Vacansoleil’s licence is safe

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Ricco

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 I don’t get why there’s a review, and why the media are allowed to run with the idea of the licence being withdrawn.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?

Summary
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.

Qwerty February 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Good analysis. People talk about the team losing out but this shows they won’t. Maybe it was dumb to hire Ricco but it would be dumb to hit the other riders.

Duncan February 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I think the team should be held accountable for the staff they hire. They hire a guy with a known history, they should fully pay the consequences if that guy screws up. More to the point, everyone would have been better off if no one had hired him.

I haven’t seen the bright side of this mentioned too much – the fact that he felt he had to do it himself, that he couldn’t get help from anyone is a big step forward in my opinion.

limonata February 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Quick Step knew better than to sign The Cobra… Hopefully Vacansoleil enjoys some continued success this Spring courtesy of Devolder, Leukemans, or Hoogerland.

Ard Jan February 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Does anybody understand how this system works? Ricco was suspended, so I thought there no were UCI points related to Ricco. When and based on what were these points granted? Thanks!

ColoradoGoat February 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Inner Ring:

Every day this blog provides better analysis of the situation than the news accumulating sites put together (I am looking at you Cyclingnews, Velonews and Velonation). All too often, we get press reports, but no context or analysis. This site fills that need brilliantly.

The Inner Ring February 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Qwerty: thanks.

Duncan: to some extent the team are in trouble, they have a bad reputation and if I mention “Vacansoleil” you probably think of cheats rather than sunny holiday camps. I’ve said before on here that if (big if) they had to sign him then they should have surrounded him with support. The fact that they didn’t, effectively saying “show up for the racing season” suggests they don’t care too much.

limonata: yes. As much as they are under pressure, this was a signing too far. Let’s hope Hoogerland doesn’t surprise for the worse.

Ard Jan: Ricco won a lot of points last year after his suspension ended. He could have been cheating but was never caught. So they added up his points last November and these were used for the team calculations to grant the three year licence.

ColoradoGoat: thanks, I try to go into detail that gets overlooked. Those sites are great, you get instant news and results, interviews, photos and tech reviews. It’s all different, this is only tiny blog but yes, I try and do some insight and opinion. Reading the rulebook can be be dull though, that’s why I put stories about the Sky DS modelling underwear (http://inrng.com/?p=902) etc.

jurgen February 25, 2011 at 11:50 am

for me its that simple. ricco was vacansoleils best shot on a big tour victory. there are a lot other teams who have the same questionable riders like Vino, Basso, diluca and so many more. it seems like vacansoleil gets all the attention on the matter that they hired Ricco. but i dont understand why. what ricco has done is not good for the team but it only shows that he has been given a 2 chance and that he and only he has trown it away. vacansoleil has Leukemans whom has been convicted before but is a very good relyable rider who has learned and who has taken his 2 chance whith both hands and legs.
thank you to have given such a good explenation to this matter. the newspapers are very bad reporters and newsbringers these days. this is the first clear explenation.
vacansoleil is one of the few with such a hungry bunch of riders wíth high quality and the ability to win big races. lets fokus on thomas de gendt. devolder. leukemans. hoogerland. westra and feillu. lets forget Ricco and his bad propaganda for the cyclingsport.
this saterday, the first Belgian Classic. the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. yes!

The Inner Ring February 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

jurgen: thanks. In some ways Ricco’s misfortune was to get caught, a storage problem. I suspect he was not the only rider to use this technique. And yes, bring on the racing.

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