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Top Riders Excluded From Road Cycling World Championships

The 2022 UCI Road Cycling World Championships will take place from September 18th and end on September 25th. However, the event has already been marred with drama. Most recently, Ireland has decided against sending any riders to the championship event. Riders from a half dozen other nations, including cycling star Caleb Ewan, have been snubbed from their chance at the highly coveted rainbow jersey. With just a few more weeks remaining until the start, more news is coming out that top-level athletes are being excluded from the event for various reasons.

Mark Cavendish at the 2021 UCI Road Cycling World Championship in Belgium.

Mark Cavendish at the 2021 UCI Road Cycling World Championship in Belgium.

Brief History

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road Cycling World Championships are an annual event that sees the best cyclists from around the world compete for the coveted rainbow jersey. The championships are held over a week in September, with different races taking place each day. The most prestigious race is the men's elite road race, which is held on the final day and is typically around 260km long.

In order to compete in the UCI Road Cycling World Championships, cyclists must first be a member of a national federation that is affiliated with UCI. They must then compete in qualifying events and earn enough points to rank in the top 200 eligible riders. The number of spots available for each country is based on that country's results in previous world championships.

The rainbow jersey is so coveted because it symbolizes being the best cyclist in the world. Wearing the rainbow jersey gives a rider a psychological advantage over their rivals, as they know they are considered to be the best in the world.

Italy currently holds the record for the most gold medals at the event, with 54 gold medalists, 3 of which were won last year. Peter Sagan is still the most successful athlete that is still competing, with 3 gold medals, the same as Eddy Merckx.

Absence of Irish Athletes

Headlines were made recently after news broke out that there would be no Irish athletes at this year's event. Most notably excluded is 22-year-old Ben Healy from EF Education-EasyPost. Healy has been noted for his remarkable performances at the national level.

Irish cycling legend Sean Kelly even noted how the unfortunate turn of events and what it means for the health of Irish cycling as a whole. Kelly, who won two bronze medals in the men's road race during the 1980s, told Cycling Weekly that he feels that more should be done to promote cycling in Ireland. Kelly added that "it's great to compete at the World Championships because you're there with all the other big cycling nations and you're representing your country. I feel that we should have more numbers there in the professional peloton, but for some reason or another, we don't. I feel that the government and the sports council of Ireland are not really pushing much into cycling."

Cycling Ireland cited rising costs and pressure on resources as key factors in its decision to forgo this year's event. Chief executive Matt McKerrow said, "This decision has not been taken lightly - and reflects the need to be certain we can stand over the value and benefit of expenditure right across the sport. With the exponential cost increases in attending events post-Covid, including some we've experienced already this year where flights and accommodation have escalated by some 70-80% on previous editions, we've taken the decision to prioritise resources to other high-performance events and development activities at this time."

High-performance director Iain Dyer further explained, "In the face of hugely increased costs for targeted high-performance events already completed and planned for the remainder of 2022, competing in Australia will stretch our resources far beyond what has been anticipated this year. The UCI Road World Championships is also an event where success is far from assured... It is not a given in future years that we will attend everything we qualify for or take up all our allocated quota slots. We have already seen this year several nations make strategic decisions on attending events based on available resources and budgets, so clearly, we are not alone in this manner, and are managing it in a similar manner."

This will be the first time since 1999 that no Irish rider has competed in an elite event at the UCI Road World Championships and the first time since 1976 that there will be no Irish representation at all.

New Zealand Not Funding Athletes

At any rate, Ireland is not the only nation excluding athletes over cost concerns. New Zealand has announced that athletes hoping to attend the World Championships will need to cover a large sum of their own expenses. Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) has confirmed that athletes will have to partially fund their participation at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong next month. This is due to limited Government funding and the loss of main sponsors.

The national governing body received NZD5.169 million (£2.697 million/$3.191 million/€3.177 million) in funding from High-Performance Sport New Zealand, although only NZD45,000 (£23,500/$27,800/€27,700) was to fund its road cycling program. Its main sponsor APL Windows ended its sponsorship deal with CNZ last year following the launch of an inquiry into the death of cyclist Olivia Podmore.

CNZ interim chief executive Monica Robbers has revealed that the organization will provide some additional funding to assist road cyclists seeking to compete at the World Championships in Australia, but that the athletes would have to make up the difference. "CNZ is also putting in another NZD50,000 (£26,100/$30,900/€30,700) which will reduce the amount athletes have to pay," she said.

Sam Bewley, a two-time track cycling Olympic medallist who competes on the UCI WorldTour for Team BikeExchange-Jayco and is set to retire at the end of the season, admitted that cost was "a big part" of his decision to skip Worlds and many of his compatriots were likely to follow suit. "There are quite a few WorldTour guys ... that have told Cycling NZ they won’t be putting their name in for selection purely because of cost," he said. "Road cycling in New Zealand is getting really strong ... but it’s up to us to grow our performances and get more recognition."

Australian Exclusions and Appeals

The announcement of the Australian team for the upcoming world championships in Wollongong has been delayed because of appeals by two riders but the elite men’s selection is apparently unaffected.

Interest in the 2022 UCI Road World Championships is building but appeals by two riders in contention for selection for the Australian team have forced a delay in the official announcement of who will wear the green and gold jersey in Wollongong when racing begins in 25 days.

Riders in contention for a spot on the national team for the championships were advised of their selection last week, allowing time for appeals in advance of the formal announcement which is now slated for next week. While there have been some changes to other categories, including an alteration to at least one rider’s status on Australia’s women’s team, Michael Matthews will line up as part of Australia's nine-man squad for Sunday's elite men's road race.

Matthews, who won stage 10 of this year's Tour de France and claimed silver and bronze medals at previous world championships, was pleased with his inclusion, "It's always an honor to represent your country and I'm looking forward to doing that again next month," he said. "The course looks like it could be quite selective so we'll see how it plays out on race day."

The 2022 world championships are especially important for the Australian national team because the event will be held in Wollongong, Australia. Among the riders who are likely to start are Jai Hindley and Ben O’Connor, who are both currently racing in the Vuelta a España, which will finish on September 11th. Heinrich Haussler, a veteran of 18 seasons in the elite ranks, will also be in contention. However, Jack Haig is still recovering from an injury sustained in a crash at the Tour de France and will not be able to compete. The full rider roster has not yet been announced, but it is clear that the Australian team will be very competitive.

Most notably missing from the roster is Australian cycling star Caleb Ewan. The 28-year-old sprinter took to Twitter to express his disappointment, saying that he is "heartbroken" and that he believes he deserved to be selected.

Ewan has had a difficult year, with crashes at the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France preventing him from taking stage wins at either Grand Tour. However, he was in good form at the Deutschland Tour this week, winning stage one.

Despite this, AusCycling chose not to select Ewan for the World Championships road race. The eight riders chosen are Simon Clarke (Israel Premier-Tech), Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco), Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), Nick Schultz (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers). The latter will also contest the individual time trial.

Australian time trial champion Rohan Dennis opted to not attend the event this year.

Wout Van Aert Will Not Compete in ITT

An article about exclusions in the 2022 World Championships would not be complete without mentioning that Wout Van Aert recently commented that he will not be riding the individual time trial (ITT) World Championship -- an event where he took silver two years in a row (2020 and 2021) -- and instead will solely focus on the road race. Last year, WVA finished 11th in the road race and 2nd in the ITT. WVA made huge waves this year after securing the points classification at the Tour de France as well as the Criterium du Daphine and Paris-Nice, plus several first-place finishes at the classics among many other victories.

Vingegaard Will Not Attend

It is unusual for the Tour de France general classification winner to skip the World Championship, but not completely unheard of. Jonas Vingegaard has been making the news due to his recent decision to skip every major race after the tour, and instead ride the bare minimum activities with his team to fulfill his contractual obligations. The team decided that It is better for him to rest now and prepare mentally and physically for future competitions. Taking his place will be Magnus Cort Nielsen, Jakob Fuglsang, and Soren Kragh Andersen who make up a strong Danish line-up.

The 25-year-old from Denmark became an instant celebrity following his Tour victory, and the pressure to perform kept him from racing in his home country's biggest race, the Tour of Denmark.

"I understand that the spectators want to see Jonas, and I spoke to him about it yesterday," said Frans Maassen, Vingegaard's sports director. "But he has had it very hard after the Tour."

Vingegaard did not start in the Tour of Denmark because he was still feeling the effects of winning the Tour de France. The victory took a toll on him mentally and physically, and he needed time to recover. "Of course, he has his reasons, but with the status he currently has as Denmark's biggest sporting name, it would have been a huge boost for the race," said Quick-Step AlphaVinyl rider Michael Mørkøv.

Brian Holm, another Danish rider and former professional cyclist, understands why Vingegaard skipped the race. "I fully understand him not riding," Holm said. "As a professional cyclist, there are many opt-outs. And it hurts to make people angry and disappointed."

Relegations System Causing Chaos

The UCI WorldTour relegation system is having a negative effect on racing, according to riders and teams.

The UCI introduced its three-year points system in 2019, whereby the top-ranked 18 teams would secure a WorldTour licence for three seasons from 2023. However, this has caused many teams to change their racing strategies in order to gain more UCI points and avoid relegation.

One example is EF Education-EasyPost which is currently in 17th position. They have three former Grand Tour podium finishers in their eight-man roster, but rather than build a GC challenge around one of them, they're targeting high placings for all of them because that could yield more UCI points. EF Education-EasyPost cyclist James Shaw added, "We're aiming to put as many guys as high as possible because from the point of view of points, it's better if we have Hugh, Esteban and Rigo all in the top-12 than we have one of the guys on the podium ... Sport shouldn't be like that, should it? Everybody should be racing for first place."

The UCI is set to meet with host teams in the the fall to try and to restructure the points system. However, they are likely to meet objections from the cycling governing body due to concerns of smaller one-day races losing prestige and appeal, which could lead to them ultimately losing funding. Movistar cyclist Carlos Verona is adamant to continue trying to force change, stating that "I think it's important for the sport."

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