Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic) in action during stage 3 of the 2022 Volta ao Algarve.

Want to stay in the WorldTour? You’d better behave

Winning races to score UCI points is all very well, but teams must also avoid breaking rules where the punishment can outweigh the gains.

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This is not news. Nothing has changed. Everyone knows that the UCI’s naughty step can be a crowded place and that some of their rules might as well be scribbled on a napkin they’re that coherent, but this year’s regulation narrative is putting a spotlight on one area in particular: the UCI points system.

With his beloved Tour de France just weeks away, Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) had a pretty decent day out on stage 6 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, even if he and his breakaway companions inexplicably let Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies) slip away for stage victory in the last few-hundred metres.

With one young Frenchman celebrating his first WorldTour win, Barguil and B&B’s Pierre Rolland fought over the minor placings, taking third and second on the line.

“Third is frustrating,” Barguil said after the finish. “You can’t win every time you find yourself in the breakaway. Despite everything, I see that the legs are good and that bodes well for the next few weeks.”

Barguil in action on Friday’s stage 6, with KOM leader Pierre Rolland and Quick-Step’s Andrea Bagioli who was heavily leaned on at the end of the stage.

Good and bad news then for Arkéa-Samsic’s baroudeur, but the day was not over yet. Shortly after the finish, the race jury sent out their post-stage report detailing the day’s infractions and fines, among other things, and a surprise for Barguil who was among those written up for discarding a bidon outside the litter zone. 

As well as being fined 500 Swiss francs, each rider listed was docked 25 UCI points (as per the rules), while third on the stage awarded Barguil…ten.

What made it particularly irritating is that Barguil’s punishment brings back bad memories of the bidon rules brought in last year, i.e. the rule that more or less equated gifting bidons to littering.

Barguil aired his frustration on Instagram on Friday evening, asking the UCI to “give riders in the breakaway the right” to give their bidons away.

“I cannot understand,” he wrote in his story. “For third today [I got] 10 UCI points and minus 25 for giving a bidon to a spectator on the roadside.”

He went on to explain that he does of course understand and agree with the reasoning, that littering should be punished, but that there should be clarity and consistency. And frankly, an application of common sense.

The rule Barguil apparently broke, updated in time for June 26, 2021, stipulates that “Riders are only permitted to give their water bottles to spectators on climbs in the last 50 kilometres of the event or stages.” Hmm.

There’s another version of this story whereby we praise the UCI for clamping down on cycling’s environmental impact, but in this case, the ruling looks little more than arbitrary in the extreme. Fine, ensure that no plastic bottles are catapulted into innocent farmers’ fields or lobbed toward fans at frightening speeds, but frankly, this 50 km rule paints the UCI as party poopers.

Meanwhile, the points system is exposed, again, for what it is: hopelessly unbalanced. In the Critérium du Dauphiné, a WorldTour race, a stage evidently does not count for very much.

Stage 7 winner Carlos Verona also earned 60 UCI points, useful for Movistar which has been stuck near the scrappy end of the leaderboard, while second-place Primož Roglič took away just 25, not that Jumbo-Visma is at any risk.

It’s worth pointing out that on the same day the race jury had to deal with the aggressive antics of Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) who was fined 1,000 Swiss francs and 100 UCI points, and kicked off the race.

25 points is not a big deal for Barguil whose team Arkéa-Samsic is looking good in their quest for WorldTeam status (13th at last count) but a couple of big teams have had one foot either side of the relegation line for as long as we’ve been talking about it. For the likes of Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto Soudal – which, incidentally, was one of the most heavily fined teams at the recent Giro d’Italia (according to ProCyclingStats) – small fines like this can add up pretty quickly.

A rider, team or staff member can be fined for all sorts of things including riding on the pavement, ignoring a level crossing, missing sign-on, public urination and even taking a feed at the wrong time in a race. The list is long, and it’s understandable that keeping track might be tricky, especially during a stage race or Grand Tour where fines accumulate fast.

With overall points measured in the tens-of-thousands (over a three-year period), no one’s going to be dropped by a margin as slim as 25, but in a sport obsessed with marginal gains and a relegation battle that could yet go down to the wire, you can bet that the smallest misdemeanour will mean a lot more than it once did. So all must be on their very best behaviour.

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