Katusha Chaos


A quick post to examine what’s next for the sport after the Court of Arbitration ruled last Friday that the Russian teams should go back in World Tour.

The ruling might have left the team celebrating their good news but there’s still a smoky veil of uncertainty over what comes next and a headache for the UCI and others. If they are promoted will someone get relegated? And how can a professional sport have promotion and relegation scenarios that get decided during the season by Swiss court hearings?

First the UCI’s licensing procedure takes a direct hit. As stated on here before, it’s not just some side committee within the UCI. Instead Pierre Zappelli is a former Swiss Supreme Federal Court judge and he’s joined by Hans Höhener, ex-President of the Swiss Athletics Federation and senior corporate executive and PhD André Hurter. If these three heavyweights have made a big mistake then something serious is up.

Next the UCI looks a victim of events. In response to the news on Friday all we got was a holding statement saying:

The UCI will now evaluate the consequences of this ruling and will communicate further in coming days, as soon as such evaluation has taken place.

Now this is fair enough given the UCI isn’t in charge, the Licence Commission is. But this only shows how the UCI seems to have lost control of events here and can’t say what will happen, it’s become a hostage of the system it created and forced to react to the process rather than control it.

So what will happen? Well there are two principal scenarios for the UCI: apply the rules or break the rules.

Apply the rules
In simple terms the CAS has ruled that Katusha has a licence so they go back into the World Tour. But there are already 18 teams and the rules state there should be a maximum of 18 teams.

Here is the rule:

2.15.241 Should the contested decision be judged to be arbitrary it shall be annulled and the CAS shall make a new decision that shall replace the contested decision. This decision shall settle the case definitively. No further appeal shall be admitted.
However should the annulment of the contested decision open the way to a new allocation of the licences or a new award of a licence for which there is more than one candidate, the case shall be returned to the licence commission. After consulting the parties, the commission may, if it considers that it is in possession of adequate information, renounce any further documentary submissions and/or hearings. The case shall then be adjudged on the basis of the licence application documentation as submitted to the commission on the occasion of its initial decision.

The rules say there can be no more appeals. Given Katusha gets allocated a new licence the case goes back to the Licence Commission. The wording is imprecise because it says “the case” goes back to the Licence Commission. But the CAS has ruled for Katusha so the question is whether “the case” means the entire attribution of licences for 2013. If so then in order to satisfy the conditions then it is my understanding that Saxo Bank-Tinkoff were the last applicant to make and therefore they’d be excluded.

But note this means the case goes back to the Licence Commission. They won’t be happy to find the CAS over-rulling their work and it’ll be strange for them to implement a change that they first rejected.

Break the rules
But the UCI can ill-afford to see the UCI throwing out teams whilst the season is under way. Psychologists and economists talk about something called Loss Aversion whereby studies suggest once people have something they don’t want to give it away. Put another way it is more harmful to award a World Tour licence and then strip it from a team than it is not to give the licence in the first place. Any team ejected now will struggle for invitations to the big races and imagine the fury of sponsors who’d been looking forward to the Tour de France. Above all it just feels unfair, the rejected team has not done anything wrong but would pay the biggest price for the UCI’s bungling.

Therefore the best solution seems to be letting 19 teams ride on an exceptional basis. However if this protects riders and reassures the sponsors, it still doesn’t satisfy. It means the UCI has to suspend one of its own rules and what good is a governing body that ignores its own rulebook?

The problem is a problem
Nobody knows what’s happening and this is a problem in itself. Imagine you’re thinking of sponsoring a pro team for 2014 but this case would make you think twice because who knows if your investment backs a top tier team or a second division outfit. Even the UCI is uncertain here. The longer this goes on, the worse it is.

Staying put?

Rodriguez should be staying. If there’s a break clause allowing him to leave then it can’t be used now given the team has been ruled back in on seemingly irrevocable terms.

The Saxo Precedent
One year ago the Danish team Saxo were faced with losing their licence in the wake of the CAS finally sanctioning Alberto Contador for his 2010 Tour de France positive. The UCI raised the idea of stripping the licence but the Licence Commission rejected this and let the team keep its licence. There are two lessons here:

  • the UCI can call for things to happen but it is not in control of the process
  • the Licence Commission is the body that determines what happens

Friday’s verdict was a surprise and even the UCI was caught short. Hopefully the issue can be sorted soon but there’s no easy solution. Either the UCI and the Licence Commission break their own rules, or last year’s licence settlement gets revisited and an innocent team is ejected through little fault of its own. There’s no easy choice.

Worse the UCI might even have lost control of the process, caught between the CAS and its own Licence Commission. Each future course of action has awkward consequences for the sport and the way precious licences are attributed.

Update: since writing this the UCI have announced there will be 19 teams.

  • It’s strange to see the UCI breaking its own rules but it’s better than ejecting a team in the World Tour.
  • But in true UCI style there’s still a load of questions, for example there’s no word on the wildcards. A race like the Giro has invited four teams to take part. But another UCI rule limits the size of a field to 200 riders for safety. 23 teams x 9 riders = 207 riders. So we could see another rule broken to allow a larger field in the race.
  • It’s unknown if the races agree or if have been informed apart from this press release

47 thoughts on “Katusha Chaos”

  1. if they do go with 19 teams will it mean 1 wildcard gets shafted instead of Saxo? With the Giro wildcards already decided that would be harsher still.

    • It’s possible but this still shafts a team, be it it the rider or the sponsors who were hoping to ride the race. Plus as mentioned below, the Giro don’t want to change. Either way there’s no certainty to the process.

  2. I would think that if they actually do strip someone of a license, that team will likely appeal to CAS, and leave everything up in the air for another month or two.

  3. Some have proposed 19 teams with fewer riders for each race so wildcards don’t get excluded. Who would need to agree to this? UCI and race organizers, or would teams also need to buy into this plan?

    • Teams have to buy in. Imagine you own a team or sponsor it. You spent last year hiring 30 strong riders and now you’re told you’ll have to leave out one rider for each race because somebody’s made a mistake. It also increases, at least in the statistical sense, the chance that another team wins.

      Plus you’re still changing the rules.

      • Presumably, the statistical argument applies to 19 teams too. Perhaps breakaways become more likely to succeed, also?

        I can imagine some of the top teams would be keen on a strict adherence to any rule/s that excludes Saxo from the WT, given the potential removal of their strong riders from some races.

        • Exactly. The Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said he’s interested in smaller teams because it could open up the racing, teams can’t control the race and so on.

          But if you want to adopt this, do it in time and with plenty of advance warning so people know the rules of the game are changing.

  4. What is the likelihood the UCI will stick with 19 teams and assist race organizers in amending logisitics for an extra team in all Protour events which have already announced their wildcards?

  5. Michele Acquarone makes the point that introducing an extra team to races would be very difficult/expensive at this point with hotels etc. already being booked. http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/acquarone-the-worldtour-must-have-18-teams
    You could argue that reducing teams sizes by one rider each would mitigate this but all the riders in an extra team would need to be in the same hotel and the backroom staff would still be the same size. With many races struggling to survive I can’t see them too eager to add another team, so would the UCI cover their extra costs? I think that’s even more unlikely.
    I’d have thought that the UCI could have thought through the two CAS options before the announcement, there was plenty of time. But whatever happens (18 teams or 19 teams) the UCI are in a loose/loose situation.

    On a side note, I still don’t understand how Katusha were able to have a Pro Conti licence seeing as the ethical guides are the same as WT, so UCI have already bent/disregarded/changed their rules… no?

  6. I don’t think the wild card issue is a huge one for the Tour, as you have to think ASO will want both Contador and JRod there, given the parcours, so the should accept having 19 WT teams and one less wild card.

    For the Giro it is a huge issue, but I can see the UCI allowing them an additional squad at present squad sizes. Another exception to the rules.

  7. Maybe a case can be made at CAS for doing away with the UCI? When wrestling was tossed out of the Games recently it resulted in the president of that federation resigning…maybe there’s hope there? Hard to see how they won’t just let 19 teams be in the top-tier for now, and perhaps the last wild-card selection gets tossed or they cut the teams down to 8 instead of 9. Wasn’t that long ago (or was it?) that there were 10 on a team and back-in-the-day even more? UCI doesn’t enforce many of their own rules with any consistency anyway, why should this one be different? It’ll be the same with the obnoxious fork lips as Inner Ring pointed out–they’ll get “worn down” eventually from use and the wheels will change out just as Tullio Campanolo intended.

  8. The UCI has decided: 19 teams in the World Tour.

    It’s strange to see the UCI breaking its own rules but it’s better than ejecting a team in the World Tour.

    But there’s no word on the wildcards. A race like the Giro has invited four teams to take part. But another UCI rule limits the size of a field to 200 riders for safety. 23 teams x 9 riders = 207 riders. So we could see another rule broken to allow a larger field in the race.

  9. An alternative solution for this season, that would also require the UCI’s breaking of their own rules, would be to allow a single World Tour team to drop out of a particular WT race they don’t really want to participate in.

    This might be a great solution for the race organizers, as they can maintain their wild cards, and not incur additional expense/hassle of adding a team. And for the teams it could save budget and allow them to focus more on what is important to them.

    The devil would be in the details, but there is nothing insurmountable here.

    • In theory a good point. In practice it would only apply to the smallest of races. Would even Greenedge forego LBL for example? As for the TTs, with the heaviest logistical load, nobody would want to (or get their sponsor’s agreement to) opt out.

      • There is a precedent here – I think it was the 2009 Giro that Euskatel didn’t send a team to. RSC chose to invite Xacobo Galicia to retain Spanish interest. The tour is the obvious race no one will opt out of.

      • It isn’t perfect, but it could happen even in the Grand Tours and large races; not all teams have the ability to compete in all 3 GTs. If your team is off the back and dropping out, there isn’t much publicity for your sponsors; a frequent example is Euskatel at the Spring Classics. In any case, it is a potential solution for at least some of the races. This CAS ruling is going to require adaptation (and going outside the rules), so there may not be any single measure required to be taken. Hopefully this will result in permanent changes t the entire system in due time.

  10. There is a degree of incompetence at play here – UCI and race organisers have known for a while that Katusha are appealing (ie appealing in a legal sense, not being attractive) so any half-way sensible business would have a “what if ” strategy. Even if they only had a 1 in four chance of winning parties should have had a good idea what they were going to do.

  11. Not one of your better articles.

    You have consistently (and quite rightly) berated the UCI over events where it appears to have a conflict of interest. Yet when the UCI sets up a Licence Commission to avoid any such conflict, and things back-fire for reasons beyond it’s control, you criticise the UCI for being “forced to react to the process rather than control it”. Heads you win, tails the UCI looses . . .

    • It seems an issue of timing. If the Licence Commission were able to sit earlier so final decisions were before 10th December then UCI wouldn’t be “forced to react”, they would have time to sort out problems. So it looks like its the UCI’s timing of the processes that has backed them into the corner.
      The system of applying/renewing licences yearly is the problem, but how to fix that in a workable way is million dollar question.

    • It’s more an observation rather than a criticism that the process is now decided by the independent CAS and Licence Commission and the UCI is almost a third party. This is strange to see, no?

      If there’s any criticism it’s that the UCI doesn’t know what’s happening when the ruling is out and even now there’s no agreement how to adjust for the wildcards or field size for the grand tours.

  12. “…even the UCI was caught short” – isn’t that their modus operandi???

    Maybe we’ll finally see a positive change and GT’s will be contested by teams of 8 instead of 9… I’m sure this would go a very long way towards taking some control out of the hands of the ‘superteams’… One rider less per team may not sound like much but it’s 50% of the way towards 7 riders/team (which I believe is probably the ideal number).

    Hell, at 7 riders/team, you could have TWENTY EIGHT teams and still be under 200 riders. I don’t see how that would be a bad thing?

    • It might be interesting but it’s a big change. Note the UCI is going to experiment with six man teams in some World Tour events, the announcement was out the other day.

      By all means explore the idea but don’t adopt it because the CAS has forced you to fix the numbers.

    • Everyone forgets that Sky effectively raced the whole of the 2012 tour with 8 men after Siutsou crashed out early on, and their 8 men dominated against teams of 9!

      I can’t see reducing team sizes having much effect on the climbs (where everyone seems to be upset that Sky controlled the race), instead I see it either damaging sprint trains as there’ll be fewer fresher riders left at the finish after chasing all day, or it’ll increase the likelihood of a flat stage breakaway staying away. That does nothing to counter everyone’s issue with last years tour, that Sky took all then excitement out of the mountains, if anything it’ll give every other team one less rider with which to combat Sky.

      How about we just dock top teams a rider or two as a handicap? (sarcasm)

      • And those 8 included Eisel and Cav and the leader Wiggins, therefore 5 (in the mountains) domestiques which with a 7 man starting team (after losing 1 to crash ) would mean 3 climbing domestiques. Certainly would make things difficult to control, meaning the leader would have to “race” more?

        • You’re assuming that by cutting team sizes to 7 climbing DSs would be the ones cut. I’d argue that sprinters would be cut from Sky’s team as they would have to focus on one thing.

          If OPQS had to run a 7 man team it’s likely the Velits brothers may be dropped to focus on Cav, if Astana had to run 7 then maybe Guardini would be cut to focus on Nibali. It’s hard to say definitively but it’s possible that instead of it opening it up racing it might actually diminish the race as teams would be focused on one thing, GC or sprints, and wouldn’t be able to do what teams did last year and attack the race on multiple fronts. That means potentially fewer top sprinters in the field if BMC/Sky/Astana etc focus on climbing, and fewer attacking climbers if the likes of OPQS/GreenEdge/Lotto focus solely on sprints.

          Yes you’re bringing in more teams and potentially the talent would be spread thinner across more teams but still, the 18 WT teams would horde the best riders and if they can’t bring 9 man squads the quality of the field would be diminished.

  13. If this becomes the reason why GT teams are reduced in size, then teh chaos is worth it in my opinion. 9-rider teams are just ridiculous.

    Like GluteCramp above, I woud love to see 7-rider teams. Managers would complain that they can’t control the race with only 7 riders – but that’s the whole point. A team shouldn’t be able to lock down and fully control a race.

  14. I see on cyclingnews “The CAS did not release its reasoning, but said that in its deliberations, it “did not reach the same conclusions as the UCI Licensing Commission.” Therefore, the CAS ruled that Katusha must be given the WorldTour licence for 2013.” Seems odd that they don’t explain their reasoning, so who made the wrong decision, did the LC make a mistake at the time of original application? If not then this seems to effectively extend any deadlines if a team can then later come back with the proper paperwork or whatever caused it to get rejected in the first instance?

  15. Another +1 for the 7-man team idea. I think it would improve the variety and attacking in races, it would make the racing (a little) safer, and may allow more teams to ride the same race meaning more sponsors getting exposure in the big races.

    e.g GTs: 22 teams x 9 riders = 198 riders
    why not 25 teams x 7 riders = 175 riders?
    3 more sets of sponsors getting in on the big races, less control of the racing by teams, and still less riders on the road.

    There would obviously be some logistical things to work out from having more teams with less riders – team cars, hotels, etc but nothing that can’t be overcome.

    • Not sure I agree with your points.

      Safety: More teams means more support cars, less control on the peloton and crazier starts as more of the smaller teams try to get in the break.

      Attacking: This I can see to a certain extent, less control means surely more attacks but do you really want races to be less about ability and more about being in the right attack? Anyway, what’s to say that with 7 riders a team like Sky can’t control the race? They controlled the race with 8 last year after Siutsou crashed out and two of those were Cavendish and Eisel who in theory did less work on the climbs than a proper climbing DS would. Are you really saying that with Wiggins/Froome and 5 climbing DSs Sky wouldn’t be able to control a race?

      Sponsors: For every extra sponsor gained through this the money that a major sponsor already in cycling will be willing to put into the sport may drop as fewer riders = less coverage. Also, where is this queue of sponsors waiting to get into cycling? Orica-Greenedge and Radioshack-Leopard are both missing headline sponsors and both are already established World Tour teams, are there going to be enough sponsors to support an expansion of the World Tour or to have 25 good quality teams in each race?

      • DrHeaton makes some good points. Why is a larger peloton better? As he points out, where are the big sponsors waving bags of euros, trying to get into the top-tier of the sport? I still think there should be only a dozen of these if cycling must have such a thing in the first place. 12 of those plus 6 wild-card teams is plenty. Can anyone tell, either on the roadside or on TV if the peloton is 200 or 150? Does it look that much smaller at the end of a Grand Tour compared to the start? Plenty of complaints are heard about too many riders/cars/etc. trying to fit on too narrow roads, especially those with traffic furniture on them. I question the entire “top-tier” concept as an answer to a question nobody asked. All it’s done is jack up the costs since those teams need enough riders, equipment and staff to cover multiple events during the same time period. Bike racing seemed to be plenty exciting BEFORE there were huge buses for the riders and huge team trucks for the equipment. I remember it was a huge deal when Greg LeMond showed up with the tiny motorhome for his wife and family to ride around in…nowadays it’s gotten kind of ridiculous with this moving caravan of trucks filling the parking lots where thieves can prey on them. Is all this stuff actually PROGRESS? Perhaps it’s time for a lot of the money to go out of the sport so it can shrink back to a more reasonable size? Please remember all this big money and multi-national stuff is a very recent development…and in many ways a not-so-good one in my opinion.

        • Dr Heaton and Larry T:

          I hear what you’re saying about sponsors; and I agree with you Larry about taking some of the money out of the sport. But I think that if a sponsor was more likely to be seen in the Tour, alongside the reduced logistical complexity/costs Larry talks about, then the marginal ones or ones with lower budgets may be more interested. And haven’t the lower budget teams contributed to the racing in GTs? Think Vini Farnese, Caja Rural, etc. Having more teams from that level would be a good thing for the racing and their sponsors IMO.

          The balance between ability/control and being in the right attack – cycling is about tactics as much as ability, and recently the balance has moved to far in favour of out-and-out wattage. If a rider has the nous to be in the right break, and can win from that break, he is a worthy winner to me. And as you say, stronger teams will still be able to exert some control even with only 7 riders, it’ll never be every man for himself.

          Safety: fair point on the support cars, there’s too many now. But take that point in hand with reducing logistical complexity, perhaps the way to go would be less direct team support on the road and more neutral service and team-mates handing up wheels and bikes.

          I must confess my thoughts on this are more aligned with the make up of GT fields, and I’m not saying there should be 25 world tour teams. In many ways I think there shouldn’t be a ‘World Tour’ where teams are compelled to attend racers they or their sponsors have no interest in. Another thing that costs teams and sponsors money they may not want to spend.

          I’m not pretending to have all the answers (thought it may not sound like!), and can see the positives and negatives of reduced team sizes/more teams. I just wonder if it’s something that may help sponsors see more value in cycling through more exciting racing and the possibility of increased exposure in big races. If team budgets were reduced through simplified support/reduced squad sizes (yes, I know that means some riders will lose jobs) then this again might be the difference between Blanco, Greenedge and Leopard finding sponsors or not.

  16. I know it’s open season on the UCI at the moment, but “If these three heavyweights have made a big mistake then something serious is up” is not fair.

    High Court Judges have their decisions overturned by Courts of Appeal frequently. The Courts of Appeal are often over-ruled by the Supreme Court (formerly HofL). Does that mean something is seriously wrong with the Justice system? Of course not.

    A decision was made; someone appealed; the higher authority reached a different decision. That is simply how systems of courts and justice work.

    • I didn’t mean it as a criticism of the UCI, if anything some have been suggesting Katusha were flicked because of political problems between Pat McQuaid and Igor Makarov but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

      The justice system works and the sports system needs an appeal process. But we can’t have these decisions happening mid-season, or at least we need to try and mitigate the chances of this. It just adds to the risk, if the Licence Commission has made a real blunder it’s fine to correct it but surely this should be done before the season starts?

      • It looks like the CAS appeal was just there in UCI rules to agree with some IOC standard and UCI never considered the possibility that CAS may over turn their decisions. If they ever considered that possibility at all, they would make sure that licences can only be awarded after appeals are settled.

        Also, why this secrecy? Why there was no explanation from the initial decisions and now there are no disclosure from CAS for the reason of their decision.

  17. This from the UCI website;
    “Press release: Professionnal [sic] cycling council meeting
    Date: 14.02.2013
    The Professional Cycling Council (PCC) held its first meeting of the year yesterday and today in Geneva. …
    Finally, the PCC approved a project aiming to increase the attraction of races which will be carried out in 2013 in collaboration with the organisers of two UCI WorldTour events: at these events, which will be selected in the next few days, each team will be able to have six starters only, and a new system of bonus points based on intermediate sprints will be set up.”
    – Perhaps there is some interpretation of the word ‘attraction’ passed me by…?
    UCI gives itself more wriggle-room shocker.

Comments are closed.