I felt sorry for Romain Feillu. A likeable rider, he won three stages of the Tour Méditerranéen but it was all overshadowed by the hospitalisation of team mate Riccardo Riccò following a suspected DIY blood transfusion. Now it could be that the entire team’s riders get done over as reports say the UCI is reviewing Vacansoleil’s three year Pro Tour licence.
What can the UCI do?
A review could mean anything. But under the existing rules Vacansoleil’s Pro Tour licence can be cut short under UCI rule 2.15.032:
The licence commission may automatically reduce the duration of validity of the licence to 3, 2 or 1 years if, in the opinion of the commission and for the reasons it must provide, such a reduction is justified with regard to the criteria set out in article 2.15.011
Where 2.15.011 refers to the “sporting, ethical, financial and administrative” criteria that determine the licence. Another rule, 2.15.040, gives the UCI the right to withdraw Vacansoleil’s licence instantly but the terms behind this look drastic, to imperil all the riders in one go is surely excessive? My take is that review would only impact at the end of the year, the team’s participation in the classics and Tour de France for this year at least is probably quite safe.
Something must be done
Perhaps the question isn’t so much what can be done but why are they doing it? I don’t get why there’s a review, and why the media are allowed to run with the idea of the licence being withdrawn. Yes Riccò has been in and out of hospital, all over the newspapers, Italian police have started an investigation and the team has just fired him. But that’s as far as it goes, there’s no formal doping offence on record for Riccò.
After all, there used to be a rule saying a team could be ejected for three positive tests but when Lampre hit the drugs bust trinity nothing happened and rule got shelved for the following year. Look at Riccò’s previous ban, Saunier Duval manager Mauro Gianetti didn’t lose his licence then. See Astana where several riders have been busted only their licence is safe. I could go on and on.
Do the maths
If other teams have survived scandal, there’s an argument of arithmetic with Vacansoleil. The idea is that without Riccò, the Dutch team would not have had enough ranking points to join the top flight. The Italian finished third in the UCI Europe Tour with a valuable 569 points. Only once again, I don’t get this as the potential doping offence by Riccò relates to this season, not last year. Unless you can show Riccò’s points haul was achieved by doping then you can’t surely can’t deny the team? The licence was granted last November for three years based on the facts available back then.
More confusingly Team Saxo-Sungard was assured that its position was safe in case Contador was banned. Especially since the Danish squad is very reliant on Contador for its ranking points. Why does one team get questioned in public and another finds reassurance?
Riccò might have brought a lot of bad headlines but he’s been distanced by the team. Talk of withdrawing the team’s Pro Tour licence seems drastic, if not far-fetched. Short of proof that team management was complicit with Riccò, there’s little the UCI can do. The licence is safe. For now.
In fact, I fear it’s PR stunt, a public warning from the UCI and a way of suggesting it is concerned and monitoring the situation but in actual fact it can’t do a whole lot. Empty warnings can backfire, they contrast with previous inaction and reassurances given to other teams.