UCI lets Saxo Bank keep Pro Team licence

Eight weeks ago the UCI announced it would ask its Licence Commission to review the status of Team Saxo Bank’s UCI ProTeam licence, its spot amongst the top-18 teams with automatic entry into the biggest races. Today we learn from the UCI that the team will keep its licence. Here’s a quick recap of the issues and also why Saxo Bank’s trouble’s aren’t over yet.

The UCI decided to review the team’s position, saying in a press release:

“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.”

There’s one relevant rule at work here:

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;

Note the use of the conditional tense, the licence commission “may withdraw” the licence. I think it’s fair. In an interview with the Velocast podcast Jonathan Vaughters, Garmin-Barracuda owner team manager and also president of the AIGCP, the pro teams’ association, said the following:

“Bjarne got himself in a situation in which any of us could be in. He bought another rider from another team (from Astana, Contador) and said ok “I have to build my team totally around this guy because he’s the best stage racer in the world” and he made all the movements to make that happen. He let Fabian Cancellara out of his contract to go to another team because he was going to support 100% Contador and not be diluted. And he was not informed about this positive test.

All of a sudden, boom, he’s informed about it. He’s made all the wrong moves, ok. Contador goes to the Spanish Federation, he gets exonerated meaning that Bjarne has to pay Contador’s contract which is the largest in cycling. He has no financial ability to go and buy other points and that contract was validated by the fact that Contador was exonerated by the Spanish federation. He’s in a pickle.

All of a sudden in the middle of the 2012 season the appeal comes back and says “ok he’s suspended, all of his points are out of the window”. Where could Bjarne have made another move?”

Vaughters sets out everything well. Saxo and its manager Bjarne Riis responded to the incentives given to the them under the rules; the other riders on the team were wholly innocent of this. Yes the team is very different without Contador but nobody at Saxo is to blame here, to remove the licence would have been a form of collective punishment. Plus if you threw the team out, you wouldn’t promote another squad mid-season so there’s little point in the move in the first place. A shame it took eight weeks to realise this.

But keeping the licence doesn’t solve Saxo Bank’s problems:

  • Contador’s contract is void and in theory he’s open to sign for any team. Loyalty – and money – might tie him to Saxo Bank but that’s not certain for now. He’ll be back in August but is technically unemployed for now.
  • This was a team built around Alberto Contador. There are some very good domestiques but so far they’re struggling to fill the vacuum left by Contador. In his absence the team has yet to win in Europe and “only” has wins in the Tour of Taiwan and Argentina’s Tour de San Luis. There’s a chance this is corrected with more hilly races coming. But for now the squad has only two UCI points and sits in last place on the team rankings; by contrast FDJ-BigMat is second last but has 71 points.
  • Should this carry on it is not good for morale. Worse the team will lack points meaning when it comes to a legitimate review of the team’s position later in the year then they will be relegated.
  • Even if Contador returns to the team and wins the Vuelta he won’t be entitled to receive UCI points under a new UCI rule. So Saxo Bank are still likely to find themselves without vital ranking points.
  • I think this rule could untenable as it conflicts with the WADA Code… we could see Contador and Saxo Bank testing the rule at the Court of Arbitration as their route to keeping the team’s Pro Team status.
  • Meanwhile the team sponsor only has a deal until the end of the year. They have indicated support and could remain if the future is certain but all this risk might have them scratching their heads.

However, if Contador signs for Saxo Bank, then as I suggested in February if they are ejected from the World Tour they could be sure of many “wildcard” invitations given his allure. But if he doesn’t join the squad Bjarne Riis will have to shop for riders with points to keep the team up.

Remember Saxo Bank made an advert about supporting people in tough times. We’ll see what the Danish brokerage does…

Saxo publicité Contador
"Opportunities often come out of a crisis"


I don’t understand why the decision took so long, it must have been worrying riders and staff for weeks. The team is different without Contador but that’s almost punishment enough, they have struggled so far this season.

But Bjarne Riis and his Danish squad face plenty of extra hurdles if they’re going to remain in the top tier for 2013, even if Contador rejoins. Tragically the team’s salvation could involve an appeal to the CAS. Today’s decision is a temporary relief but the team’s future is far from certain.

22 thoughts on “UCI lets Saxo Bank keep Pro Team licence”

  1. Couldn’t possibly agree more with everything that you have said there. Makes perfect sense for Saxo to keep their licence, makes little sense that it took 8 weeks to decide this, thanks to Pat, his Gangster friends and his Personal Vendettas.

  2. Initially I thought keeping Saxo in the peloton was the right decision. But now that Pat & Co. have made the same choice, maybe I got it wrong.

  3. This seems fairly simple to me.
    The whole mess can get dropped on the UCI’s doorstep for withholding the positive test.
    They threw Saxo a bone to sidestep any covering up the test arguments it would seem. If the test was revealed in a timely manner none of this would have happened.
    Does Pat have it in for Bjarne? Kinda seems like it. Unless Pat bumbled the “making the test go away” for Contador’s camp. I would like to believe the former as it reads well and promises a book deal down the road but in all reality it is probably the latter.
    Hey INRNG. While I’m in conspiracy territory since this initially went down on Astana’s watch can we connect some Russians to this though the oil tycoon angle?

  4. http://gerard.cc/2012/02/27/the-perfect-doping-crime/ is an interesting take on how all involved still benefit from the doping. Based on Mr. 60%’s history and anticompetitive antics in the sport I was in some ways looking for the final “what goes around comes around” but perhaps Bjarne has suffered enough since Il Pistolero doesn’t seem to have been forthcoming with any details prior to inking his contract with Riis? Seems to me if the UCI really had a vendetta, SAXO would have been tossed out of the big boys club.

  5. I am constantly surprised at how much I have to learn, how much I miss. I am pleasantly surprised to read that Liquigas are leading the table, and that Grenedge are so highly placed.

  6. I don’t know why but I will still support Alberto to come back and kick some ass at the Vuelta. May be I just want the old teams to stay there in WT and continue their legacy

  7. Once again a very informative article. Behind the scenes of Cycling…
    @inrng Do we know for which team would Contador ride in the Vuelta 2013? if not Saxo Bank. I mean, which team would buy such a huge contract?

  8. Once again a very informative article. Behind the scenes of Cycling…
    @inrng Do we know for which team would Contador ride in the Vuelta 2012? if not Saxo Bank. I mean, which team would buy such a huge contract?

  9. apologies for the basic question but how does promotion / relegation work. Do you need a certain amount of points to guarantee top team status (and if so how many do you need) or is it arbitary with a decision made by the licence commission.

  10. Maybe this is me being naïve, but it would seem now that the team’s priority should be to sign some riders with points, pronto!
    Relying on Contrador to return to the team is the same as building a team around him with no back-up plan, which is the position the team is in now.

    There are a number of variables when riders come back after a ban:

    1) In recent history, riders coming back after a ban, seem to be a lot less competitive than they were prior to the ban, I will leave you to make up your own mind on the reasons for that. If on his return, Contrador were to be more like the rider from the 2011 TdF then the team needs to have more eggs in its basket.
    2) Rightly or wrongly there will always now be a level of suspicion around Contrador, how will he handle that? History has shown us that he handled the pressure in the 2010 TdF very well, but that was a different type of pressure. Who knows how this will affect the mental aspect of his game, and how that would play into the results for Saxo.
    3) As was pointed out he is a free agent, he might just say to hell with this, and join another team. Maybe the rumoured team of F1 Driver Alonso is a runner!

    The moral of the story is, when building a team, don’t hang all your eggs on one rider, after all they may never be done for anything wrong, but they might just fall off the bike once and ruin their season.

    It seems to me Saxo need to sign riders with points and winning pedigree before the end of this season.

  11. Yes, it is the right decision. And, yes, Saxo Bank (Bjarne) has much to contemplate between now and October (WorldTour team appointments). But, what a total stuff up.
    All this would have been avoided – doubt for the team, doubt for the sponsors, doubt for the mug punters – if when a rider tests positive (or fails to meet the whereabouts conditions), that rider is immediately suspended, no ifs, no buts. If the rider’s B sample tests negative, the suspension is lifted. If the rider wants to appeal, via home federation, or via CAS and is successful, then the suspension is lifted.
    No results would have to be reversed; no prize money returned; no WorldTour points (mis)allocated.
    Bottom line; if you get caught, get out now.

  12. Prashanth Bhat: who ever pays the most or offers the best deal. We’ll see,

    Ian: teams are assessed on “sporting merit” which is done via a secret internal UCI ranking, not via the UCI’s public team rankings. But riders get points for wins in a similar fashion.

  13. >Based on Mr. 60%’s history and anticompetitive antics in the sport

    The difference between Riis and other team managers / DSs of his age that Riis has won a Tour. That’s all.

  14. Ave-unless you count his EPO use to “win” that Tour or perhaps his rather nasty statement back when LeTour was neutralized to honor Fabio Casartelli (something like “we shoulda raced!”) or his driving antics in last year’s Giro, or maybe his infamous bike toss here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFzteK_y1b4
    Riis to me is a perfect example of the “just win baby!” attitude and seems to throw rules and ethical behavior out-the-window in order to do that or throws a fit when he can’t.
    A cunning DS for sure, but not an admirable sportsman in my view, either as rider or director.

  15. You might like Riis, you might not. But surely the point of the rules is to decide on team’s future based on clear rules, not personal preferences?

    The Dude: no team for Hammond, he has retired. I gather there’s a very good interview with him in Rouleur magazine but have not read it.

  16. Inrg-certainly! I stated my dislike of the guy was personal without going into the reasons in my earlier post, just clarified those reasons for ave in the later one since he claimed the only thing different about Bjarne was his Tour “win”. Under the current rules, Riis has as much right to be there as anyone, whether I like him or not.

  17. is it a coincidence that the announcement over the future of saxo, the non-appeal of contador, and the “muzzling” of ashenden all happened together? certainly reading ashendens interview re contador, he pretty much spelled out his opinion, especially the clarification of what made it from the court room and into a wider audience….

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