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The UCI’s complicated sporting value points system goes public

The way in which the UCI calculates points for pro teams is complicated, but recent changes have made it more transparent

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The UCI has announced that for the first time it will make available to the general public Annex A-10 to the team registration manual — the somewhat arcane but all-important process by which the team “sporting value” figure is calculated.

Hopefully, this will help to eliminate some of the intrigue, mystery and confusion that has generally surrounded this calculation over the past few years.

Why is this critical? Because the sporting value criterion is one of the most significant determinants (along with financial, administrative, and ethical criteria) of the UCI WorldTour selection process. And, those teams that are selected for the WorldTour receive an automatic invite to the Tour de France and all the other major races, a major boost in trying to secure sponsors.

The more widely-known UCI point system was set up to track the performance of the “best” or “most versatile” riders at the top level of the sport, and it is well documented. The system is explained in Chapter 10 of the UCI Road Racing Regulations, and the current rider ranking is updated on the UCI Web site within hours of the finish of WorldTour events.

But there are two different things here — UCI points, which are simple to calculate and easily available to track for all Pro Team riders, and sporting value points, which are just a bit more confusing.

What many people fail to understand, and what has generally been shrouded in confusion until now, is the way in which the UCI takes that individual UCI points ranking system and “translates” it into sporting value points. The document, available on the UCI Web site, explains how this complicated translation or conversion process actually works.

The team sporting value is comprised of both individual sporting points and collective team sporting points. As the UCI document states, “Success in road cycling is not only the result of individual performances; there are factors of a collective nature, specific to the team in its entirety, which contribute as well.”

Hence, the sporting value is made up of both an individual sporting value calculation — the strength of the individual riders making up the team — and a collective sporting value, the strength and performance of the team and its management.

Again, it’s critical to realize that the individual sporting value here is not the same thing as the UCI points ranking — although they may be closely and qualitatively related. The sum of the individual value and the collective value is the team sporting value, as summarized in the chart at the top of this page.

The individual sporting value is basically a detailed recalculation or modification of the individual rider’s more widely understood UCI points, and it is compiled over the previous two years. The points from all races, whether WorldTour or Pro Continental, are now included, as opposed to just the WorldTour rankings where only points garnered in the 28 WorldTour events count towards the final rankings. Riders from Pro Continental teams, not included in the UCI points ranking, are now also included in the overall rankings.

Two examples will serve to illustrate this; Mark Cavendish’s win on the second day of VDK Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Three Days of De Panne) did not bring him any points in the UCI ranking because it is not a WorldTour event, but the points Cavendish won there will show up in the revised rankings at the end of the year. Likewise, because he is on a Pro Continental team, Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) does not appear in the UCI rankings even though he earned 100 points by winning Milano-Sanremo, but he will be credited with those points in these revised rankings.

Based upon this revised ranking of riders, a new system of sporting value points is assigned — 100 for the top-10 ranked riders in the world, 70 points for positions 11 through 20, and so on down to the 200th-ranked ranking rider. Similar but lesser points are awarded to riders on the continental circuits.

In addition to these points based upon relative position in the revised rankings, riders are also awarded various additional points — according to a fairly complicated schedule — for outright wins in various races, second- or third-place finishes in the grand tours, stage victories in key events, and for winning the races at the world championships, Olympics, and other national championship events.

Points are also available to the teams of riders who are switching into road racing from other disciplines, mountain biking and track racing. Finally, to take into account younger riders who may not yet have two years of under their belt at the professional level and to encourage teams to focus on developing young riders, there is a special system to confer points upon highly rated up-and-coming riders.

All of these considerations basically add up to a set of total individual sporting value points. Keep in mind that this sporting value ranking may be similar to the year-end UCI points ranking, but it is not the same thing. As WorldTour coordinator Javier Barrio states, “The UCI points ranking can be followed every day of the season to track the performance of individual cyclists. The sporting value points system, while related, only matters on October 20 each year when team registrations for the next year are considered.”

There are a few other intricacies to the way in which individual sporting value points are evaluated. As mentioned, they are compiled over a period of two years to smooth things out for riders that have suffered from injuries, or for those who had particularly good or bad seasons. The points of riders who are signed by October 20 count towards the team value for the following year, while the points from riders signed after that date do not. And as we’ll see below, riders that change teams take their points with them to the new team.

The collective sporting value, on the other hand, is “intended to express the contribution of the team in itself, including its management, to the riders’ performances.” Although this calculation is difficult and somewhat arbitrary, pages 9 and 10 of Annex A-10 nevertheless describe the way in which this figure is calculated.

In short, it is based upon final team classifications in key races, second- or third-place finishes, winning special jerseys (points, king of the mountains, etc.) in the grand tours, and points for various team time trials — all purported proxies for the strength of the team, rather than just the individual. The total of these points, when combined with the total of the individual sporting value points, represents the total team sporting value figure.

The sporting value calculation for 2014 (summarized in the chart above) is thus quite complicated. It is understandable when WorldTour coordinator Javier Barrio says, “The key word for us going forward is ‘simplicity.’”

The UCI also announced two key changes for 2014 in the way that the individual sporting value points will be evaluated. First, only the points of the top-10 riders on each team will be used when calculating the team value. This figure is down from the current level of 12 and from 15 a couple years ago.

Although it might in some ways force teams to search for even more points-rich leaders for the team, it should generally be a positive change because now only 10 out of the roughly 30 riders on each team will have to bring points to the table. One key concern about the overall system in the past has been its inherent tendency to under-value support riders and domestiques, who don’t usually pick up many points. With this change, the theory goes, teams can better focus and spend more time finding and hiring the best support riders to round out the diversity and depth of their teams.

Second, 20 percent of sporting value points held by a departing rider will now be left with the original team, representing one of the most controversial concerns with the overall system.

When riders take all, or most, of their points with them to the new team, there is the fundamental concern that teams are ranked based on who they have signed for the following year rather, than on how they performed in the current year. This is perhaps the most fundamental problem with the system, and with the absence of a salary cap like other professional sports have, it can obviously allow the richer teams in sport to buy up the most talented riders and thereby assure themselves a place in the WorldTour. (These concerns and ideas for how to improve the system will be addressed in an upcoming issue of Velo magazine.)

By leaving more points with the original team, which presumably tried to build itself around the departed rider, there will be less incentive for teams to try to “buy” points in order to better their position with respect to WorldTour selection. There should also be more incentive for teams to try to keep riders and maintain the stability of their rosters from year to year, which would help promote the team aspect of the sport.

The team sporting value is a complex calculation with a lot of moving parts. In the past, it has been complicated by the fact that the actual process by which individual and collective sporting value points were assessed has not been easily or publicly available. With the decision by the UCI to better articulate this process and to make the calculations more transparent, there will hopefully be less confusion and controversy around the overall sporting value calculation in the future. But there will still be plenty of discussion about how to improve the system moving forward.

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