New Australian team poaching riders?

Melbourne might be 10 hours ahead of European time but a new Australian cycling team is already a year ahead when it comes to planning for 2012. The team is going under the label of Green Edge Cycling, something The Inner Ring was first to reveal.

As a reminder Green Edge Cycling is being led by Shayne Bannan, the former head coach of Cycling Australia. Little else is known about the team for the time being, except that it intends to start racing in 2012 and has support from caravan maker Jayco and its millionaire owner Gerry Ryan.

Golden Hello
But I have learned that this team could be employing highly questionable tactics to recruit new riders for next year. These methods appear to include approaching riders to sign a secret legal agreement to join Green Edge. This contract, separate from an actual offer of employment for 2012, appears to help tie the rider in question to the new team and includes reference to a substantial lump sum payment should a rider sign. If this is true then Green Edge looks to be flouting the UCI rules before it’s even got going. Here are the rules relating to signing a rider from the UCI rulebook:

2.15.120a A transfer period extends from 1 August to 20 October.
2.15.120b A UCI ProTeam or licence applicant may only recruit riders during the transfer period. For the purposes of this article “recruit” shall be deemed to mean concluding a contract with a rider to ride for the UCI ProTeam or licence applicant’s team, including situations where the rider in question is already under contract to the same UCI ProTeam or licence applicant at the moment of that recruitment, e.g. in the case of the renewal of an existing contract.

So we have a set transfer period that begins on 1 August and we should note the wording refers to “a contract with a rider”. This means no team or “licence applicant” can enter into a contract prior to 1 August. Note that the word contract is not a defined term relating to the formal contract of employment, it therefore relates to any form of contract between a rider and a team. If Green Edge is approaching riders and tempting them to sign an agreement before 1 August then it’s a big breach of the rules.

But this isn’t just a dull quibble over the rulebook and the timing of contracts. It’s a highly sensitive issue for teams in 2011 given that the new squad could be signing contracts under the radar. The practice of “tapping up” or “tampering” is forbidden precisely because it destabilises a rider and their team. Done in secret, the current employer of a rider doesn’t know they’ve got a rider leaving the team.

Secret cash?
In addition I have learned that Green Edge could reward riders for UCI points gained during the 2011 season. On 30 October a rider’s points haul will calculated and a significant amount of cash per point could be due to the rider in question. Given UCI points are key to a team’s inclusion in the top league of pro cycling this would be a clever way to encourage prospective riders to bag useful points. But it’s a massive conflict of interest.

For starters, a rider is signed to one team for 2011 but stands to earn income during the same year from another, they can bank cash by getting points. Rather than loyally pursue team duties, a rider with a secret contract is incentivised to put personal ambition ahead of team loyalty. For example rather than sacrifice himself for the team sprinter, a rider might prefer to contest the sprint themselves, only to take a place in the top-10 just so they can accumulate points and ultimately cash.

This time Stapleton might be asking the questions

Melbourne-based newspaper The Age is reporting that Green Edge is “seeking to poach the cream of the country’s talent from the European establishment. Cameron Meyer and Jack Bobridge, arguably Australia’s top two young riders who are currently ensconced with powerful Spanish-based professional outfit Garmin-Cervelo, will be among those top of the hit list.

Indeed Meyer and Bobridge’s sports director Matt White (himself linked to the new team), commented on the prospect of the new team hunting for new talent, saying “it’s all about relationships and what the team is offering” to Adelaide Now. It seems Green Edge is offering plenty.

But I can reveal that the Australian squad is also looking at riders on the HTC-Highroad team. Vaughters and Stapleton might want to reflect on just how loyal some riders will be this year.

If this could pose an immediate headache for some teams, it can also raise questions about the new team. Should a team be sailing so close to the wind? What would the UCI say about rule-breaking? Are officials at Cycling Australia aware of any of this?

23 thoughts on “New Australian team poaching riders?”

  1. Are you trying to tell me that teams usually don't make contracts (formal or not) with riders before the 1st of August?

    If that was true, the team owners would be bored to death during the Tour de France 😉

  2. Yes, good point and I was expecting someone to mention this. Talks can happen well before 1 August and deals are often signed in advance. But we're talking July usually, sometimes before. Yet it's January now. Plus the rider usually tells their team of the plans.

    Also note the lump sum payment and the per-point payment, that is quite different from signing mid-season.

  3. I agree that the other points that you mention – if they are true – are very debatable (and quite unethical).

    I just wanted to point out that this team is very far from being the only one to make agreements with riders before the 1st of August.

    And January isn't that unusual either. Documents have shown that the Schleck brothers had the first formal talks concerning Team Leopard (or LEOPARD TREK, as Trek want us to call it) in Nov/Dec 2009.

  4. UCI points are going to be the new currency in pro cycling. The big organizers have given away their leverage over teams to the UCI and the ripples will cascade down the chain.

    Green Edge is just doing what they must. To enter at the top level, you have to sign riders early. Against the rules or not, I don't think a "national" project can afford to sign all of its riders on the open market after the Tour.

    The big problem to me is that the "objective criteria" for determining WorldTour teams is a small subset of races that happen to be looked upon sunnily from the UCI. If the UCI added they races they don't control or co-op to the basket, I would look upon this new cycling world much more favorably.

    I suggest the PdC World Ranking as the new criteria to rank teams and riders.

  5. Just look at who Shayne is taking for coffee during the TDU, we are looking at the boys with signed contracts in hand while meeting him. Shayne is a very smart man, and with a huge business backer behind him he certainly knows who to woo, its now just a matter of trust.

    Would someone like Bob Stapelton let someone like Goss contend for the high ranking races if he knew his loyalty was signed off elsewhere? (Green Edge need both the UCI points, and the rider would need the cash).

    I've overheard some of the boys in chatter at Australian Nationals and recent crits (however tight lipped at the TDU). Why would he not support lets say, Renshaw, who is signed with HTC til 2012? I have no idea why at all someone would shoot themselves in the foot so badly, unless of course his race schedule is already locked in place for the year? Perhaps this is why we see one particular rider saturating the media at the moment for HTC telling of strong ambitions for the season?

  6. I can't believe how non-excited I am at the prospect of another from-scratch road team with deep pockets poaching riders from current top squads (i.e. Sky, Leopard, etc.) I think it's way cooler when a squad comes up over time, like Garmin came from Slipstream and TIAA-CREF.

    Additionally, there are plenty of teams now but the pool of talent is static and is rather thinly stretched. The Tour de France is already getting mighty crowded, as your earlier post about the wild card situation attests.

    That said, I guess I'm spoiled now. My country has 4, count 'em 4, ProTeams (though only Garmin seems to have a particularly American flavor). I suppose if I were an Aussie or Luxembourger I'd feel differently. Still, a little hard to get excited about this particular team, esp. in light of the weirdness surrounding Pegasus.

  7. Nick: yes, these points have a big value and it a star rider has a big haul, sometimes teams need a few lesser riders to add to the haul. In the 1990s a rider's salary was directly correlated with their FICP points and often a string of 5th places was worth more than the occasional win.

    Anonymous: it's clear some riders in HTC have ambitions. That's legitimate but it needs to be done in the open, not with secret pay deals.

    Jay T: the more professional the teams, the better for the riders. But if a new team apppears and it's poaching riders and potentially flouting the rules before it's even started then even the other squads are going to get annoyed.

  8. Hopefully some of the riders will learn to be cautious about jumping ship due to the Pegasus debacle. But you can't prevent riders & teams from talking, but if agreements are inked, perhaps there should be some penalties.

    While I too like to see teams progress from level to level (C-PC-PT), if the UCI regulated this, it would end up hurting the sport in terms of new sponsors and new ideas.

    A better approach would be to establish and publish the criteria needed to achieve each status, stabilize the Pro Tour, and realize that outside of Western Europe, even lower level UCI and highest level National races need to have PC and PT teams (or at least a few of their riders) eligible to compete. But that is another subject…

  9. Is this any shock?

    First of all – why can't the Aussie's take the Garmin model, and spend some time first at a lower levels of cycling?

    I think the problem is that by trying to shoot for the moon, and a Pro-Tour license, they need to get such a high level of sponsorship for funding the team, that they have to guarantee a Pro-Tour license. But because you need the sponsors and funding before you can sign riders, it leaves these teams with quite a predicament. Their sponsors will only support them if they get a Pro-Tour license, but they cannot get a Pro-Tour license without sufficient UCI rider points.

    So it leads us to this.

  10. This tactic is not new to Green Edge. I have it on reasonably good authority from a rider on Garmin 2009-2010 that Sky was doing more or less the same thing during the 2009 season. In particular Shane Sutton was the Sky rep doing the dealing.

  11. Anonymous: no shock but getting caught could be embarassing. Still, a rider being paid two salaries is potentially a very big conflict of interest.

    hamncheeze: interesting. Whilst the idea I've suggested above is clever, if potentially outrageous, the idea of "tapping up" is not new and the per-point reward is not necessarily new.

  12. Cycling Australia has done so much for Australian cycling over the past few decades. Most of the riders GreenEDGE (aka CA in PT clothing) would be interested in are products of a well-oiled, long-term national system. Which is probably why Whitey was talking about relationships. While this doesn't give anyone the right to break the rules I do feel it gives GreenEDGE some grounds to pull together a PT team without doing time in the PC world.

    The Pegusus debacle almost made me cry. The last thing Australia needed was a half baked, wishy washy, attempt to launch a PT team. Pegasus should have realised they were not going to make the PT with the roster they had and should have set there sights on PC. Rather than making bold clams and pissing the UCI off. I guess GreenEDGE are trying to make sure they don't pull up short like Pegasus did.

  13. Well said, Anonymous. Without the taxes I pay, the likes of Meyer, Goss and Metthews would never have made it to their respective teams. These professional teams owe a debt of gratitude to the (often excessive and needless) taxpayer funding that made their Australian cyclists. The establishment of professional cycling may be outraged, but the establishment of professional cycling is contingent on the establishment of nations and their government funding of amateur sport.

    Get stuffed, Garmin-Cervelo. Australia the nation is bigger, stronger and has invested far too much to care about your sensibilities and your bizarre sense of propriety. Ahhh, crazy Europeans.

  14. Well Jonathan Vaughters re tweeted this (January) article today in the context of being cautious about Australian riders. There are also articles where some teams are not supporting oz riders in potential winning positions, since they… don’t want them to win? and get world tour points. The teams shouldnt be scared. If the riders are contracted to a team, havent got a new contract, the team should support them just like they should any worker. Articles this year have hilighted how poorly paid the average rider is, the last thing they need is their employers not supporting them. The funny thing is that my sources tell me Green Edge is after Fabian, Andy S, Taylor, Alberto & Sanchez… good riders from any of the teams.

  15. The teams would be very short sighted not to support Oz cyclists if this is true. There is a great crop of Oz U23 riders coming through, many of whom will prefer to go with a non Oz team for the multicultural experience. Oz cycling is experiencing a boom (world tour country rankings, track worlds, TDF GC 2011). Teams need to consider their reputations as fair employers.

  16. perhaps its this freeze out that causes stuff like this to happen,
    @Wes_Sulzberger tweeted this on April 29th:
    Incredible I’m 2nd overall by 3seconds my team didn’t ride today :S,Thibaut Pinot in the break at 2min on GC! I’ll search for a Stage win!!!

  17. Interesting: it’s more a question of who the Aussie riders are riding for. Are they riding in the service of their current employer? Are they riding for their own good? Or to bank points for a future team.

    Bonus: apparently there’s no deal for the bonus in place. Thor has an agent who should know no deal is enforceable unless its written done and a properly drafted contract.

    Alex: bingo! FDJ need points and want them to go to riders core to the team, who will be present in 2012.

  18. Riders are contracted to race, go fast and win. If you want to keep them; treat them well, pay them well, and create a positive supportive team environment- easy! 🙂

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