Is world champion Mark Cavendish really the world's 27th best road cyclist? Let us know your thoughts.....

With the dust – or perhaps that should be the leaves? – still settling on Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia, won by Leopard Trek’s Oliver Zaugg, the UCI has published its final WorldTour ranking for 2011, confirming Philippe Gilbert as the successor to last year’s world number one, Joaquin Rodriguez. Gilbert also tops the IG Markets Pro Cycling Index, launched earlier this year. The latter runs on a 12-month rolling basis, making this the only time of year the two rankings can be properly compared.

There’s only one change in the top ten of the UCI WorldTour Ranking following Saturday’s race, with runner-up Dan Martin of Garmin Cervelo  jumping to ninth place from 19th; ironically, the man who makes way for him in the top ten is the cyclist who led that race over the often decisive Madonna del Ghisallo climb, Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali, who drops to 11th. Leopard Trek’s Frank Schleck slips from ninth to tenth.

UCI World Tour Ranking         IG Markets Pro Cycling Index

1  GILBERT Philippe (OLO)      1  GILBERT Philippe (OLO)
2  EVANS Cadel (BMC)           2  CONTADOR Alberto (SBS)
3  CONTADOR Alberto (SBS)      3  EVANS Cadel (BMC)
4  RODRIGUEZ Joaquin (KAT)     4  RODRIGUEZ Joaquin (KAT)
5  SCARPONI Michele (LAM)      5  CAVENDISH Mark (THR)
6  MARTIN Tony (THR)           6  CANCELLARA Fabian (LEO)
7  SANCHEZ Samuel (EUS)        7  MARTIN Tony (THR)
8  WIGGINS Bradley (SKY)       8  BOASSON HAGEN Edvald (SKY)
9  MARTIN Daniel (GAR)         9  SANCHEZ Samuel (EUS)
10 SCHLECK Frank (LEO)         10 SCHLECK Frank (LEO)

Compare that with the IG Markets Pro Cycling Index, compiled by Opta, and while the first four placings are identical, apart from Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador swapping position, what jumps out is the presence, at number five, of World Champion Mark Cavendish, a reflection of the different ways the rankings are compiled.

Not only does this ranking encompass a wider range of races than the UCI one, which only comprises races on the World Calendar, it is also less biased towards final General Classification position in the three Grand Tours as well as performance in the Classics. Meanwhile, there’s more weight given to actually winning a race than coming second, or third and so on, than there is in the UCI ranking.

Fabian Cancellara may have missed out on a big win in 2011, but with three podium places in Monuments and bronze in the world championship time trial, merits a place in the top ten, although the UCI ranks him 13th.

But the fact that Bradley Wiggins, eighth in the UCI ranking, is displaced by team mate Edvald Boasson Hagen in the IG Markets version, shows just how difficult it is to rank different cyclists consistently; both have had terrific seasons, Wiggins in particular after overcoming his broken collarbone in the Tour, but based on their achievements this year, which is more deserving of recognition?

The IG Markets Cycling Index doesn’t provide a breakdown by team or country. To compare the national rankings, therefore, we took the same approach the UCI does – the top five scoring riders (or as many as score, if there are fewer than five) from an individual country contribute to its total.

That produced no change at the top, but Australia and Great Britain both leapfrogged Italy, third in the UCI rankings, while Luxembourg, who owe their UCI ranking points to the performances of the Schleck brothers primarily in the Tour de France and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, drop out of the top ten, with France coming in at eighth spot instead.

That reflects the fact that riders such as Thomas Voeckler – the leading French rider in the IG Markets Cycling Index, in 16th place – doesn’t contribute a single point towards his country’s WorldTour ranking because his team, Europcar, is a Professional Continental outfit.

UCI World Tour Ranking         IG Markets Pro Cycling Index

1  SPAIN                       1  SPAIN
2  BELGIUM                     2  BELGIUM
3  ITALY                       3  AUSTRALIA
4  AUSTRALIA                   4  GREAT BRITAIN
5  GREAT BRITAIN               5  ITALY
6  GERMANY                     6  GERMANY
7  NETHERLANDS                 7  USA
8  USA                         8  FRANCE
9  LUXEMBOURG                  9  NETHERLANDS
10 SWITZERLAND                 10 SWITZERLAND

As with the national rankings, to compare the position of teams between the UCI WorldTour rankings and the IG Markets Cycling Index, we took the top five-ranked riders from the latter – assuming there were that many in the top 200 to begin with – and added up their points to give a team total.

Here, however, there is one important difference between the two rankings, with the UCI only taking account of those outfits with ProTeam status, so Europcar makes it into the top ten list at the expense of Astana. Helped in large part by the difference in points accrued by Cavendish, it is HTC-Highroad that gets second place in the IG Markets ranking, with Sky dropping to fourth.

The two big movers, however, are Liquigas Cannondale, eighth in the UCI list, but 14th with IG Markets, while Vacansoleil jumps in the opposite direction, from 18th to 11th. That’s possibly explained by Vacansoleil doing well in races that are not on the WorldTour calendar, but at the same time it highlights the importance of top-flight teams to prioritise races giving rise to ranking points if they are to retain that coveted status.

UCI World Tour Ranking         IG Markets Pro Cycling Index

3  LEOPARD TREK                3  LEOPARD-TREK
4  HTC-HIGHROAD                4  SKY PROCYCLING
5  BMC RACING TEAM             5  BMC RACING 
7  LAMPRE - ISD                7  KATUSHA 
15 ASTANA                      15 QUICKSTEP 
17 AG2R LA MONDIALE            17 AG2R - LA MONDIALE

One of the things we love about the IG Markets Cycling Index though is the nuggets of info it gives you that the UCI ranking just doesn’t provide.

Perhaps it’s because the World Championships were held there this year, but Denmark’s cyclists emerge as the hardest working in the peloton – whether measured by days in the saddle or total distance ridden over the past 12 months, incredibly, of the top 200 ranked riders, Danes occupy the top four positions.

The most saddle sore of all? Step forward Leopard Trek’s Jakob Fuglsang, the only rider to notch up a century with 101 days raced and a total distance of more than 16,000km. Behind him come Nicki Sorensen in second place and Chris Anker Sorensen in fourth, the Saxo Bank-SunGard pair split by HTC-Highroad’s Lars Bak.

With five riders in the top 20 by number of days raced, Leopard Trek emerged as the team most likely to extract their pound of flesh, while proof, if any were needed, that an awful lot of hard work is at the foundation of Mark Cavendish’s success lies in he fact that only 16 riders raced further than he did during 2011.

The World Champion wasn’t the British rider who travelled furthest this year though – that honour goes to his Great Britain and soon-to-be Team Sky colleague, Ian Stannard, who notched up nearly 15,000km over 90 days’ racing to put him seventh on the list.

And while we’re not in the business of drawing lazy national – or in this case, regional – stereotypes, it’s noticeable that the list of those who have raced most this year is dominated by Northern Europeans, with their Mediterranean counterparts

If anything, besides hopefully provoking a healthy debate on the merits of the two systems, and the position of various riders within it, what the comparison does is perhaps highlight some flaws inherent in the UCI system which perhaps need addressing – after all, unlike the IG Markets Cycling Index, the WorldTour ranking does have a direct influence upon teams’ potential status, plus the attractiveness of riders to potential employers.

Even in a sport where players compete head to head, as in tennis, rankings can cause controversy – is a player who consistently reaches the quarter finals on all surfaces, say, better than one who is a regular semi-finalist on grass, but not on clay, for instance – but perhaps in cycling it is more difficult than most.

That’s not just due to the different types of rider around – sprinter, all rounder, climber, time triallists – but also because, as ark Cavendish points out, it’s the only individual team sport; one man crosses the line first, but except in the time trial, there’s a team that has helped him do that.

Few would argue against Gilbert deserving the top spot given his phenomenal year; fewer still, we imagine, would reckon that Cavendish be ranked some 22 places below Scarponi, but that’s exactly where the UCI puts him, in 27th place.

That’s one place ahead of AG2R’s Jean-Christophe Peraud, whose points came through his finishing tenth overall in the Tour de France, 6th in Paris-Nice, and seventh in both the Dauphiné and the Tour of Beijing; a solid season, but it isn’t comparable to seven grand tour stages, the Tour de France green jersey, the world road race championship (not included in the UCI rankings anyway) plus several other wins achieved by Cavendish this year.

Of course, his relatively lowly ranking hasn’t stopped Cavendish from picking up what is rumoured to be the most lucrative contract in world cycling; anyone with his palmarès will be in demand; but it’s pros further down the list, looking for a new contract as their existing deal runs out, who risk losing out in the scramble for UCI points.

That hasn’t stopped Cavendish from picking up what is rumoured to be the most lucrative contract in world cycling; anyone with his palmarès will be in demand; but it’s pros further down the list, looking for a new contract as their existing deal runs out, who risk losing out in the scramble for UCI points.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


dave atkinson [6330 posts] 6 years ago

for the record, here's the final fantasy cycling rankings too. Gilbert only in 8th, mainly because the scoring is even more biased towards the grand tours than the UCI ranking...

RODRIGUEZ Joaquim 632
NIBALI Vicenz 608
EVANS Cadel BMC 585
MOLLEMA Bauke 505
WIGGINS Bradley 489
SCARPONI Michele 434
GILBERT Philippe 423
SCHLECK Frank 423
ROJAS GIL Jose Joaquin 386

abudhabiChris [691 posts] 6 years ago

Interesting analysis, thanks for that.

I imagine the UCI will hold up their hands and say "You know what, maybe we can learn from somebody else and make the system a bit better. No point in doggedly maintaining a position against common sense."

... or maybe not.

Goatkarma [27 posts] 6 years ago

Really interesting read cheers! Find it quite interesting that IG didn't try and come up with a different algorithm to boost Sky (and their riders) in their table compared to the UCI one, in fact they come off worse! Suppose they need to show impartiality as one of Sky's main sponsors.

seabass89 [212 posts] 6 years ago

Eddy the Boss in the top 10 FTW!  4