The MPCC Explained

Friday, 8 February 2013

MPCC cycling

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 Background
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 Rules
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.

Groucho Marx

Marxist self-rejection

The Problem
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.

Silly suit?
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.

MPCC wristband

Easy to put on, easy to remove

Nazi grammatique
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.

Conclusion
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.

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{ 28 comments }

Bundle February 8, 2013 at 11:43 am

Very informative. Teams must understand that their will to win is secondary to their need to improve the sport as a whole. They have to, they have no choice. Riders are in a much weaker position to do it. But I still think it’s race organisers who should run the show. It’s THEIR show, they must decide who races and who doesn’t and on which terms, who controls doping and how, etc…

One very minor note: Roger Legeay wasn’t caught with amphetamine in the strict sense of the word, but with Phenmetrazine (which is what the Beatles were using in their Hamburg days). Not that it makes a big difference…

The Inner Ring February 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for the precision with Legeay. It was cheeky to mention him but probably worth adding that he’s done plenty for the sport in recent years.

Rider Council February 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

what….so the Beatles were cheating too?

Panda February 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

They were just 11 members but at their meeting yesterday admitted 27 new ones, hence the 38 (10 pro-tour, 16 pro-continental and 12 continental).

Matt February 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Why would BMC or Sky sign up? With the likes of Astana, Katusha, and Lampre being members, it’s hardly ‘credible’.

The Inner Ring February 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

If these teams can agree to follow the rules on cortico-steroid use then it’d be nice to see others join. Plus there’s the argument of numbers, if all teams join up then should one team go rogue the rest will be able to stand together.

Nick Evans February 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Perhaps they don’t fancy being outvoted by the likes of Astana and Katusha?

For the World Tour teams how does the self-suspension principle comply with the UCI rule requiring them to participate in all WT races?

Nick February 8, 2013 at 11:21 pm

That’s a great question.

BC February 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I think the point concerning the first real test case is valid, although the aims should be given some credit. There are now teams and individuals involved with a ‘difficult’ past. Why should SKY join the MPCC, giving some of these teams and individuals credibility. BMC has its own ‘difficult’ past so its difficult to understand their reluctance. Time will tell.
The best hope is that the UCI will take on board some of the ideas AND then enforce its own rules at whatever the level of the team – but I won’t hold my breath.

Dave February 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

“A team will suspend itself from racing following two anti-doping tests.”
-tests or failures?

The Inner Ring February 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Failures of course, I’ll fix that

Bob February 8, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Certain notable non-member teams are already doing what MPCC says their members should do, they’re just not making it into a PR show. Take a closer look at how MPCC really functions, the insufficiency of their rules, their membership and it’s clear that no matter how good their intent, the homework has not been done. Further, they have not so much as made a peep of public objection to their own founding members gratuitously breaking MPCC’s rules. The MPCC is more concerned with publicizing what they perceive to be a prestigious membership than anything else. Inrng: as usual, your analysis is good, but you need to take this one a little further. Start by noting the changes in the MPCC’s internal regulations between 2011 and now. Connect the dots and see just how malleable MPCC’s ethical imperatives actually are.

Tom February 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm

I’m confused why they’d sit a rider for low cortisol: “Any rider with a suspiciously low cortisol level must be rested for eight days”. Cortisol is the stress hormone, so is this measure more for general health as a measure of exhaustion or something? Cortisol is also the natural form of cortisone.

The Inner Ring February 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Excessive use of cortisone results in low cortisol levels. So a rider with a low level either has something wrong with them or they’ve been up to no good. In each case they need a rest. The MPCC has been conducting additional tests in conjunction with the French federation.

As this blog revealed last year some riders were told to stop racing but only two names involved were made public, there were more involved.

Peter February 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

The Groucho Marx point is real. It worked as a group for a few teams but with Katusha and Astana? Like you imply they will not hold fast to the rules if things go wrong.

Doubter February 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Blah, blah, blah……….there are tons of current and ex-dopers in the group.
If you are faced with joining and going along with the program or sitting out (with all of the questions and supposition that will cause), you will join.
38 teams?……………..Not like we have ANY basis to assume that all 1000 or so of the people involved there are clean.

The Inner Ring February 8, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Perhaps it’s more subtle. A team might not be clean but if they are caught then they have to adhere to these standards or they make things worse for themselves, no?

The MPCC won’t clean things up but it might hold teams to account a little bit more, no?

Doubter February 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

One can hope.
But what have we seen in the last 10-15 years that leads us to believe it will?

This might have more credibility with a limited amount of teams electing to join, but when they are pressured to join, it loses a lot of value.

Martin February 8, 2013 at 8:50 pm

The MPCC calling for, and receiving, priority race wildcard invites for its membership is a big mistake. Now teams have a reason to join totally unconnected to any ethical stance, and it is no coincidence that the applications to join have surged since this agreement. It is just an accident waiting to happen now.

Doubter February 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Absolutely.
Noble, but misguided attempt on their part.

sifter February 8, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Nice piece inrng. Thanks for the time you put into these.

I’m interested in your hypothetical example:

“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.”

True, the clean riders in this example suffer. But, it seems to me that this setup sends strong incentives to the entire team to be clean.
* team management should not wish any clean riders to be punished, and should give an expectation of cleanliness
* perhaps I’m overinterpreting the term “team”, but I imagine it at least extends to collegial respect, perhaps friendship, and guys “watching each other’s backs”? In any case, those inclined to dope, if they possess usual human traits, may think twice for fear of harming the careers of their innocent team mates
* similarly the clean riders have a real opportunity to exert peer-pressure within the team: “don’t fuck this up for the rest of us”.

Based on all I’ve read over the last few months, I find it incredibly hard to believe the riders at least do not know what’s going on within their groups. (Though, this hasn’t stopped some of my countrymen proclaiming this wrt riding on Armstrong’s team.) The riders should know when peer pressure and self-policing is required, and hopefully out the other end emerges a proud culture of cleanliness where non-conformists are ostracised, rather than protected.

Punishing a large group on account of actions of a few seems to me to be a sensible move. Teachers have been using this strategy to control their classes of unruly children for centuries probably.

Nick February 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm

The self-suspension following two positives also seems like a case where an attempt at ethics makes it less sponsor-friendly. Will sponsors feel comfortable dropping their money into a team that may suddenly stop racing? I’m worried that anti-doping policies that make for a less stable sponsorship environment are not the way forward. Maybe there are more creative solutions that provide both stability and strong internal pressure for clean riding?

Rolling Blunder February 9, 2013 at 10:47 am

Maybe cycling needs less sponsors or more sponsors writing a “one positive and we’re out of here!” clause into their contract. Sponsors have the leverage to make changes to doping practices, self-funding team owners maybe not so much, and are possibly roadblocks to progress.

Less sponsors = lower rider salary? Kind of a poetic justice, don’t cha think?

Michael Stevens February 9, 2013 at 5:57 am

Seems they have ripped off the Bike Pure wristband!!
Hardly a credible organisation with Astana and other corrupt teams involved.

If every team joined up to MPCC then what value will it have? As a fan I’ve no time for this group.

Rider Council February 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

we will eventually need handcuffs to clean up cycling not rubber bands.

Ken February 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

So, there are good rules out there, but no power to enforce them? That’s the UCI again, leading from behind.

Sam February 11, 2013 at 10:54 am

Given the ludicrous situation of the MPCC considering taking legal action against Armstrong for bringing the sport into disrepute (perhaps the MPCC would like mirrors to look at their own members’ doping pasts), I doubt very much that any reputable and credible ProTour team would hurry to apply for membership to the MPCC

The Inner Ring February 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

As I’ve said above, they won’t sue. It’s just bad communications.

By contrast see how the UCI has today announced it’s adopted another MPCC idea about resting anyone who needs a cortisone injection.

Forget the clumsy communications, the MPCC is actually leading substantial change.

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