Examining the WorldTour rankings

After last week’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Paris-Roubaix, the cycling season is effectively one-third of the way through, with 10 of the 28 events comprising the 2012 UCI WorldTour now complete. Cycling fans may not obsess about the WorldTour rankings in quite the same way that, say, English football fans do about the Premier League table, but you can be sure that the riders and teams do, given that they lay down a marker for securing new contracts for the former, and provide the gateway to the commercial riches of the Grand Tours for the latter. With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the latest rankings to see who the winners and losers are so far in 2012.

The WorldTour calendar

The 2012 WorldTour comprises 28 events, split 50:50 between one-day and longer stage races. In chronological order these are:

Stage races: Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Giro d’Italia, Criterium du Dauphine, Tour de Suisse, Tour de France, Tour de Pologne, Eneco Tour, Vuelta a Espana, Tour of Beijing.

One-day races: Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Fleche-Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Clasica de San Sebastian, Vattenfall Cyclassics, GP Ouest-France, GP de Quebec, GP de Montreal, Giro di Lombardia.

Points are allocated to the top ten finishers in each race, with bigger races allocated more points. The winner of the Tour de France earns 200 points, while the champions of lesser stage races receive 100. The top five finishers in individual stages also earn points: six for the winner in a ‘normal’ stage race, 20 for a stage winner at the Tour.

Similarly, the winner of one of the five ‘Monuments’ – Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Giro di Lombardia – earns 100 points (with points available down to tenth), while the other nine qualifying one-day races net 80 points each.

The balance between one-day specialists and stage racers ebbs and flows over the course of the year, with the one-day Classics concentrated in two clusters: the spring Classics in March and April and then the autumn Classics which follow the Vuelta a Espana in August and September.

Team rankings

Here is the current ranking for the 18 ProTeams, following Paris-Roubaix:

Courtesy of UCI

At the end of the season, the top 15 teams are eligible for automatic renewal of their ProTeam licence, granting them an automatic invite to the following year’s 28 WorldTour races. An early renewal brings the obvious advantage of helping to secure sponsors, allowing team budgets and rider contracts to be confirmed quickly. (On the down-side, it also commits a team to attending expensive long-haul races such as the Tour Down Under and Tour of Beijing, which can make life difficult for smaller ProTeams such as Euskaltel-Euskadi.)

It's no coincidence that the top-ranked team includes top-ranked rider Tom Boonen (image courtesy of OPQS)

Looking at the final 2011 rankings (after adjustment for the disqualification of Alberto Contador’s results), the 15th-placed team last season was AG2R La Mondiale with 398 points. Even allowing for the fact the 2012 calendar is 28 rather than 27 races (E3 Harelbeke has been added this year), it’s reasonable to assume that around 400 points will secure automatic qualification for 2013.

On that basis, current leader Omega Pharma-Quick Step (547 points) have already confirmed their spot, thanks primarily to Tom Boonen. In reality, though, all the teams in the top six are already within touching distance of crossing the threshold, even though in many cases that was never really in doubt.

Debutants GreenEDGE will be delighted to be up in fifth place, mixing it with the sport’s super-teams. Squads who are underperforming this year include Lampre-ISD (sixth overall last year, but currently 12th), who have had an underwhelming start to the season but will target a large slug of points at next month’s Giro. Similarly Garmin-Barracuda have slipped from eighth to 15th, although a large chunk of their 2011 points came courtesy of Dan Martin’s performances late in the season.

Contador's absence has relegated Saxo Bank to the bottom of the rankings (image courtesy of Saxo Bank)

Most worried of all, however, will be Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank, who are rooted to the foot of the table without Contador, with a weak squad and no obvious route to safety. Of course, finishing outside the top 15 does not mean automatic ejection from cycling’s top table – the UCI applies a set of other sporting criteria to determine who receives the final licences – but it is an uncomfortable position to be in.

The one thing most of the top teams have in common – in stark contrast to Saxo Bank – is that they do not rely on one rider for all their points. Three of the top five teams – Katusha, Liquigas-Cannondale and GreenEDGE – each have two riders in the individual top 10 (see below), while OPQS have 15th-ranked Niki Terpstra to support top man Boonen.

But the team with arguably the greatest strength in depth is Sky, who have five riders already with 60 or more points: Bradley Wiggins, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Rigoberto Uran, Michael Rogers and Juan Antonio Flecha. Contrast that with eighth-ranked Euskaltel-Euskadi, who currently have a healthy 208 points but are also the only ProTeam who owe all their points to a single rider: Samuel Sanchez.

Individual rankings

As far as the individual rankings are concerned, here is the current top 20:

Courtesy of UCI

Gerrans' early season form is reflected in his number two ranking (image courtesy of GreenEDGE)

Unsurprisingly Tom Boonen sits on top of the table, having already more than doubled his total points haul from a disappointing 2011 campaign. He collected 100 points each from his wins at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, with a further 80 each from his victories at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. With the bulk of his 2012 objectives already completed he is unlikely to earn to many more points, but even if he does not add to his current tally of 366 he is already guaranteed a high top-ten position at year’s end.

Second-placed Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) is the only other multiple WorldTour winner to date with his victories at the Tour Down Under and Milan-San Remo. He has already nearly doubled the 111 points he earned last year at Sky, which left him 38th overall. His current total of 210 points would have put him 20th last year.

The winners of the other four WorldTour events completed thus far are all in the top 11: Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez (Vuelta al Pais Vasco) is third, Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali (Tirreno-Adriatico) fourth, GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini (Volta a Catalunya) 10th and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins (Paris-Nice) 11th. The other five members of the top 11 have all recorded at least one podium finish so far.

Has the King of Belgium abdicated his throne? (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

However, 2011 overall individual champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is nowhere to be seen – he has yet to score his first point – underlining what a miserable start to the season he has had. Last year he ran the table at the Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (which account for 260 points) – but a repeat performance looks highly improbable this year.

Indeed, only three of last year’s final top ten – Sanchez, Nibali and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez – feature in the current top ten. That picture will change over the coming weeks, however, with the Tour de Romandie and the Giro d’Italia offering the perfect playground for many of the big stage racers to come out to play. Only after the Giro will the true shape of the WorldTour rankings begin to form – and even then that landscape will alter again when the Tour de France rolls around.

Watch this space. There’s plenty to play for as the battle for glory – and survival – starts to hot up as spring turns to summer.

Up-to-date UCI rankings for both the WorldTour and the various Continental Tours can be found via the link here.

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