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Lotto-Soudal and Israel Premier-Tech Slated for Relegation – Maybe

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The season is over, the points have been counted and the decision is all but official: Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech – the team of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome – will be relegated from the top tier of road racing.

Following a three-year team competition, involving a complicated system of allotting points, the two teams finished 19th and 20th respectively in the team competition. If cycling’s ruling body the UCI adheres to its own rules, only the top 18 teams will be granted licenses to compete in the WorldTour, which includes the three Grand Tour races, and Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech will drop down to second-division ProTeam status in 2023 and remain there for three years.

The relegated teams could still participate in lucrative WorldTour races if they benefit from UCI rules that award automatic invitations. The top two ProTeams of 2022 will be automatically invited to major one-day WorldTour races but only the top ProTeam will receive an invitation to the Grand Tours. Teams could also receive wildcard invitations to these races but that is very far from certain.

The problem for Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech is that they may have trouble holding on to their top riders who will be eager to join teams certain of racing in the WorldTour where the big money is. More importantly, they could also lose their sponsors and then be forced to scramble for funds to continue operating.

For example, because of its poor ranking, Israel-Premier Tech will almost certainly not receive automatic Grand Tour invitations and may cease to exist if its owner, Sylvan Adams, is unsuccessful with his threatened lawsuit against the UCI and then simply walks away from the sport. However, Froome is hopeful that the team will be saved. “There’s a lot still up in the air at the moment with the whole relegation system and for us, there is nothing guaranteed,” he told reporters at the Singapore Criterium. “With the whole relegation system, I don’t see a definitive answer quite yet. The relegation hasn’t actually happened yet.”

He is right, technically. The UCI will be reviewing teams that were not relegated for their financial status – teams have to provide a bank guarantee, proof of sponsorship and rider contracts – and their ethical standing. In that regard, Arkéa-Samsic may be in trouble because of Nairo Quintana’s disqualification from the Tour de France for testing positive for the banned substance tramadol. “We’re all waiting for that,” Froome said. “Things will be a bit more clear after that happens.”

He has added his voice to the criticism of the relegation protocol, particularly the three-year period of point-counting, which effectively exiles a team from the big races until the end of the next three-year cycle. “With it being a three-year system, that’s a death sentence for a lot of teams,” Froome said. “A lot of teams are living literally year-by-year and if you have to say to a team you’re potentially not going to be in the Tour de France for the next three years, a lot of teams will just close their doors. Personally, I’d love to see that changed to a one-year system. If you’re relegated, that’s a bit of a wake-up call, to get yourselves back there but if it’s three years out, you could be losing two teams every time that happens.”

As they say in ice hockey, “it’s not over until the fat lady sings.” In this case, the “fat lady” is the UCI, which will make everything official before the end of the year, presumably in late November.