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Analysis: Sohrabi, Txurruka highlight UCI points system’s unintended consequences

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Oct. 19, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 30, 2014 at 10:17 AM EST
Amets Txurruka is a valuable domestique and a former super combative jersey winner at the Tour de France, but is out at Euskaltel. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

Death of the domestique

The focus on points can also undermine cycling’s team structure. Sutherland points out that no matter how talented a rider is, as a domestique, his job is “to work for other guys.”

While a powerful domestique might add priceless racing value to a team, due to the sacrificial nature of his job description, that rider does not cross the line in the top 10 or 20 riders, where the points lie. Thus, by doing his job to support the team’s stars, he also subverts his ability to accumulate points that both increase the team’s sporting value and help that rider secure a future contract. This puts a domestique who approaches the end of the season without UCI points in the unenviable and perverse position of choosing whether to ride for his team and lose his job or ride for himself and secure his career.

“I think the teams have been forced into this position,” said Sutherland. “They don’t have a choice.”

That said, Sutherland thinks having the different continental tour rankings is a good UCI invention. “It’s something to strive for, kind of like the [National Racing Calendar] in the U.S. If somebody can win that overall, it just shows the consistency of the season they’ve had.”

The points system has forced the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team to break with its founding charter to hire only riders born in or spending their development years in the Spain’s Basque Country.

In September, team manager Igor González de Galdeano let domestique Amets Txurruka go because he earned no UCI points in 2012. Txurruka is an experienced domestique that had spent six years with Euskaltel and brought the team its first-ever Tour de France podium appearance when he won the most aggressive jersey in 2007. Yet, as Basque newspaper Deia scathingly put it, while Txurruka rode all three grand tours as a gregario this year, because Euskaltel was so hungry for points needed to stay in the WorldTour — “the treasure of numeric cycling that fits in an Excel worksheet” — the team had to let him go.

Meanwhile, earlier in the summer Euskaltel had discussions with now-retired Oscar Friere to sign with the team in 2013. The team reportedly offered him a deal under which he would only have to ride part of the season, or not at all should he choose. While the team later denied making Friere an offer to sign without racing, the connection between releasing one rider without points in favor of a part-time, points-rich veteran is clear under the current system.

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.

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