On the Tour de France, this year, there is the race for time that the leaders will soon engage in as soon as the road rises. And there is the race for points. We are not talking here about those who distinguish the best sprinters and best climbers in the peloton, but about another battle which animates the teams, against the backdrop of reform of the International Cycling Union (UCI). Because the change desired by its president, David Lappartient, transforms the end of the current season into a key moment for the allocation of future World Tour licenses, the equivalent of the first division in the world of cycling. For the first time, these will be distributed on the basis of the team classification smoothed over the last three years, and will remain unchanged until 2025.
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A few months from the ax, the hunt for points is open. The teams can reap some thanks to victories or places of honor on the races of the calendar. 18 formations will be selected, and, if the rules of the game have been known since the end of 2018, “The poorly ranked teams really became aware of the subject six months to a year ago, recognizes Vincent Lavenu, sports director at the French AG2R-Citroën. It took time to adapt to this new system, and there was the Covid…”
The stakes are high: a place in the World Tour guarantees teams to line up with the three major tours (France, Spain, Italy) and the rest of the most prestigious competitions, a possibility that can weigh in the balance time to conclude a transfer.
The Tour de France, less decisive
Any opportunity to go “look for points” has therefore become good to take, indicated Eusebio Unzué last month on the sidelines of the Critérium du Dauphiné. The Spanish manager of Movistar is one of the main concerned: 16e in the current hierarchy, his team is directly threatened by relegation to the Pro Tour, the antechamber of the elite which can only access the best dates on the calendar thanks to an invitation from the organizers. He then confided that he had asked veteran Alejandro Valverde – who remains one of his sure values at 42 – to add a few days of racing to his last season on the circuit.
On small competitions and not on the Tour de France, generally less decisive insofar as the teams which perform there are already at the top of the table, and a stage victory brings as many points as a title on a minor event deemed less difficult. With the risk that this new race for points replaces the spirit of the race, the real one. “Some teams have chosen to drop the World Tour races, where it is difficult to get points, and to favor the others”, notes Vincent Lavenu, while several teams present in July on French roads sent riders to Romania on the Sibiu Cycling Tour, from July 2 to 5.
Towards a reform of the scale?
“Before, it’s true, we said to ourselves “we’re going to a race to prepare for another”. Now you have to shine in all the races,” admits Cédric Vasseur, head of the Cofidis team, whose survival in the elite is not assured. However, the sports director of the Northerners affirms “not to have changed philosophy: it should not become an obsession either. The points are also brought by the good performances. We start to be under stress when we don’t perform, so we try to grab points. »
“The points are artificial. (…) I understand that the system was created with good intentions, but it is not fair, had insisted Eusebio Unzué, in favor of a revision of the scale. We need to think about how to make it more logical and deserving. » The UCI would be sensitive to this, especially since the health crisis began two years ago.“the legitimacy of this system”, notes Cedric Vasseur. ” How can we guarantee a classification under these conditions? It’s a bit like Russian roulette. »
Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic, two second division teams, being in good position to reach the elite, two current World Tour teams should be relegated at the end of the season. For the moment, it would be the Belgians of Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech, even if five teams stand in less than 1,000 units.
The Tour returns to France
After its big departure from Copenhagen, Friday July 1, then a very well-attended weekend on the side of Danish roads, the peloton returns to French soil, Tuesday July 5, after a day of transit. The 171.5 km long fourth stage between Dunkirk and Calais should not upset the general classification, dominated by the Belgian Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). Its rugged layout will take runners to a finish designed for punchers. The breakaways will nevertheless have to negotiate the last kilometers discovered by the sea, while the wind from Pas-de-Calais also raises the risk of breaks within the peloton grouped in the yellow jersey.