UCI to rule on Team Saxo Bank’s future

Friday, 10 February 2012

Can UCI throw team out of World Tour races? Is this a collective punishment?
Riis

The PCC took note that further to the CAS decision earlier this week concerning Alberto Contador, the UCI will today ask its Licence Commission to issue a ruling on whether the Saxo Bank-Sungard team should retain its place in the UCI WorldTour. If the points obtained by Alberto Contador, representing approximately 68% of the Saxo Bank-Sungard team’s total points, are disregarded, his team would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion required for the UCI WorldTour.

That’s the UCI in a press release today. They got the team’s name wrong, it is Saxo Bank only but that is the least of Bjarne Riis’s worries right now as the future of his cycling team is at stake. Alberto Contador has been banned, he loses the 2010 Tour de France and all results from January 2011 onwards but on top of this he forfeits the points and prizes too.

Now the UCI will determine if the Saxo Bank squad should lose its ProTeam status, the ticket to ride the World Tour calendar and automatic invitation to the top events. The UCI is entitled to do this, its rules state:

2.15.040 The licence commission may withdraw the licence in the following cases:
1. if the information taken into account in granting the licence or the registration of the UCI ProTeam was erroneous and the commission considers that the actual situation did not justify the grant of a licence or registration;
2. if the information taken into account in granting the licence or the registration of the UCIProTeam has changed such that the issue conditions are no longer fulfilled, or the commission considers that the new situation does not justify the issue of a licence or registration;

But note the conditional “may withdraw”, it is not certain. What is certain is that Saxo Bank without Contador is quite a different team and the UCI might say the team’s “sporting value” is now so diminished that it feels compelled to act. Certainly the press release above suggests this, it is not simply saying “we will review this” but says “If the points… are disregarded, his team would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion”. Given the CAS has said the points must be disregarded the UCI’s stance tonight seems quite clear.

But should the UCI do this? Certainly the team is diminished without Contador. But he was signed in good faith, Riis did not know of the positive test which happened whilst the Spaniard was with the Astana team. Similarly other riders have joined the squad and they will get a collective punishment, being no longer able to ride the major races because of events unrelated to them. One the other hand, as one twitter correspondent put it to me “innocent riders are out of world tour because saxo had a cheat with 70% of their points” but my reply here is that we have no proof of Contador cheating, only the positive test for clenbuterol bit. Nobody can prove where it came from.

The team is not finished if the licence changes. Saxo could up end up with Pro Contintental status, the next level down. It would be a contender for wildcard invitations to many races and with Alberto Contador back in August, the team could be sure of participation thanks to his allure. There would be no point in having the licence which would rather undermine the whole scheme.

Also there is not much in the rulebook on the mechanics of this. If a team loses its licence one day I’ve not seen when it has to step out of the top races. Teams get invitations and make plans well in advance, I can’t imagine any team being ejected overnight.

Finally never discount Bjarne Riis. A survivor of many a scandal and master tactician he can often surprise when you least expect it.

Summary
In UCI’s press release promises a review but seems to hint at the team losing its licence even before the review has occurred. The UCI may do this under its rules but this is a voluntary decision, remember the rules say “may withdraw”, not “must” or “should”. Given the collective punishment here it would seem harsh to remove the licence but clearly the squad is a different proposition without Contador present.

There is one way to settle this issue for good though… wait for it… Give the Court of Arbitration for Sport a call.

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{ 30 comments }

Lemon February 10, 2012 at 9:47 pm

The CAS? No way, another appeal will just see the sport on hold for even longer.

Paul I. February 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

There seems to be something very wrong about the way this is done. I agree with Contador losing prize money and points for the 2010 Tour de France, which is the specific event during which he was found to have a banned substance in his bloodstream. However, for the subsequent 500+ days he was allowed to race due to CAS taking so long to make a decision, so why should he and the team be penalized when he did absolutely nothing wrong during that period? If you want to give him a 2 year ban, start it now, don’t wipe out over a year’s results.

is that neacesry? February 10, 2012 at 10:23 pm

That’s true the Innocent riders will be affected if Saxo will lose their license, but those rides got that opportunity to ride at this level, only thanks to Alberto. It was long known that Alberto *might* lose his points, and Riis could have, and should have taken it into account, while forming the team for 2012. He choose to put most his budget on a rider that has been under a question mark BEFORE the end of last season.

CAT4Fodder February 10, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Anyone who was associated with this team prior to the signing of Contador (or before the announced Clen finding) I feel for, including Riis on this (since it appears he was blindsided, and then left seeing his options, decided to go all-in at that point…probably with some trepidation as to the potential end-result).

However, any rider who signed on after the fact, knew the risks.

Rich February 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Riis and Saxo went “all in” on Contador. Don’t let Saxo manage any of your money as they aren’t very bright.

OJT February 10, 2012 at 11:37 pm

The signing was made in good faith and nobody is seriously suggesting that this was a case of systematic doping operated by team management, as was the case in the era dominated by EPO. So how much punishment does the team deserve? It already appears they will lose any future points from Contador victories.

While there is undoubtedly some ill feeling against Riis (primarily due to his past) I would be surprised if there any many within the sport who want to see his team ejected from the top tier. Such a step would also raise other questions – not least, who would fill the their place?

Bundle February 11, 2012 at 12:10 am

If the UCI points system (corresponding to individual riders but affecting their team’s stand) is already nonsense, and retroactive punishment being an undisputable aberration, what can one say about the addition of the two?

Dementia.

trounder February 11, 2012 at 1:30 am

Saxo is/was AC’s current/former team, I get it. I also get that the points are carried by the rider, not the team. If the UCI sees fit to punish Saxo by revoking their license, then that’s fine with me. It sucks, but the world won’t end, and rules are rules, right? However, in my book, this means that they should also go all retro on AC’s former/former team, which goes by the name ASTANA. If no one can prove how the tainted baby cow supplement found its way into his blood stream, then how can anyone say for certain that ASTANA team management was not somehow involved? Drop all of the hammers and shoes! Time to bust out our Bayesian calculators. Come on UCI, strict liability, do it!

Steve February 11, 2012 at 1:40 am

I agree with Rich, and his sentiment.
We are talking professional sports enterprises, the sponsors are the losers as they should be.
No sponsors emblazoned kits on magazines, newspapers and websites.
The sponsors lose due to a lack of proper due diligence and risk analysis.
Would it not be exciting to see an eager a”wildcard” team given a start in a major race as a result of Saxo being reclassified, instead of a Saxo team without a clear GC leader. And as a result of that, we see a younger more eager team, taking risks and paying dividends for its sponsors.

Adrian February 11, 2012 at 2:02 am

What team was #19 in the UCI super secret rankings?

Jason S. February 11, 2012 at 2:18 am

Bahh. We wouldn’t even be debating this if the current points “system” wasn’t a total and complete joke. A few months ago it was the argument of teams buying riders for the sole reason of collecting their points and getting a spot at the Pro Tour level.

As for the Riis/Alberto/Saxo statements, yes, they should have had some foresight knowing they were running the risk of Alberto’s verdict coming back positive.

daniel February 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

The UCI let Saxo Bank into the WorldTour knowing that there was a chance Contador would be banned. In fact, they appealed the decision by RFEC to exonerate him, so obviously there must have been doubts from the UCI on the ethical value side of things.

Joost February 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

Saxobank will loose his licence for 2013, Contadors points does not count for 2013 and 2014. (cf. Valverde)

Dave February 11, 2012 at 10:52 am

I say “no sympathy”, Riis gambled signing Berti. Almost immediately the gamble began to fall apart when, ignoring from the Schlecks, the class riders (who were and were not under contract for the following season) in Riis’s team left to join a Luxemburg property developer. The simple question that I never heard asked at that point was, “why do none of these guys want to ride with/for Berti?” At that time I chose to make my own conclusions which I standby today.

xyz February 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I have a question: If Saxo looses the license and become a pro continental team, will the riders then be free to sign for another team, here after the season has started? When the riders signed for Saxo they signed for a World Tour team and not for a pro continental team.

daniel February 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

@Dave
What are you on about there? Are you asking why didn’t the Schlecks want to work for Contador? The idea for the Luxembourg team was around way before it was known AC was joining Saxo Bank.

Larry T. February 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

It’s hard not to see this as karma coming back to bike “Mr. 60%” in the a__. Didn’t the Schleck’s make their transfer of funds to Fuentes while on his team? Ivan Basso “won” the Giro in Bjarne’s team colors while “just thinking” about using the blood in the care of Fuentes. Riis is….well, Mr. 60%. Ullrich is banned from working in the sport, but Riis seems to have even escaped this punishment. So why not have him pay now for all this – in an indirect way? Nobody joined his team unaware of any of this stuff, they took a gamble which now might not pay off – but perhaps they can sue Bjarne if they feel he misled them? One thing is for sure, pro cycling has lost most of its credibility and it’ll be awhile (if ever) before it comes back.

Larry T. February 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm

ooops! BITE (not bike) him in the a__.

MattK February 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm

This post made me realize Contador has a libel case against WADA and the UCI. By making a public and unilateral statement that he is a cheat, when his ruling explicitly states that he is a not believed to be a cheat. I think a judgement for 2.6 million euros (or however much they go after him for) would probably balance this idiocy out. I am not a Contador supporter and do think that the detection of blood plasticisers points to guilt, even if the clen results were sketchy. I do, however, believe in a fair and balanced justice system which is something I don’t see existing in cycling right now.

I think in the end the UCI will be ruling based on how much money Saxo brings to the table. Otherwise Saxo will be adding their voice to those who want to split away from the UCI and having Saxo split away might start a cascade that the UCI can’t stop.

Shawn February 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I wish you had addressed the possible parallels (or lack thereof) to the Vacansoleil case from last year. They had 2 riders’ points discounted due to doping yet kept their ProTour status. Why should we not expect the same for Saxo??

Larry T. February 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm

MattK – interesting points but how do you define “cheat”? I think the simple definition is “one who breaks the rules of the game.” Contador had a banned substance in his sample, therefore he broke the rules, therefore he cheated. I believe this would be tossed out as a ridiculous lawsuit. On the breakaway league issue – who is going to break away and what are they going to get out of it? Where is all this money guys like Vaughter and Bruyneel talk about? As far as I know the only real profits being notched up are by ASO via LeTour. They SPEND some of those profits on other events they now own like Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice. The Giro does not make any money while the Vuelta is partially owned by ASO as I recall. So WHERE is all this profit that is supposed to be shared out to the teams? Cycling is fighting to be shown on TV in many cases vs cashing on via broadcasting rights. Is LeTour even shown on TV in Germany these days? I remember crossing the border into France years ago as the Giro went over to a finish in Briancon – the race was NOT available on French TV despite the fact the finish was in the country? Any breakaway cycling league will need the same thing that most cycling teams need – someone with a large fortune that they might want to turn into a small one. I wish someone would explain the economics of this scheme to me…it seems as ridiculous as the “supply-side economics” preached by so many in the USA.

Jim February 11, 2012 at 7:20 pm

The UCI’s press release is very strange, announcing that the matter will be under review while inferring in advance that the team did not fulfill the sporting criterion. And has been pointed out Vansoleil retained their WorldTour status last year under similar circumstance. This is another instance that calls into question the professionalism of the UCI.

The Inner Ring February 11, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I covered Vacansoleil’s UCI licence worries this time last year. Whilst many were fretting the licence could be taken away, I said it was safe.

That was largely because Ricco had not been charged with doping and the same for Mosquera, who was provisionally suspended for most of 2011 but not actually convicted. You cannot take the licence away just because riders are facing allegations, you need them to actually get sanctioned.

Also, crucially this time the UCI rules have changed and Saxo Bank are in a different position because Contador has been sanctioned and the rules now give the UCI more leeway.

OJT February 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Two points. 1 I think Saxo Bank should not be demoted, I feel there is still precedent with Vaconsoleil; after all, the UCI could have punished them after their riders were found guilty and 2 Riis has made the best of a bad situation.

Contador has a very questionable past, having ridden for Saiz, Bruyneel and now Riis. Maybe the CAS verdict is him finally being ‘found out’. Maybe not. But, much as I dislike him, Bjarne Riis showed serious guile and tenacity in 2010 and 2011. In 2010 all the superstars in his squad announced they were going to Leopard. Instead of letting his team wither and die, he signed a rider who had won five grand tours. The guy who was top of the world rankings. Nearly every team manager wanted Contador – a notable exception being Dave Brailsford – and Riis was the man who got him.

After the positive clenbuterol test came to light Riis supported Alberto Contador very publicly. What else could Riis do? To ostracise Contador would have been very hypocritical and would have meant the team sank like a stone. It was already far too late to sign anyone else to replace him. So instead he supported Contador 100% and arranged some startling PR set pieces. How many team bosses could orchestrate a photo opportunity for their star rider and a Nobel peace prize winner? With a former Prime Minister? With a president? Riis did all three in one day. Shimon Perez receiving a signed jersey from Contador was a public relations masterstroke. I don’t like Bjarne Riis but do think that so far, he has played this situation as well as he could.

Ken February 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

The AC suspension is what it is, and the sport has to live with it. The real question: Is the Saxo Bank seam without AC still a Pro-Tour calibre team? In keeping them, would the UCI be denying another worthy contender? Or, would the competition be better allowing races an extra wildcard team?

The last alternative, an “extra” wildcard, may be the fairest. It will allow race organizers to invite Saxo Bank to races where they can best compete, including the Vuelta, and give other popular teams a chance for some glory.

xyz February 11, 2012 at 9:38 pm

With all the dislike for Riis, I think it is only fair to remind all of you that it was Riis who laid the ground for the biopassport. After the affair in 2006 with Puerto and Basso he hired Rasmus Damsgård and paid him from his own pocket. The Damsgård project started the whole where-about system and the out of competition testing, and when Riis and Damsgård had proved the system worked the UCI took over, so if you think the biopassport is something good, then you have Riis to thank for it.

Larry T. February 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I wouldn’t be so quick to credit Riis for much. There’s some inherent conflict-of-interest in the hiring of private antidoping guys, especially when you pay them out of your own pocket as XYZ writes. Wasn’t there also some issue about Damsgard receiving a gift of a bike as well? And BigTex had a much ballyhooed arrangement at the start of his comeback with Don Catlin that ended in conflict-of-interest and financial issues. But maybe Riis can be credited for the passport system in the same way Tom Simpson can be credited for increased dope testing? I agree with OJT on disliking the guy- Riis is a sharp and cunning fellow and a shrewd tactician quite often, but also a ruthless competitor who has demonstrated he’ll do pretty much anything (including cheating) in order to win. The most recent issue I can think if was the swerving around of his moto driver (with Bjarne on the back) on one of the Giro climbs last year, it was obvious from the TV shots these actions were hindering Il Pistolero’s competitors. The UCI jury should have thrown him off the race in my opinion.

Paul J February 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

People criticising Saxo and suggesting that they shoud be demoted to give another pro-conti team a chance at proving themselves…..

You seem to have forgotten that Nick Nuyens won Flanders and also Dwars door vlaanderen both pretty significant one day races that show the team can compete and add value to the pro peloton.

I think the fundamental issue is the whole points system itself. Frankly saxobank aside it’s a joke of a system that I don’t think that even the UCI truly understand themselves. The sport needs to go back to the good old days of clearly defined points system and a world tour. This sport has always been about the stars & the 8 domestiques who ride for them. Trying to lump everyone together in this points system when there are already lots of teams under sponsorship & financial pressures will hasten the demise of the sport as a whole. Has everyone forgotten the lesson of HTC already?

sillyoldbugger February 13, 2012 at 3:35 am

All this confusion again reinforces the notion that a rider, when tested positive (on the B sample), be immediately suspended until such time as an appeal is heard, first by his national federation, then, as needed by WADA/UCI/CAS. The rider should not compete until either the suspension is up – a real two years – or all appeals are exhausted. This would protect the promoters, the UCI, the other riders and the integrity of the points system.
The use of the term punishment with regard to the potential stripping of Saxo Bank’s ProTour status is emotive claptrap. Saxo Bank and all the riders knew those points were at risk since August 2010, so in effect they got their licence for 2011 as a bonus. Another team has been denied a place in the ProTour because Saxo Bank used those at risk points; points they shouldn’t have had. Indeed, the UCI could be open to accusations of corruption if they do not restore the order of things without the Contador points (remember, some other riders will have increased their points for 2010 & 2011 with Contador’s removal from results).

Big Mikey February 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Bah…..the freaking UCI proving, yet again, that they never miss a chance to belabor a stupid point. Keep them, demote them, but for goodness’ sake, just make a freaking decision. Is there ANY interest served by dragging a group of SPONSORS through the mud? The team, maybe, but when you seem to be going out of your way to piss off paying sponsers, that’s infantile and laughably shortsighted.

By the way, the driver here is probably not whether Saxo deserve the demotion or not, but whether the UCI can keep the protour fee (millions of $) and collect another from the replacement.

Inrng, that contract needs to be read and an opinion issued.

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