The Mouvement Pour Un Cyclisme Crédible translates as the Movement for Credible Cycling and is a grouping of teams created in 2007. It’s getting headlines these days so here’s a look at what it’s about, who is behind it and more.
It’s a good idea that has quietly helped set the agenda for cleaning up cycling but as it grows I can’t help thinking of Groucho Marx and his joke about not wanting to belong to a club that would accept him. My concern is that any team can sign up but the real test comes when a team has to decide between its self-interest or the collective MPCC rules. As I’ll show below voluntary deals between teams typically fall apart faster than a prototype carbon rim on a cobbled road.
The MPCC was formed by a group of teams in during the 2007 Tour de France. Don’t think of this as a political movement of Frenchman waving banners and marching to storm the UCI headquarters, it was more a quiet association of teams wanting to go further than the existing anti-doping rules, a forum to exchange ideas. With the Puerto scandal echoing the initial teams were Agritubel, Cofidis, Crédit Agricole, FDJ, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile. If the last two names raised eyebrows, yes the Gerolsteiner team was saying one thing whilst its riders were doing another and not T-Mobile was really Team High Road as Bob Stapleton had taken over by then.
The main goal was to raise the ethical bar. To publicly sign up to the UCI’s rules but also to go further. They agreed not to let riders have exemption letters to use cortico-steroids and that in the event a rider needed cortisone for medical reasons they had to observe a 15 day period of rest because you had to be injured to use this.
It all sounded cautious and steady but things picked up in 2011. Comprised of seven teams – AG2R La Mondiale, Bretagne-Schuller, Cofidis, Europcar, FDJ, Garmin-Cervélo and Skil-Shimano – the MPCC put forward some more ideas:
- when evaluating a team’s licence, the MPCC called on the UCI to make formal provisions for teams that have had one or more positive tests. The UCI licence already includes “ethical” criteria but these appear vague, establishing exactly what these criteria are could help
- to increase the length of a ban for a rider caught using “heavy””doping techniques, such as blood manipulation, from two to four years
- to allow a rider to come back but that any ranking points scored in the first two years of their return are not counted in the team’s rankings
- The MPCC supported of the “no needles” idea
If these rules all sound familiar, you’re right. Cycling has adopted a ban on needles whether syringes or IV drips. Riders can’t score points for their team’s “sporting value”, WADA is looking at four year bans and today sees Katusha at the Court of Arbitration for Sport following confusion over the UCI’s ethical criteria. This small group set the agenda.
Jump to October 2012 and Tour de France patron Christian Prudhomme said the MPCC was vital to the sport and that he’d only consider giving wildcard invitations to member teams, a move later agreed by all the big race promoters.
The MPCC now has a new set of rules for 2013. Here’s the summary:
- Decisions to be adopted after a vote where the threshold is set at 51% of the members. This matters because several teams can be over-ruled
- Suspend a rider from racing on a preventative basis following a positive A-sample
- Teams won’t sign a rider caught in a doping ban for longer than six months (except for Whereabouts mistakes) for two years following their eligible return
- Teams ensure riders agree to supply their DNA in case of an investigation
- Rider contracts must include a clause to let the team sue the rider if they damage the team’s image and anyone caught damaging the sport can be sued by the MPCC itself
- Any local use of corticosteroids has to be followed by an eight day rest period
- Any rider with a suspiciously low cortisol level must be rested for eight days
- A team will suspend itself from racing following two positive anti-doping tests. The rules on this get complicated but the principal of “self-suspension” and collective punishment are there
The People and teams
The President is Roger Legeay, the old Crédit Agricole team manager. The Vice President is Iwan Spekenbrink, the Argos-Shimano team manager with Ag2r’s Vincent Lavenu acting as treasurer. There are now 38 member teams although some of these are small squads. There are 10 World Tour teams: Ag2r La Mondiale, FDJ, Argos-Shimano, Lotto-Belisol, Garmin-Sharp andOrica-Greenedge with whilst Astana, Blanco, Lampre-Merida and Vacansoleil-DCM are under provisional membership for the rest of the year.
The comedian Groucho Marx is said to have quipped “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” He’d make a good MPCC President. Joining a club is the easy bit but adhering to the rules is the hard bit. The MPCC is a voluntary club, a village cycling club can apply for membership. But the test of a voluntary code is not signing up to it, it is sticking to it when the going gets tough.
For starters the self-suspension idea sounds good but it’s inherently unfair. Imagine you ride for a team and are just coming peak form when you learn three of your team mates have been caught doping. You never knew what they were doing but now you’re stopped from racing, punished for their mistakes and forced to idle whilst in peak condition. This can damage the careers of innocent riders.
But that example is hypothetical. My main concern is practical: if a team is caught out, will they sign up to to the rules and stop themselves from racing? When faced with a cheap rider on the jobs market coming back after a ban will they all reject the temptation to sign him? Take Frank Schleck. He’s banned for a year now meaning he cannot sign for a member team for two years. Will a team respect this code? We can speculate but let’s look at three examples from the past…
The Basso Precedents
In the wake of the Puerto scandal, in October 2006 the AIGCP group of teams agreed not to sign riders who’d been been caught in the Puerto scandal. A month later the Discovery team announced it was signing Ivan Basso. The deal was premature as Basso was busted for working with Fuentes. But after other disagreements, the Discovery team left the AIGCP grouping.
Upon his return Basso was signed by the Liquigas team which again broke the AIGCP code. The team manager, now at Cannondale told La Gazzetta Dello Sport “I broke the agreement because a person was showing and has shown their credibility as a man and as a champion. Basso was a unique and exceptional case” which, however you put, it is a weasel-excuse to break the rules.
The Lampre Precedent
The UCI tried a new rule that said if a team had three anti-doping offences in one year then it should be suspended. It sounded right, after all three problems in one season sounds like a problem. Only in 2010 Lampre had three cases… but did not stop racing. Once again a rule that sounded good was not upheld when tested.
There are headlines saying the MPCC is going to sue Lance Armstrong. They won’t. This is just tough talk to look good, to take a position and to remind people of the MPCC rule that says they can sue those who damage the image of the sport.
They need not send lawsuits across the Atlantic to non-members. The MPCC can look closer to home given it has teams full of arch-dopers like double Fuentes and Ferrari client Alexandre Vinokourov or questionable types like Viatcheslav Ekimov at Katusha or Festina survivor Neil Stephens with Orica-Greenedge. Even President Legeay is no stranger to amphetamines.
Finally a quick word on linguistics. The French slogan is “Le Dopage, ça suffit!” which literally translates as “Doping, That’s Enough!” and the MPCC has adopted this literal sense for its wristbands and logos. It’s slightly ambiguous and you need the comma otherwise it sounds like “Doping That’s Enough… to win a grand tour” etc.
A better grip on communications, whether ambiguous slogans or ideas of Armstrong lawsuits would help but the risks are more fundamental. The MPCC could prove to be a paper tiger that gets shredded by dissent amongst the teams. There’s precedent too as the Basso and Lampre cases show, it’s one thing to have rules but another to make teams hold to them when things go wrong.
A voluntary code of conduct is only as good as its weakest member and history suggests the MPCC’s peloton of teams can fragment when the road gets rough. You can don a blue wristband when it helps but discard it when it’s inconvenient. Still this is where the likes of ASO and RCS come in. They’ve signed up to support the MPCC and could give it the structural backbone needed where they’d rejecte teams that fall fowl of the MPCC rules. But that’s a step away and would require the UCI to approve and the UCI wants to set its own rules. So for now the MPCC can only lobby and hope the UCI, as ever, plays catch-up.
So wonky PR aside this is a noble idea and the MPCC has helped as a forum to achieve real change in the sport. It didn’t get the no-needles policy but it was the catalyst. You wonder why the likes of Omega Pharma-Quickstep, BMC or Sky have yet to sign to up? It doesn’t cost much.