Eight weeks ago the UCI announced it would ask its Licence Commission to review the status of Team Saxo Bank’s UCI ProTeam licence, its spot amongst the top-18 teams with automatic entry into the biggest races. Today we learn from the UCI that the team will keep its licence. Here’s a quick recap of the issues and also why Saxo Bank’s trouble’s aren’t over yet.
The UCI decided to review the team’s position, saying in a press release:
“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.”
There’s one relevant rule at work here:
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;
Note the use of the conditional tense, the licence commission “may withdraw” the licence. I think it’s fair. In an interview with the Velocast podcast Jonathan Vaughters, Garmin-Barracuda owner team manager and also president of the AIGCP, the pro teams’ association, said the following:
“Bjarne got himself in a situation in which any of us could be in. He bought another rider from another team (from Astana, Contador) and said ok “I have to build my team totally around this guy because he’s the best stage racer in the world” and he made all the movements to make that happen. He let Fabian Cancellara out of his contract to go to another team because he was going to support 100% Contador and not be diluted. And he was not informed about this positive test.
All of a sudden, boom, he’s informed about it. He’s made all the wrong moves, ok. Contador goes to the Spanish Federation, he gets exonerated meaning that Bjarne has to pay Contador’s contract which is the largest in cycling. He has no financial ability to go and buy other points and that contract was validated by the fact that Contador was exonerated by the Spanish federation. He’s in a pickle.
All of a sudden in the middle of the 2012 season the appeal comes back and says “ok he’s suspended, all of his points are out of the window”. Where could Bjarne have made another move?”
Vaughters sets out everything well. Saxo and its manager Bjarne Riis responded to the incentives given to the them under the rules; the other riders on the team were wholly innocent of this. Yes the team is very different without Contador but nobody at Saxo is to blame here, to remove the licence would have been a form of collective punishment. Plus if you threw the team out, you wouldn’t promote another squad mid-season so there’s little point in the move in the first place. A shame it took eight weeks to realise this.
But keeping the licence doesn’t solve Saxo Bank’s problems:
- Contador’s contract is void and in theory he’s open to sign for any team. Loyalty – and money – might tie him to Saxo Bank but that’s not certain for now. He’ll be back in August but is technically unemployed for now.
- This was a team built around Alberto Contador. There are some very good domestiques but so far they’re struggling to fill the vacuum left by Contador. In his absence the team has yet to win in Europe and “only” has wins in the Tour of Taiwan and Argentina’s Tour de San Luis. There’s a chance this is corrected with more hilly races coming. But for now the squad has only two UCI points and sits in last place on the team rankings; by contrast FDJ-BigMat is second last but has 71 points.
- Should this carry on it is not good for morale. Worse the team will lack points meaning when it comes to a legitimate review of the team’s position later in the year then they will be relegated.
- Even if Contador returns to the team and wins the Vuelta he won’t be entitled to receive UCI points under a new UCI rule. So Saxo Bank are still likely to find themselves without vital ranking points.
- I think this rule could untenable as it conflicts with the WADA Code… we could see Contador and Saxo Bank testing the rule at the Court of Arbitration as their route to keeping the team’s Pro Team status.
- Meanwhile the team sponsor only has a deal until the end of the year. They have indicated support and could remain if the future is certain but all this risk might have them scratching their heads.
However, if Contador signs for Saxo Bank, then as I suggested in February if they are ejected from the World Tour they could be sure of many “wildcard” invitations given his allure. But if he doesn’t join the squad Bjarne Riis will have to shop for riders with points to keep the team up.
Remember Saxo Bank made an advert about supporting people in tough times. We’ll see what the Danish brokerage does…
I don’t understand why the decision took so long, it must have been worrying riders and staff for weeks. The team is different without Contador but that’s almost punishment enough, they have struggled so far this season.
But Bjarne Riis and his Danish squad face plenty of extra hurdles if they’re going to remain in the top tier for 2013, even if Contador rejoins. Tragically the team’s salvation could involve an appeal to the CAS. Today’s decision is a temporary relief but the team’s future is far from certain.