The PCC took note that further to the CAS decision earlier this week concerning Alberto Contador, the UCI will today ask its Licence Commission to issue a ruling on whether the Saxo Bank-Sungard team should retain its place in the UCI WorldTour. If the points obtained by Alberto Contador, representing approximately 68% of the Saxo Bank-Sungard team’s total points, are disregarded, his team would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion required for the UCI WorldTour.
That’s the UCI in a press release today. They got the team’s name wrong, it is Saxo Bank only but that is the least of Bjarne Riis’s worries right now as the future of his cycling team is at stake. Alberto Contador has been banned, he loses the 2010 Tour de France and all results from January 2011 onwards but on top of this he forfeits the points and prizes too.
Now the UCI will determine if the Saxo Bank squad should lose its ProTeam status, the ticket to ride the World Tour calendar and automatic invitation to the top events. The UCI is entitled to do this, its rules state:
2.15.040 The licence commission may withdraw the licence in the following cases:
1. if the information taken into account in granting the licence or the registration of the UCI ProTeam was erroneous and the commission considers that the actual situation did not justify the grant of a licence or registration;
2. if the information taken into account in granting the licence or the registration of the UCIProTeam has changed such that the issue conditions are no longer fulfilled, or the commission considers that the new situation does not justify the issue of a licence or registration;
But note the conditional “may withdraw”, it is not certain. What is certain is that Saxo Bank without Contador is quite a different team and the UCI might say the team’s “sporting value” is now so diminished that it feels compelled to act. Certainly the press release above suggests this, it is not simply saying “we will review this” but says “If the points… are disregarded, his team would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion”. Given the CAS has said the points must be disregarded the UCI’s stance tonight seems quite clear.
But should the UCI do this? Certainly the team is diminished without Contador. But he was signed in good faith, Riis did not know of the positive test which happened whilst the Spaniard was with the Astana team. Similarly other riders have joined the squad and they will get a collective punishment, being no longer able to ride the major races because of events unrelated to them. One the other hand, as one twitter correspondent put it to me “innocent riders are out of world tour because saxo had a cheat with 70% of their points” but my reply here is that we have no proof of Contador cheating, only the positive test for clenbuterol bit. Nobody can prove where it came from.
The team is not finished if the licence changes. Saxo could up end up with Pro Contintental status, the next level down. It would be a contender for wildcard invitations to many races and with Alberto Contador back in August, the team could be sure of participation thanks to his allure. There would be no point in having the licence which would rather undermine the whole scheme.
Also there is not much in the rulebook on the mechanics of this. If a team loses its licence one day I’ve not seen when it has to step out of the top races. Teams get invitations and make plans well in advance, I can’t imagine any team being ejected overnight.
Finally never discount Bjarne Riis. A survivor of many a scandal and master tactician he can often surprise when you least expect it.
In UCI’s press release promises a review but seems to hint at the team losing its licence even before the review has occurred. The UCI may do this under its rules but this is a voluntary decision, remember the rules say “may withdraw”, not “must” or “should”. Given the collective punishment here it would seem harsh to remove the licence but clearly the squad is a different proposition without Contador present.
There is one way to settle this issue for good though… wait for it… Give the Court of Arbitration for Sport a call.