Di Luca + Katusha = Questions

Monday, 10 January 2011

Teams that are supposed to reflect glory upon their home countries can struggle. Astana quickly got to the point where Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme said “they cannot be trusted“. Several changes of management later and today we see the team still overshadowed by scandal thanks to Contador’s ongoing. Kazakhstan suffers from an image problem, not merely Borat jokes, but serious allegations of cronyism and corruption. The cycling team doesn’t exactly boost the nation’s image.

Russia is another country relying on sporting glory in order to project images of dynamism and success. The Katusha team is a project designed to promote Russian cycling and supported by Russian business and the state itself. Only the idea hasn’t gone too well. There haven’t been many wins despite a big budget and the image of the team that is at best a bit confused.

A cheap little man

Now the team has apparently signed Danilo Di Luca, the disgraced rider who was caught for CERA during the 2009 Giro d’Italia. The Italian was also talking with Astana.

Now, as the rules state, he’s served his time and can come back. It took a lot of time and even a priest for him to admit his guilt but so I am not overjoyed but let’s apply the rules. The twist is that “The Killer” apparently riding for free, only collecting winnings from race victories. This raises a few questions:

  • UCI rules stipulate a minimum wage is compulsory. As a World Tour team, Katusha is obliged to pay the going rate. Are the rules being waived?
  • Does Katusha not have enough money? Robbie McEwen left the team and this should have freed up some money so why can’t they pay the going wage?
  • It’s ok to hire a rider after a ban but is a 34 year old rider really worth the effort? Does the team realise that signing a disgraced rider doesn’t help its image. Did the team consider any promising U-23s?
  • Does Katusha have room? The squad was at the limit of 30 riders prior to the Di Luca deal. Has a rider been bumped aside in order to make room for him? In particular, what has happened to Alexander Botcharov and Artem Ovechkin, both have been crossed off the team but have they agreed to retire?
  • Taking a disgraced rider on for free sets a terrible precedent. What happens the next time a rider tries to return after a ban? Teams are already in a strong bargaining position but the risk is that riders who serve their ban return and are asked to ride for free. You might say “karma” but the rules need to be clear here as more innocent riders could get done over.
  • No pay but winnings is an incentive to return to old ways. A banned rider often needs time to come back, see how it took Basso time to land his first win. This deal suggests Katusha is not committed to Di Luca, that there’s almost a throwaway agreement here.
  • Does Di Luca have a private sponsor? Andrey Kashechkin signed with Lampre thanks to a personal sponsor paying his wages. Is there anything similar at work here to enable Katusha to say “we’re not really paying him”?

Overall, plenty of questions but I’ll be surprised if we get many answers. As you might be able to tell, I think this comeback looks very wrong. It’s bad enough seeing an ambitious team resorting to signing an ageing rider who needed CERA to perform, but he’s allowed back.

Yet it’s the strange “no salary” deal that seems odd. A big team like this ought to be mindful of its image, laying down big plans to win races and promote the motherland. Signing Di Luca for free smells like a quick fix.

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    { 20 comments }

    Dennis January 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Armstrong raced with Astana (Radioshack too, perhaps?), reportedly without a salary. How did they solve the problem with the minimum wage?

    Anonymous January 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I don't think he should come back at all. He blew his chance.

    TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Anonymous: I sympathise but I wanted to comment on the situation in hand rather than imagine a hypthotetical situation.

    It's more the aspect that a big team has signed him but apparently won't pay him. Why?

    TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Dennis: it looks like Armstrong was paid the minimum wage, according to one of the Equipe journalists. But that's just once source, no confirmation on that. Plus the case was different, a very wealthy rider who could have commanded a huge salary from many teams.

    @tourpro January 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    The precedent of "no salary" must be disturbing for marginal "up n comers" who are vying for the few pro spots available.

    Proven Doper for Free vs. Young Gun for Cheap

    Right now, I pay to ride my bike for fun.

    Touriste-Routier January 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    A common scheme, particularly among Continental level teams, is to offer (usually a neo-pro) a contract, pay him the minimum wage, with the side agreement and understanding that the rider will give the money back to the team or management company.

    This is what happened with a young Belgian pro that I know. Fortunately he won some races and was picked up by a Pro Continental Team in his second year, with a real contract.

    I have heard similar tales from other pros.

    As for Di Luca, I would guess he didn't have too many options for a top tier pro team. Some rider's tarnished reputations are stronger than others.

    TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    @tourpro: yes. Did Di Luca push for pay and this was the best deal available?

    Touriste-Routier: sure. But that sort of scheme belongs to shoestring Belgium teams of the past run by "colourful characters".

    Katusha is a World Tour squad with huge sponsors and a giant budget. Why not pay him?

    Jay T. January 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I think I have "returning disgraced aging doper-itis."

    Let's count a few over the last 2 years: Landis, Basso, Rasmussen, Ricco, Di Luca, Vinokourov, Michele Scarponi, and presumably next year, Alejandro Valverde. I'm sure there are more I'm missing.

    Now, these guys are obviously pretty good riders, but for my money I'd rather watch Vincenzo Nibali or Igor Anton kick butt than see what Alexander Vinokourov can do at age 36 using who-knows-what to do it.

    As for Di Luca, everyone deserves a second chance, but seems like his history has even more question marks over it than usual for a returning doper. Katusha signing him does their image no favors.

    Irish Peloton January 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Remember the '4 times your salary' fine that they introduced which led to Gert Steegmans leaving the team?

    Nice way for Di Luca to avoid a hefty fine next time he gets caught. Four times nothing is nothing.

    Anonymous January 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Very good point Irish Peloton.

    This really makes one wonder what the ethical standards were as the licenses were given out. In the light of this case, the next one, Mosquera:
    from recyclingnews.com
    "Hydroxyethyl starch is not a performance enhancing product, and Mosquera can only be suspended from competition when both the A and B samples confirm the positive test. Apparently the B sample has still not yet been tested and the Vacansoleil-DCM claimed the UCI has given Mosquera the green light to compete."

    Correct me if I am wrong but haven't the rules always been that one is suspended after a positive A & B test, but wasn't so far a positive A test enough to get you kicked out of the team to limit the damage of their reputation? But this only confirms my impression about Vacansoleil, which I had before their signing of Ricco, they don't even give a damn about appearing clean.
    I mean signing DiLuca may be very questionable, not only in regard of the team's reputation, but also in consideration of his age, but even he deserve a 2nd chance (Same goes for Ricco btw). But Mosquera and Vacansoleil and Saxo Bank and Contador are surely giving out the wrong signs. It's like the team don't even care anymore about at least appearing clean.
    If they keep behaving like this, I wonder how they will ever change anything…and the UCI is watching/tolerating/encouraging such behaviour.

    TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Jay T: I suppose the problem isn't the comeback, it's that all these guys have been doping in the first place. It just never stops, does it?

    Irish Peloton: yes, maybe he's on a money saving scheme for 2011. I do fear that a rider who needed CERA to be competitive is going to struggle, there must be a temptation to use old tricks.

    Anonymous: I'll look up that story. Mosquera has huge question marks. Why the delay in the B-sample? As you say, hiring these old guys doesn't exactly suggest these teams want to look great. But the rules do state that a rider can come back and to their credit, the UCI is talking about longer bans for those caught in "heavy" doping, like blood doping etc.

    Touriste-Routier January 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    The scheme I referred to in my earlier comment isn't in the distant past; it was 2 years ago with a very well known and respected Continental Team.

    I wish I could state more, but can not disclose confidential information. I only cited the tale as a loophole past the minimum salary regulation.

    From what I've been told, it still happens today, though it probably isn't common other than at the Continental level.

    TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    T-R: yes, I believe you. What I meant was that any thought of allegation should be unthinkable for a large team like this with deep-pocketed sponsors.

    mindtron January 10, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    out of curiosity, how has Diluca avoided a Lifetime ban.

    Was the oil for drugs investigation not considered a doping suspension?

    jza January 11, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Didn't he mention a private sponsor when he was telling everyone he'll be back with a big team?

    A big team and solid race schedule is worth way more than a small team, a small salary and 2nd tier races.

    Making Vino's return look classy.

    Riding for free is probably worse for the future of cycling than doping.

    Jay T. January 11, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Watching all this madness makes me wanna root for Christian Vande Velde and all the rest of the dudes on Team Garmin and just call it a day.

    We should def support those teams that make the concerted efforts to be clean and beyond reproach morally- Team Sky, Garmin-Cervelo, and HTC-Columbia spring to mind immediately, though I'm sure there are others.

    By the way, has anyone noticed that Garmin has swept the Australian nat'l championships so far? Women's RR, Men's RR, and Men's TT. Pretty badass for a team that a few years ago was a development team no one knew about…

    Fran Reyes January 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    As answer to one of the questions: Di Luca can ride for free this year if he gets an exemption from the UCI ProTour Council as Jaksche or Armstrong did some time ago…
    There is a hidden point with Di Luca signing with Katusha: to join him to the team, they will have to cut 'Purito' Rodríguez or the young gun Arkímedes Arguelyes, the only two riders of the team who still are not registered with the team, in order to respect a rule about the amount of riders allowed.
    I explained all this stuff yesterday on my blog; you may take a look ;)

    TheInnerRing January 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks for the answer but as a follow up, we might all want to ask why the UCI suspends its rule. When basic things like the minimum wage are up for discussion, then it is not healthy. I don't see any special reason as to why any rules should be changed for Di Luca.

    Cut Rodríguez, the World Number One? I would not like to be Arguelyes…

    Fran Reyes January 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Well, finally is Kristkyi the one cutted.. he has been sent to Itera-Katusha…
    Talking about wage, UCI said vía VeloNation that there won't be a exemption with Di Luca and he has to be paid at least the 49.500 € minimum… Good thing IMHO, because this issue can't be compared to Armstrong's (LA wasn't desperate)… maybe to Jaksche's…

    Anonymous January 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Di Luca is an Italian, Katusha is very Italian as well almost all support staff is from Italy, Di Luca's move to Katusha is very political, somebody asked Chmil to get Di Luca on board… plus it is good for the team ads…

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