Giro d'Italia, and we got sent home cos of Covid," White said. "2021 he was third at the Giro. Then this year, we lost him at the Giro because of an injury, and we lost him at the Vuelta a España because of Covid. We've had to adapt.
"We are a team who relied on our top three or four guys to get all the points, we're not a team that has a lot of depth when it comes to winners and guys scrambling for points. But we got it done, we had a plan, we've adapted it really well, and now we're in a safe place."
Now the team is safe for the next three years - WorldTour licences last for this period - it means that BikeExchange can relax for now, and start to think about next season, although this poses problems.
As for now, White said: "Michael Matthews was supposed to race four more races after the worlds. Because of the points he earned from there, and our goals for him for next year, which will highly likely be Tour Down Under, we stopped his season straight away.
"TDU is middle of January, so it comes round pretty quick. Any guys we can rest up any earlier, it'll be handier, now we are in a position where we can do that."
As for the future, it is a bit of a lottery, with the points system for the next three years still to be decided. Cycling's governing body, the UCI, still needs to confirm what points will come from which races in the coming seasons.
"Maybe we can have a look to make some adjustments if necessary," the UCI's president, David Lappartient, said this week.
"I think it will be discussed, but it will not be a complete revolution in the system because we need to keep a certain balance," the Frenchman continued. "But it's true that we can sometimes discuss if the gap is enough, or not, between the WorldTour and Class 1. and ProSeries races."
White said that teams have been in dialogue with the UCI, but there is still nothing concrete to work on, which is making planning difficult.
"What I'm really curious about, is that most teams have 95% of their roster already signed, but we don't even know what points system we're going to be working with," he said. "We're assuming that the UCI will do something, we've been in consultation with them. The points system is clearly broken. When you can rock up to a kermesse and win more points than a stage win in the Tour, there's something wrong.
"We're going into next year completely blind, until the UCI come back to us with a new plan. We plan on going with the same system from the last three years. There has been dialogue with the UCI, cos sixth place on a queen stage of the Tour earns you zero points."
This year has been quite unique in professional cycling, with so much dependent on points from smaller races. For White, this situation has come about thanks to the pandemic, but also due to there being more teams than ever wanting to be at the top table. Unlike previous years, there is no team that has gone bust or disappeared, like Katusha-Alpecin or Tinkoff-Saxo have in the past.
"We've never had a situation before where more teams want to join the WorldTour than not," he told Cycling Weekly. "If you look at the last three or four years we've lost a few teams, so when they set this criteria, not one thought there would be 20 teams trying to get into the WorldTour.
"The other thing is we have just had this system through a pandemic that is still not finished. When we were at our best in the rankings, it was only WorldTour races and five years. It's a totally different ball game now."
Despite having brushed closely with the threat of relegation in the last few months - at the end of the Tour de France BikeExchange were neck and neck with Lotto - White is not against the concept of teams dropping out of the WorldTour should they deserve it.
"I haven't got a problem with relegation," he said. "Giving teams an opportunity to come through is healthy. The way you do it needs to be adjusted. This last window of qualification has not been a normal one, so I do feel sorry for the teams that miss out."
"Is there a perfect solution? There's definitely a way we could work it out. It needs to be a lot more balanced, I think what the system is lacking is balance. At the moment it is very heavily weighted to north European one-day races. The amount of points they offer at the level of races they are, compared to Grand Tours, the most esteemed races, and that needs to be balanced out."
For now, though, BikeExchange are safe. Relief.
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