Who Sets The Rules: MPCC vs UCI?

Who runs cycling? Ag2r La Mondiale will sit out the Critérium du Dauphiné in accordance with the MPCC rules which state a team must stop racing for eight days following two positive anti-doping controls in the past 12 months. But the UCI rules say a team has to ride every race on the World Tour calendar and a substantial six-figure fine could be liable.

But there’s no need for an oppositional tone, the MPCC has proposed ideas which the UCI has readily adopted. Perhaps it’s time to do the same?

MPCC Rules
Following Sylvain Georges’s B-sample confirmation the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC) rules say a member team must suspend itself from racing for eight days following the start of the next World Tour race, which is the Dauphiné starting on Sunday 2 June.

UCI Rules

Participation in events
2.15.127 The UCI ProTeam must take part with a team of competitive riders in each of the UCI WorldTour events
2.15.128 In the event of unjustifiable absence, withdrawal or giving up, the UCI ProTeam shall be liable to a fine of between CHF 10,000 and 20,000 payable to the UCI WorldTour’s reserve and solidarity fund. For stage races, this fine shall be multiplied by the number of days’ racing remaining on the day of absence, withdrawal or giving up.
On the third offence committed during the period of validity of the licence, the UCI ProTeam will further receive a month’s suspension; on the fourth offence, the suspension will be for three months. On the fifth offence committed during the period of validity of the licence, the licence shall be automatically revoked.

The important phrase here is “unjustifiable absence”. Is it justified to miss the Dauphiné because of the MPCC rules? Ag2r will hope so because 10,000 Swiss Francs a day means over €60,000 to pay for missing the Dauphiné alone.

It’s also a headache for ASO who were planning on hosting a team and will have booked hotels only to find the field is smaller. But Christian Prudhomme is a big supporter of the MPCC so they’ll shoulder the loss.

Sylvain Georges: from hero to zero

We can see the UCI rules say one thing and the MPCC rules say another. We’ll see what stance the UCI takes on this, is it “justified” to sit out the race? Now if you agree with the MPCC principles you might say yes. But from the UCI perspective, it is supposed to set the rules of the sport and doesn’t take kindly to others trying to chip away at its power, see the spats with WADA or ASO in recent years. Seeing a third party like the MPCC create its own rules on when teams can race means part of the sport’s anti-doping effort is taken away from the UCI.

A Solution?
One idea for the UCI would be to adopt the MPCC rules. It’s not the first time. The UCI has a “no-needles” policy of banning the use of all injections and infusions unless for serious medical need, in other words no vitamins or recovery products via a syringe or drip. This was an idea first put forward by the MPCC and has since been adopted in full by the UCI and now other sports are copying too. So the UCI could adopt the suspension principle too.

But it’s here things get tricky. Punishing the team for the actions of one or two riders is a collective punishment. Whilst Ag2r whip themselves in penitence for eight days for the sake of the sport wholly innocent riders are forced to sit out important races. Some lose the chance to win vital points, others can’t get racing in their legs needed before the Tour de France. And it’s not as if the team can just switch riders to the Tour de Suisse because riders have to be a long list of entrants for the race and if they’re not on this, they’re not able to ride. So the suspension is outside of the normal sporting rules, in excess of the WADA Code and can probably only work if it is voluntary.

The 8 Day Mystery
The MPCC rules also say a team is suspended from racing for eight days with the clock starting on the first day of the next World Tour race. So this means eight days from the start of the Dauphiné on Sunday 2 June. Only the Tour de Suisse starts on Saturday 8 June but Ag2r plans to ride this race.

The MPCC rules aren’t precisely worded. Maybe it’s not calendar days but race days? For example Ag2r could be saying they sit out eight race days because the Dauphiné is eight days long. But this could cause a lot of trouble if another team is caught, say on the even of the Paris-Roubaix and therefore has to sit out eight days of World Tour racing which could stretch to beyond the Tour de Romandie.

Well done to Ag2r for agreeing to uphold the rules it signed up to. This act creates a precedent that others might have to follow. The MPCC’s own rules probably need a redraft so we clear up the uncertainty over the eight day idea.

The MPCC isn’t some external governing body, in fact it’s really a group of teams. It’ll be interesting to see how the UCI reacts to Ag2r’s self-suspension. Is it happy for teams to agree anti-doping rules or will it be frustrated by this code over which it has no control?

The answer is we’ll have to see although given the UCI has read the rules and not made any move to stop things we can probably asssume tacit approval. But if approval is one thing, adoption is another. Because of the way the MPCC rules punish the whole team I can’t see the UCI moving to incorporate the MPCC’s code into its own rulebook because it could fall down if challenged by the CAS.

  • UPDATE: after the piece above we’ve got news on Friday 24 May that the UCI will not impose the fine. Well done to them. Full press release here

28 thoughts on “Who Sets The Rules: MPCC vs UCI?”

  1. That’s very heartening. When you wrote about this rub a few month ago I have to admit to feeling doubtful teams would follow through with voluntary restrictions when crunch time came. Kudos to Ag2r. I’m also really curious if this was an independent decision on their part or if the other members of the MPCC were blowing Ag2r team management’s cell phones over the past week giving support and suggestions to sit the Dauphine out.

    Thanks for keeping up with this.

    • Note the MPCC management = Ag2r, or at least partially since team boss Vincent Lavenu is also MPCC treasurer. This is an important point because the MPCC is not some outside body but really a group of the pro teams.

  2. Agree that it would be sensible for the UCI to accept the MPCCs rules in this case. To do otherwise will be a backward step – but this is the UCI ! I disagree with one important aspect of your thought process ‘that it is maybe unfair to penalize a whole team’. There have been two cases within Ag2r in less than twelve months. Teams, support staff and riders have to accept and understand that there is now a price to be paid for doping, if not there is little chance that doping can be eradicated.

    Looking further down the line lets hope that this situation does not mean the sponsor decides to withdraw, leaving everybody without work.

    • Fair point but Georges said he didn’t bother to check the medicine with the team doctor. If this is true the one man’s stupidity can ruin the team’s summer. But with the team on a warning after Hounard the team should have been telling every rider to think twice before taking so much as a vitamin pill without approval from the team. Riders carrying around their own “recovery products” is a recipe for disaster.

      • That’s a big oversight by the team. That is something modern contracts need to start taking into account. Riders should have legal action taken against them by the team in these circumstances, or something akin to that. Thoughts?

  3. On a side note, I realize that adding another wildcard to the Dauphine at such a late date is complicated to say the least but is there any word about ASO reaching out to pro-conti teams for their interest and ability to replace AG2R?

    • No, for now Ag2r are still listed as starting the race. Perhaps something is happening behind the scenes but pro conti teams are small and suddenly being invited to ride would be a big deal. The bigger squads are already riding like Cofidis and Europcar and NetApp-Endura and Bretagne-Séché are invited. Meanwhile IAM are all about the Tour de Suisse, their home race. So it’s hard to know who could come? The Colombians will be tired from the Giro.

  4. With phat the rat trying to bend the Rules of UCI to serve his purposes , there is every likihood that the MPCC will find themselves the subject of a UCI bad PR exercise in days to come .

    MPCC have tried to put together a set of Achievable & objective rules , that has caused many more Teams to join their ranks this Season . Some of the teams have questionable results in the field of ” Anti Doping ” but Ag2r taking this action points to the desire to make the protocols set in place work to the benefit of Cycling Sport ,

    Each Doper disregards the circumstances of their Colleagues and Team Workers in their desire to satisfy their own agenda . Whatever the outcome of Ag2r not competing at the Dauphine Libere , Georges will have his excuses ready to trot out to each Journo that gives him the time of Day .

    WADA just released a report that demonstrates the fact that ” Athletes ” could care less for ALL but themselves and this attitude has to STOP !

    MPCC must be encouraged to persist with their objectives and until more of these situations result in Teams Voluntarily Suspending themselves , members of the ” Omerta Society ” will pay scant attention to the need for the ANTI DOPING fight to be WON , thus benefiting those who would wish to compete without the assistance of Pharmacists !

  5. I think there are 2 things important to note about this case:
    1: Although I feel for the innocent AG2R-riders ,this rule should “inspire” the teams to do their own research and test their riders with some frequency. They’ll have to invent a way to find out about a rider’s stupidity or ignorance before the official authorities do.
    Therefore 2: As I look upon this matter there should be a redraft of the rules in which the following is incorporated: ‘if a team finds out about suspicious bloodvalues or detects any doping- or maskingproducts in the blood of any of their riders, and they inform the authorities before they find it in a in- or out of competitionsample, the rule of ‘stopping the whole team’ should not apply.’

    As noted above this will only inspire teams further to get their act together. They’ll focus more on a medical staff to help and detect doping instead of advising riders how to get or use any. The teams (or at least most) are (I think) richer than UCI, WADA or any agency we’re looking at hoping to smoke out the dopers in the peloton.

    • In Candide, French writer Voltaire describes the 18th British practice of shooting naval officers if they fail in battle, not so much to punish them for mistakes but to send a signal to the others not to let down His Majesty.

      I think Georges’s mistake will be a big wake up for plenty of riders, you should not even take a vitamin pill unless it comes from the team sponsor… and ideally you should be eating a balanced diet so you don’t need these things. George was taking a chemical product to help with “heavy legs”, idiocy.

  6. While I’m pleased they have withdrawn from the Dauphine, this question about 8 days needs to be sorted out properly. We’re always criticising the UCI for vague and inconsistently applied rules, and we should curb our enthusiasm and be as critical of the MPCC until their rules are transparent and clear. I’d certainly agree the UCI should adopt the rule, but we need to be sure what the rule is first.

  7. Great precedent set by AG2R here, thumbs up. I really don’t mind that they plan on riding Suisse, that rule clearly needs some adaptations. A slightly different timing and it gives you an excuse to skip Beijing. I’m all for the collective punishment though. It’s a team sport, team members may collect a share of the wins of dopers, they may be held out of the wind by dopers, they may profit from the PR their sponsors get through dopers’ results, so they can share in the punishment as well. And reversing the peer pressure is absolutely key to changing the attitude towards doping.
    I do hope the UCI decides this counts as a ‘justifiable absence’. It would be fairly poor PR if they didn’t, but they’ve done worse.

  8. By the way, why did Georges ask for a B sample and confess he had taken the product at the same time? Seems a bit contradictory. Suppose the B sample would have come out negative through a statistical fluctuation, would his confession count as enough proof?

  9. there’s a part of me that’s now in morbid thrall to see what sort of looney-tunes reposnse the uci come back with. while we can postulate that they might go as far as adopt the mpcc line or just let it all slide quietly through, their recent track record suggests something more than just a little bit zany.
    come on pat, your time to shine!

  10. The tactic of punishing innocent team members for someone else’s failings is very common in team sports and military organizations all over the world. It usually just means extra training or work, but the result here should be the same. It makes members of the team accountable to each other and not just the authorities. Cyclists have proven what they think about being accountable to the rules and authorities regarding doping. The best chance to clean things up is to make them accountable to their teammates and turn the influence from encouraging teammates to dope to ensuring they stay clean.

  11. Is there a way for a team to “out” a doper before they bring down a penalty on a team? Suppose a team runs its own test and Rider X is positive. Can the team fire Rider X and report the result to the WADA to avoid the penalty?

    • I might be wrong, but I think WADA prohibits teams and individuals from doing their own tests. I think the idea is that it stops people from being able to use banned substances but make sure thier test results are still clear. (I do stand to be corrected though.)

  12. I can´t help myself but Menchov´s retirement seems like a way for Kathusha to avoid the AG2R scenario. They already had a positive within the last 12 months (Galymzianov, April 2012) and Menchov being positive on the Bio Passport (as rumors say) would make them sit out some major races.
    Any journalist on it yet?

    • If we’re hypothetical and imagine it was the case then it would depend if Menchov’s suspect data comes from his time at Katusha. If it does then it would or should count as he was part of the team then.

      Also note retirement does not excuse anyone from being prosecuted. Ask the likes of Tadej Valjavec, Carlos Barredo or Lance Armstrong.

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