More questions than answers over Kireyev, Astana and the UCI

Astana team

The photo above lists Astana’s official team line up this year (click to enlarge). They started with 27 riders. In May they signed veteran Andrey Mizurov, making it 28 riders. On 1 August they added four stagiaires who can ride in addition. Then on 2 August, Andrey Kascheckin joined, meaning a rule-busting 29 riders. On 22 August Roman Kireyev disappears from the team.

Today there is news that Kireyev has suddenly retired due to a back injury. Having recruited one rider too many, Kireyev’s retirement is very convenient.

Flicked or injured, the story is still confusing me, there are more twists and turns than an Alpine road. Velonation put some questions to the UCI and here’s what a spokesman said to Velonation’s Shane Stokes:

The situation is that the UCI did accept Kashechkin as the 28th rider of the team, bearing in mind that Mr Vinokurov was retiring. A few hours later, Vinokourov said ‘I think I am coming back’. In that case, Astana were not within the rules as they had a 29th rider. It is not our mistake, as L’Equipe wrote, because we trusted Vino when he said that he will retire. On Friday night, the UCI wrote a letter to the Astana team saying that they are not following the rules and that they need to correct the situation.

But this leaves me scratching my head as I ponder some questions…

On what grounds did the UCI think Vinokourov was retiring?
Retirement is a formal issue relating to employment status, it’s not the same as saying you might not race again. Astana could only recruit Kasheckin if Vinokourov resigned from the team, ending his contract and thereby freeing up a place. When the UCI say “it is not our mistake… because we trusted Vino” that’s touching but when it comes to someone’s job status, you need things in writing. If there was never formal confirmation of retirement, why was Kascheckin’s licence issued?

If the UCI believed Vino retired, why was he listed in the team?
At no point this year did Vinokourov drop off from the UCI’s team list. By contrast Kireyev was scratched before Astana even announced the 24 year old’s retirement. If the UCI believed he had retired, why did they not remove him from the team list?

If the UCI believed Vino retired, why was he listed in the rankings?
Similarly despite Kasheckin joining on 2 August, Vinokourov remained in World Tour rankings issued on 8, 15 and 22 August. The UCI’s rules (2.10.002) state:

a rider who, in the course of the year, ceases to be a member of a team which has taken part in one or more events on the world calendar during the year in question, shall be withdrawn from the individual ranking“.

If the UCI did think Vinokourov had left the team when they approved Kasheckin’s licence, how come they still included him in the rankings? He was in the top-10 as well.

Just how bad are Kireyev’s injuries?
Normally an injured rider would be allowed to see out their contract, especially if the injuries are work-related. But a World Tour employment contract can be ended without notice as follows:

Either party shall be entitled to terminate the present contract, without notice or liability, should the Rider be rendered permanently unable to exercise the occupation of professional cyclist.

Is Kireyev permanently unable to ride? Given he’s been racing recently, it makes you wonder.

Perhaps he has found it intolerably painful to race and train, if so then I wish him well. But why not keep him on the team, because ending his contract means ending his right to be paid until the end of the year. Let’s hope his team have been generous and ensured a proper settlement and that they sought expert medical advice to be sure that he has “permanent” injuries.

Have precedents been set?
I’m worried for riders now. Can teams eject a rider mid-season from the squad if they are injured? How is it that Kireyev was facing career-threatening injuries but rode the Tour de l’Ain? Is it ok to recruit a “star rider” from another team mid-season and terminate an injured rider’s contract to make room?

Maybe you hadn’t heard of Roman Kireyev until recently. But the incident shines a light on two subjects.

First, the UCI struggles to apply its own rules when it comes to rankings and, more importantly, a rider’s health and employment status. If the UCI really thought Vinokourov had really retired then they should have removed him from the team as fast as they struck off Kireyev. But Astana had 29 riders for three weeks. Was this just a simple admin error that’s blown up into something more?

Second, the team in question appears to have broken the rules in the rush to sign Kasheckin. Only once this was pointed by L’Equipe on Sunday do we find Kireyev suddenly retiring on Monday morning. This would be amusing if it didn’t concern the career of a 24 year-old rider. Assume the injuries are real and it’s impossible for Kireyev to ride out the season, does he get paid for the rest of the season? What evidence is there that the injuries are permanent and has the UCI satisfied itself that Kireyev hasn’t been flicked for the sake of Kasheckin?

Finally, I like the Astana team. It’s great to have an Asian squad competing at the top level. But both they and the UCI need to come across as professionals who play by the rules. It’s one thing to recuit an extra rider by mistake, it’s another if this shows the UCI can’t enforce its own rules and the only way out for the team is to break an injured rider’s contract.

29 thoughts on “More questions than answers over Kireyev, Astana and the UCI”

  1. It pretty much sums up the ineptitude of the UCI. They made an error, just stand back and so – don’t try and cover it up with badly executed spin. Will this mess of hopeless men and women ever learn? Not while McDill is in charge – as the say, the fish rots from the head!

  2. At the heart, it is all very simple, both Astana and the UCI screwed up (intentional and/or not), and both are now trying to cover their mistakes in dubious manners. The sad thing is that individual riders are being sacrificed in the process.

  3. Where is the rider’s representative in all of this? Can’t remember the name right now (which says it all really), but this is the same person who is supposed to be representing the riders on the race radio situation.

    Surely termination of contract debates are the bread and butter of a cyclist’s union rep?

  4. Contractual Learnings of UCI for Make Benefit Glorious Team of Kazakhstan

    Anyway, since when does anyone think that Astana have _ever_ played by the rules?

  5. @Nikolai, it was an allegory. Kazaks are not used to following law to the letter, so they do not always follow other rules, like those set by UCI, to the letter either. Remember the financial issues a year ago? “It is the same same again” as “Borat” would so strikingly say.

  6. We can’t excuse a team based on nationality.

    If some teams, regardless of the nationality, have trouble following all the rules all of the time then this is what a governing body is for. It creates rules and upholds them, no?

  7. It seems these folks are used to doing whatever they want and if someone questions whether they’re following the rules, they just make it up as they go along. A guy they want comes available but they already have a full roster. So they say, “well, Vino sez he’s retired” and sign the guy. Vino sez he’s not retired so they tell this other guy, “if anyone asks, YOU are retired now” and announce the retirement, making room in their roster for both of the high-profile guys. I’d bet it won’t be long before the “retired” guy (just like Vino) is unretired and riding for another team, or comes back to the team after they can someone else at season/contract end. Compared to the corruption involving doping, this is pretty small stuff, don’t you think? 28 guys, 29 guys, 30 guys, who really cares about an arbitrary rule like this? DOPING and the corruption/coverups in pro cycling is what’s killing the sport, not the size of pro team rosters.

  8. As Nikolai and Leonard point out, where a team is from doesn’t matter, they should all be playing by the rules and the governing body should be standing by its own rules.

    Larry: I hear you but I can’t cover doping every day. Plus the UCI is trying to combat doping (see the bio passport etc)… yet here it’s confused over its own rules and worse, struggling to explain things. Remember, if this “arbitrary rule” then a 24 year old rider saw his contract ended this week.

  9. At Larry, and others saying this is small change compared to other problems:

    This is a simple issue that should be trivial to enforce. How can the UCI be trusted with a lot of contentious issues (like the infamous stickers and bike licensing process, the debates regarding the uneven application of the biopassport [q.v. Vroomen] and the mystery lists for riders of interest plus the potential conflict of interest regarding the races in China) when enforcement of the rules is so sketchy?

    I was on a UCI time trial last weekend. I saw a handful of riders DQ’d for not complying with the UCI rules for time trial bikes. In some cases, the positioning of the jigs was a bit debatable, but fortunately there was no silliness with “level” saddles. But when something is so clear as having “x” number of riders and it is not enforced properly, it makes me very suspicious. Incompetence at the very best, and corruption at the worst.

  10. I am just quessing here. If a rider felt he was treated unfairly there are several paths he could take including lawyering-up. But the world of Kazak cycling is probably pretty small–a rider might not want to rock the boat. One would hope that Astana would provide compensation/incentive to a “voluntary” retiree including possibly a role in the expanded team next year.

  11. Surely this is another product of the faulty points system? Where would Astana stand without Vino’s points? I can only imagine this would explain interest in other circles for Leipheimer, who has amassed a decent number from lower tier races. At what point could Vino retire while ensuring his points for next year help Astana’s cause for 2012?

  12. Well,
    the bigger issue to me is the precedent this may set in terms of destabilizing rider contracts. It is bad enough the shenanigans which have occurred on some teams (Sorry – Garmin-Cervelo has some shady relations with their riders).

    I would like the UCI to lookout for the riders in this case, and request a public disclosure as to what has happened with this rider, how his contract was impacted, and that he was not hung out to dry.

  13. Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.

    Jim: I think you’re right but that’s where a governing body comes in. It’s got rules, it sets the terms of contracts already so if it could only uphold its own rules.

    fen-q: it comes down to hiring neo-pros. You can have 28 max but this can go up to 30 if you take on 2-5 ne0-pros at the start of the year. Astana didn’t take on any neo-pros, so they are set at 28. UCI rule 2.15.110.

  14. You could in theory chalk this one up to the problems when you try to create a “Pro-Tour”. Once you do that, each team will do whatever they can to make the cut. In the case of pro cycling, with rider points dictating inclusion into the club (as well as financial backing), it creates teams signing riders, often for their points, even if the rider does not fit into the team’s focus/goals for the year.

  15. In the case of this situation, the rider points rule caused this issue, as Astana wants to keep Vino on board, even if he technically is done. So what this means is that in reality, they only had 27 riders, but listed 28. But when deciding to go after the Lampre rider, they were working under the reality of 27. Unfortunately, they wanted it both ways. They wanted 28 riders, but wanted Vino’s points.

  16. Good analysis, you’ve asked all the right questions. I’m disappointed but not surprised to see yet another casual slip by the UCI. They never seem to quite realise that sooner or later, people notice and then publicise mistakes, silent assumptions or a lack of attention to detail. Either Vino formally retired or he didn’t. If the UCI can’t get these trivial details right, what respect can they expect from cycling fans, riders and (potential) sponsors? For the sake of the sport, they desperately need to build their stature, their authority and above all, their legitimacy. Step one: UCI, read your own rulebook. Step two: enforce it.

  17. To Torben’s point, one of the great lines I’ve heard while working in the middle east, with a similar mindset… in an argument with a partner over why he wasn’t doing what he was contractually obliged to do, and said with a tone of wounded suffering:
    “You speak of this ‘contract’ as if it were a fixed thing.”

    As for the UCI, it’s just another red nose for a bunch of clowns.

  18. This might have been mentioned, however my concern is if Kireyev really is as badly injured as claimed then what were Astana using to mask his pain for so long? Especially given that recent 40th place.

  19. UCI corrupt? I believe so. Incompetent? Perhaps in some ways. My point is that the corruption is a far larger issue in the sport at present. Even if they were super-competent, pinning down this team on an issue like this was certain to be a challenge but there are far larger issues to be concerned about. I’m not asking for doping stories 24/7 and understand you need other things to write about, but this incident is a tempest in a teapot, as they say.

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