Eduardo Sepúlveda panicked. His chain was broken and he’d just seen his Bretagne-Séché Environnement team car drive past without spotting him. The Ag2r La Mondiale team car stopped to enquire, offered him a wheel which was no Usero the rider and, inexplicably, he climbed in the Ag2r car to make up the 300 metres separating him from his team car. It’s a basic premise that you have to complete the course on your own and Sepúlveda was caught and disqualified from the Tour de France. He got a 200 Swiss Franc (CHF) fine too. Think about it: you ride in a car and get disqualified for such a serious offence… and then a light cash fine.
The fines levied by the UCI are bizarre. The sums are often so inconsequential that they never match the gravity of the deed.
You can do something in a race that results in the most grave penalty of instant disqualification but as well as being ejected from the race on the spot, there’s cash fine to pay. It happens all the time, take Richie Porte’s controversial wheel change in the Giro where he copped a three minute time penalty… and a 200 CHF fine. For riders on six-figure salaries and teams with multi-million budgets these fines are meaningless.
The fines are so light that they read like a menu. Is your rider dropped? Help them back to the peloton with a quick tow behind the car and it’s 30 CHF, a prolonged tow is 50 CHF or why not opt for a loooooong sticky bottle and pay 50 CHF. There all set online in a PDF.
If the commissaire comes along and gives you a warning and you ignore it then it’s just another cash fine to pay later. Depending on the incident there’s a scale where repeat offences attract heavier fines and even disqualification, for example in a stage race if you sprint wildly across the road it’s relegation and a 200 CHF fine, do it three times and it’s disqualification and 200 CHF. Disqualification is the obvious deterrent but why the light fine?
“Claude, do your job and give him a 20 second penalty. Otherwise he’ll be three minutes down.”
That’s Spanish team manager José-Miguel Echevarri who was confronted by UCI Commissaire Claude Deschaseaux in the 1990s for pacing Armand de la Cuevas back to the peloton, as explained in L’Equipe on Monday. In other words the fine, whether cash or a time penalty, is often preferable to reality, a tariff to be paid. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime indeed the tariff is signalling that it’s no big deal to get a sticky bottle, to sling waste in to the countryside. So if it’s tempting to blame riders and teams for breaking the rules, from their point of view sometimes there’s a low chance of being caught and if it happens, the fine isn’t that big anyway. Indeed the fines are so low that they signal breaking the rules is no more consequential than the price of a pizza for two, a bargain when you consider the pressure, importance of the Tour de France. Surely the fines need to match the occasion, a 200 CHF fine for an U23 team might make them think twice but it’s meaningless for a manager driving the team car who spends the rest of the year juggling a budget of €10, €20 or even €30 million.
For what it’s worth the chart shows the total of fines levied so far in the Tour de France, from Stages 1-17. Sky lead the classification thanks to DS Nicolas Portal’s descent of the Col de Manse/Rochette where he was caught in between the riders following Thomas’s crash and this disruptive penalty was worth a hefty 1,000 CHF alone, otherwise the usual fines are 30, 50, 100 and 200 CHF. Rather than fixate on any rankings by fines, the chart shows the amounts levied so far and the total sum of fines levied so far comes to 9,660 CHF, a sum that neither deters people nor raises money for anything, the admin involved in levying and invoice probably costs as much as the fine.
All the money is invoiced to the teams who treat it as an operating expense, the same as fuel for a team car or bandages for the first aid box. In case you think the UCI is being trivial sometimes fining the riders, then note it doesn’t even collect the income, this is paid to the national federation so the Fédération Française de Cyclisme for the Tour de France, USA Cycling for the Tour of California and so on. So why the Swiss francs? Because cycling’s governing body, the UCI, is based in Switzerland.
Some mistakes in a race can cost time or even result in a rider being thrown off the race but the most frequently applied penalty is a cash fine. A rider being paced back to the bunch after a mechanical or a crash is still on a net loss given the injury or just the effort spent correcting their misfortune and sometimes there’s an understanding. The fines neither deter people nor raise much money, if anything they put a price on a breaking the rules and too often it’s a bargain. We have the Kafka-esque scenario where breaking the rules is the most profitable, rewarding course of action. The scale needs reworking for 2016 and the good news is that it’s surely an easy reform.
Current exchange rates: 100 CHF = €95 = $105 = £66