Petacchi Loophole Closed

Some sprinters are feared for their switching but Alessandro Petacchi tried a different kind of move this year when he announced his retirement only to switch to OPQS. The UCI shut the door on this and a blocked Petacchi had to wait until August to move teams.

But the attempt showed a loophole in the rules and this has now been closed for good. Not every change to the UCI rulebook is worth a mention but Petacchi’s mid-season switch was a strange story with implications for teams and recruitment so here’s a quick look.

What happened?
The Italian started the season with Lampre-Merida but announced his retirement in April. It’s unusual to see a rider quit mid-season especially as Petacchi was on a good contract. Why not ride out the season? Well within days of quitting he was linked to OmegaPharma-Quick Step. Mark Cavendish had joined the team but they’d been struggling to get a sprint train and Petacchi was even whispered as a possibility for the Giro.

At the start of the year the rulebook said a rider could not switch teams but there was a loophole: if they were out of contract then they could sign for a new team. It certainly looked like Petacchi “retired” so he could assume an out of contract status the briefest of periods thus allowing him to switch to OPQS. We’ll never know for sure if this was the plan or just happy coincidence, a rider retiring and another team wanting to hire him.

But the Petacchi case highlighted a loophole. Imagine another team that’s having problems with its roster, maybe a star rider is out for the season with an injury or even a doping ban. They’re at a loss but could start whispering in the ear of a rider who’s suddenly become hot property. And so we get the resign and re-sign trick. In no time rich teams could start compensating their failings with this chequebook predation.

What does the new rule mean?
The UCI saw the danger and promised to close the door. In the end Petacchi wasn’t allowed to join OPQS until 1 August. Here’s the old rule and the new one:

Old: 2.15.121a Only a rider with no contractual links to a team may start negotiations or be recruited outside the transfer periods.
New: 2.15.121a During the season, no rider already registered with a UCI ProTeam for the current season may join another UCI ProTeam or a UCI professional continental team outside the transfer periods.

Two points to note are that the door is locked on team moves to a far greater extent than any normal employer/employee situation. Imagine a Pro Conti team with unpaid wages and angry riders, now they cannot move even if their contracts are dissolved, or at least they must wait until August. Second the UCI is meant to be exploring a transfer market but this is clearly not coming in 2014.

2016 Horizon
One other element to note from the UCI is that it is only giving out team licences until 2016. In the past a team could apply for a four year licence. This has always been subject to annual checks but as long as the sporting, admin, financial and ethical conditions were met the licence was renewed. Now with more fundamental reforms planned for 2015 and beyond the UCI will not grant licences for too long.

23 thoughts on “Petacchi Loophole Closed”

  1. Actually I think your interpretation of the new rule is incorrect.

    The rule, as I read it says, the ProTeam can now recruit anyone at any stage for ProConti down…

    The ban only applies to riders already on a ProTeam

    • Especially with Tony Martin to drag them up to that point where Petacchi and Renshaw can start to wind up the launch. They’ll need it to get the drop on Argos/Kittel.

  2. With your relevation of Teams not being able to plan past end 2016 , Sponsors that HAVE Long Term Business Plans in place , will no doubt have to ADD question marks in their Advertising Budgets !

    With about half of the Pro World Teams currently seeking clarification of their Status for 2014 , this is ANOTHER OWN Goal for UCI ! No doubt this is down to the OLD Regime , but let’s hope that Cookson decides to announce a radical shakeup of procedures for 2014 , VERY Shortly ?

    Sounds to me like the UCI Management Courses that Team Managers & D.S.s are required to attend , MUST Include ” Forward Planning ” , not how to hold your breathe whilst , ” sh#te happens ?

  3. The OPQS thing is confusing to me, first they get Ale-Jet (sadly down to turbo-prop status at best these days) and Renshaw to beef up the Manx Missile sprint train, but next they sign Uran, a GC guy. Hard to see how this can’t/won’t end up with a cranky Manx Missile when/if the focus shifts to working for a GC hopeful, if his previous SKY experience is any example.

    • Going by the extracts of his latest book in the Telegraph, I’m sure he appreciates OPQS’ ambition in going for green and yellow at the same time 😉

      I’d love to know how he plans to boost his sprint, now he’s acknowledged the need to work on it. The new train should get him into prime position more often, but might not help shift Kittel off his back wheel. In an article on Sky Sports, Richard Moore suggested he could look to improve his overall athleticism and power, as with track sprinters, but not sure if that is Cav’s cup of tea. He’d struggle to improve his aero position, so maybe he’ll continue to work on his stamina to have more left in the tank come the sprint. I think he claimed his peak output is 1500 W anyway, so if he’s already reached that and been beaten by Kittel, all he can do is extend his sprint. Any experts got any insight into his way forward?

      Perhaps if Kittel gets involved in the intermediates and Argos were forced to do more work chasing breaks, then he’d be compromised himself. Also, I think someone on inrng pointed out in the comments recently, I can see Cav leaving the Giro before the mountains this year, in case the chase for red left him below par for the Tour.

    • Agreed – so why pay for Uran? Just to make him unhappy when the support is given to Cavendish? How does this not end up a do-over of Cavendish vs Wiggo/Froome at SKY? As the old saying goes, “this is likely to end in tears”.

      • Cav may well concentrate on TDF this season whilst Rigo Rigo may well be GC for Giro/Vuelta?

        OPQS haven’t really ridden for GC in TDF; this may be a transition year and a good way forward for the team if their key asset is starting to ‘age’…like fine wine of course!

        Of course blending the classics targets early in the season with a Rigo Giro challenge may be more difficult?

        Interesting season to follow this team coming up.

    • Duran Duran is an also ran, if looking at the TDF. He’s a Great one day rider on hard courses, ie could win an LBL or Fleche Wallone and some of the 10 day tours (Romandie or Catalunya), but is second rung GC. Put him on par with Cadel at 90% (Giro 13) and you have a good idea of his pedigree.
      Sure he is young and has room to develop, but unless he does an L.A. and transforms into a super light mountain goat using dubious methods, he’ll only ever be one of the top notch Classics riders and an also ran Gran Tour GC’er.

  4. “Imagine a Pro Conti team with unpaid wages and angry riders, now they cannot move even if their contracts are dissolved, or at least they must wait until August.”

    I wonder if in that case the rule is legally enforceable in all countries. If EU labour rules don’t allow this, the UCI can’t do much to stop it.

  5. Re Uran and OPQS: the deal was done (except the actual ink on the contract of course, cos as we know UCI rules veto that till early Aug), at the 2012 Giro. At that point Lefevere had no idea the way it was going to go with Cav at Sky because it was the Tour that made Cav realise he needed to leave.

    So they have a situation where they now have a GC guy AND Cav.

    Lefevere’s already talking of sending Uran to Giro-Vuelta, not the Tour. So next year at least Cav will have his support for the Tour. If he goes to the Giro alongside Iran, well, he’s already got the GT points jersey that had been missing from his collection, so i suspect stage hunting and then climbing off before final mountain stages.

    Still not sure how OPQS are going to able to help Uran make the podium though, never mind win. Uran’s got a big pay rise from OPQS move that Sky couldn’t match so maybe that’ll be enough to keep him happy.

  6. I sometimes think people underrate Uran as a classics rider, placing perhaps excessive emphasis on assumed GC ambitions? On this basis I think he’s a great fit for OPQS.

  7. I think UCI should have made the rule more flexible. If a rider quits himself, OK. But if he became obsolete, not sent to races, but another team would be interested, in this special case transfer could be allowed. Three parts agreement. The first team spares money for the rider’s salary, the second one gets whom they need and the rider starts racing again.

  8. “Two points to note are that the door is locked on team moves to a far greater extent than any normal employer/employee situation”

    I think the UCI might have trouble with this, as it might amount to an unreasonable restraint of trade.

    The FA lost this argument in the 1980s and I’m not sure why the current transfer window system in football hasn’t yet been challenged, although it seems there are a few lining up to do so. It seems that it might be because the Euro Commission is of the view that, in football at least, sporting reaosns justify the restraint of trade. Not sure the same can be said in cycling.

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