A Fine Price to Pay

Eduardo Sepúlveda panicked. His chain was broken and he’d just seen his Bretagne-Séché Environnement team car drive past without spotting him. The Ag2r La Mondiale team car stopped to enquire, offered him a wheel which was no Usero the rider and, inexplicably, he climbed in the Ag2r car to make up the 300 metres separating him from his team car. It’s a basic premise that you have to complete the course on your own and Sepúlveda was caught and disqualified from the Tour de France. He got a 200 Swiss Franc (CHF) fine too. Think about it: you ride in a car and get disqualified for such a serious offence… and then a light cash fine.

The fines levied by the UCI are bizarre. The sums are often so inconsequential that they never match the gravity of the deed.

You can do something in a race that results in the most grave penalty of instant disqualification but as well as being ejected from the race on the spot, there’s cash fine to pay. It happens all the time, take Richie Porte’s controversial wheel change in the Giro where he copped a three minute time penalty… and a 200 CHF fine. For riders on six-figure salaries and teams with multi-million budgets these fines are meaningless.

The fines are so light that they read like a menu. Is your rider dropped? Help them back to the peloton with a quick tow behind the car and it’s 30 CHF, a prolonged tow is 50 CHF or why not opt for a loooooong sticky bottle and pay 50 CHF. There all set online in a PDF.

If the commissaire comes along and gives you a warning and you ignore it then it’s just another cash fine to pay later. Depending on the incident there’s a scale where repeat offences attract heavier fines and even disqualification, for example in a stage race if you sprint wildly across the road it’s relegation and a 200 CHF fine, do it three times and it’s disqualification and 200 CHF. Disqualification is the obvious deterrent but why the light fine?

Claude, do your job and give him a 20 second penalty. Otherwise he’ll be three minutes down.”

That’s  Spanish team manager José-Miguel Echevarri who was confronted by UCI Commissaire Claude Deschaseaux in the 1990s for pacing Armand de la Cuevas back to the peloton, as explained in L’Equipe on Monday. In other words the fine, whether cash or a time penalty, is often preferable to reality, a tariff to be paid. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime indeed the tariff is signalling that it’s no big deal to get a sticky bottle, to sling waste in to the countryside. So if it’s tempting to blame riders and teams for breaking the rules, from their point of view sometimes there’s a low chance of being caught and if it happens, the fine isn’t that big anyway. Indeed the fines are so low that they signal breaking the rules is no more consequential than the price of a pizza for two, a bargain when you consider the pressure, importance of the Tour de France. Surely the fines need to match the occasion, a 200 CHF fine for an U23 team might make them think twice but it’s meaningless for a manager driving the team car who spends the rest of the year juggling a budget of €10, €20 or even €30 million.

For what it’s worth the chart shows the total of fines levied so far in the Tour de France, from Stages 1-17. Sky lead the classification thanks to DS Nicolas Portal’s descent of the Col de Manse/Rochette where he was caught in between the riders following Thomas’s crash and this disruptive penalty was worth a hefty 1,000 CHF alone, otherwise the usual fines are 30, 50, 100 and 200 CHF. Rather than fixate on any rankings by fines, the chart shows the amounts levied so far and the total sum of fines levied so far comes to 9,660 CHF, a sum that neither deters people nor raises money for anything, the admin involved in levying and invoice probably costs as much as the fine.

All the money is invoiced to the teams who treat it as an operating expense, the same as fuel for a team car or bandages for the first aid box. In case you think the UCI is being trivial sometimes fining the riders, then note it doesn’t even collect the income, this is paid to the national federation so the Fédération Française de Cyclisme for the Tour de France, USA Cycling for the Tour of California and so on. So why the Swiss francs? Because cycling’s governing body, the UCI, is based in Switzerland.

Some mistakes in a race can cost time or even result in a rider being thrown off the race but the most frequently applied penalty is a cash fine. A rider being paced back to the bunch after a mechanical or a crash is still on a net loss given the injury or just the effort spent correcting their misfortune and sometimes there’s an understanding. The fines neither deter people nor raise much money, if anything they put a price on a breaking the rules and too often it’s a bargain. We have the Kafka-esque scenario where breaking the rules is the most profitable, rewarding course of action. The scale needs reworking for 2016 and the good news is that it’s surely an easy reform.

Current exchange rates: 100 CHF = €95 = $105 = £66

55 thoughts on “A Fine Price to Pay”

  1. An easy reform, but this is the UCI we’re talking about – so I expect a nine month review, with grandiose proclamations by our illustrious president, sharply followed by his ignominious climbdown.

  2. J. Evans is correct, this is the seemingly moribund UCI we are discussing. I don’t want to become a disciple of the French mantra, but they have a point when they ask ‘where the hell are the UCI when we have serious problems affecting the image of our TdF’.

    I agree that the fines are entirely inappropriate in this day and age, in magnitude, destination and the currency chosen. This situation has been the case for more years than I care to remember. I do hope Brian Cookson does not become yet another leadership/management failure, but the signs are increasingly not looking good !

  3. Light fines for serious things like dangerous riding should be addressed. But when it comes to following cars or public urination…you don’t get fined for doing it, only for doing it the wrong way. Seems to work pretty well but again only for actions that are essentially tolerable when they go unpunished. Riders gotta pee, and car-following adds fairness to races when done…fairly.

  4. Wasn’t Chris Froome’s last minute emergency gel from Porte (a 2013 mountain stage?) another “professional foul”, I think Porte might have even used that phrase, where the trivial penalty was worth paying?

    • That’s right. Apparently an electrical fault in the team car meant they had no support on the way to Alpe d’Huez and couldn’t get the food they wanted before the climb so took on supplies on the climb. The rule about not being allowed food is an odd one, taking a gel with 15km to go isn’t going to ruin many races but the idea is to ensure the riders and team cars are separated in final phases of the race.

      • I have a feeling it was actually Mt Ventoux where the Jaguar broke down Inner Ring, but I stand to be corrected. Sky sent soigneurs down the mountain to wait at the 10km banner and told their riders to position themselves over to the right for a hand-over. Here’s the video in Spanish but I vividly recall Phil Ligget immediately going off about it on the English broadcast and calling it a foul (irregular feeding):


        You can hear the Spanish commentators are perplexed, and the host broadcaster replays the hand-off a few seconds later. So Porte going back to the team car on Alp d’Huez must have been Froome’s second penalty for irregular feeding in that 2013 race. Compare that to Ian Woosnam who plays two holes with a 15th club in his bag – a spare driver his caddy forgot to take back to the locker-room – which cost him the British Open.

          • The car electrics shorted out in the main/first team Sky car on the Sarenne descent, between the two Alpe D’huez climbs in that stage, after a leak from the cooler (containing the drinks bottles) trickled into the car electrics.

          • 2 different stages/incidents. I don’t recall the car breakdown at all…the Ventoux/Porte/gel thing is the one I remember hashing over in these pages at the time. Didn’t affect the race, but some were upset that Froome got the gel he wanted at such a crucial moment (actually too late to absorb it before the finish, probably). The kicker was that the rules call for Porte to be punished (for going to the car) and not Froome, which caused more cries of Sky gaming the rules…even though Porte was only doing what domestiques do. Quintana could have ridden better tactics towards the finish and might have taken the stage, but when he got whipped in Froome’s eggbeater the pitchforks came out.

        • Ventoux? Wasn’t a foul at all.

          What Phil didnt know as he was banging on about it, was that given the very hot temps that day (I was at the foot of the climb just outside Bedouin and can certainly vouch that it was scorchio), the Commissaires etc had given the OK for teams to take on feeds within the final 20km

          Sky being Sky were very well organised and got themselves sorted.

          Commissaires often do that when its scorchio – have done the same on various stages during this Tour

          • @sam, @inner ring
            My bad. Like I said, I stand to be corrected. Didn’t realize the rule had been waived due to heat. Didn’t realize musette bags would ever be allowed on a climb. Jeez, imagine if they had all done that.

            @J Evans
            You can call them “absurdly strict” but clearly golf has it right, and they have the financial heavyweights on their visors to prove it. The key difference between theirs and other sports is that in golf there’s a stigma attached to breaking the rules. It’s the inevitable humiliation of being branded a cheat that dissuades an individual from improving his or her lie or grounding their club where they shouldn’t. Under the rules, players are equally culpable if they turn a blind eye to a playing partner’s transgressions. The rules are designed to protect the field which in turn encourages camaraderie among competitors. Cycling’s relatively relaxed attitude towards its own rules may perhaps be considered the thin end of the wedge. Start by controlling what you can control. Set the proper tone out on the road and you may be surprised how well it flows through into other “areas” 😉

  5. Very informative and surprising.
    Perhaps, in addition to updating the amounts of the fines themselves, they should take a leaf out of football’s books (I know, I know) whereby repeat offenders can be banned / very large fines imposed ?

    • The fines in football while massively higher than cycling are still very minor. Typically you might be fined a weeks wages but what’s £100k when you’re earning tens of millions ?

  6. I highly doubt that updating the fine list is high on the UCI’s priority list.

    But there are other oddities as well. Take for instance the bottle throwing incident on Sunday, where a Tinkoff-Saxo mechanic threw a water bottle at a TV moto for obstructing a Peter Sagan bike change.

    The DS (Sean Yates) was the one who was punished and had to sit out a day. Why not punish the mechanic, who needs to be UCI licensed (note that a lot of mechanics are licensed as Team Directors, so they can drive in the caravan and represent the team at managers meetings)?

    • It’s always the DS/driver who gets the fine, so if a mechanic is caught and fined for leaning out of the window it’s the DS. As you suggest it would be more fitting if the actual culprit has to pay.

      • Yes although there’s something noble with the DS taking the hit – in rugby only the team captain is allowed to talk to the ref, the other players can’t so as to avoid them goading / intimidating / influencing.

    • Can’t let the mention of the bottle toss go by without recommending an alltime classic of the genre– Cippolini, in WC jersey (and white shorts!) unloading 2 bottles at a commisaire. You could look it up!

    • Was the moto rider sanctioned at all for nearly taking out Sagan?

      Doubt it, as TV rules, but it’s ironic that, in the TdF just as in normal life, a cyclist is more likely to be punished for responding to dangerous driving by a motor vehicle than the driver of the motor vehicle is to be punished for the dangerous driving.

    • I think the point of the article was that all teams bend the rules to their own advantage because its the easiest route from A to B. But feel free to make it an anti-Sky point. After all, if Sky were got out of cycling everything would go back to being wonderful, wouldn’t it?

  7. I’d be interested to hear more about the Portal fine. Not something I noticed yesterday. 1000CHF actually seems like a decent fine for a rule breach compared to the 50CHF here and there, however if is car was between riders because of Thomas’ crash that seems rather harsh.

  8. I’m pretty much against monetary fines as they are regressive and punitive to smaller teams and younger riders, who are already effectively penalized by having smaller comparative budgets/salaries than the larger teams. There is simply no way for the UCI to easily scale monetary fines fairly, which is probably why they have remained as-is.

    It makes me think of pro-conti teams like Safeway-Airgas in the Tour of Azerbaijan who are basically scraping along (shout out to the great Vice Sports series on them); a few hundred dollars wasted on fines would probably be a big deal to them. As well, my (self funded) amateur team has raced in UCI events and I had a teammate hit with a not-inconsequential swiss franc fine for not obeying instruction (in his defense he claims to have not seen or heard the official) after we each just paid hundreds of dollars to participate in the race weekend. Note: I do realize the UCI has two schedules for fine assessments based on the category of the race (this was a C2 race so falls under the ‘Other’ category), just pointing out that these fines aren’t only levied against WT teams with million dollar budgets.

    If this is an argument about effective penalization schemes then all penalties should be time-based, ramping up to suspensions or worse, which is the only real deterrence for a rider or team. But this could also have the unfair effect of penalizing misfortune (which also tends to skew towards the smaller teams with less support infrastructure and equipment). So maybe it’s a rock and a hard place and status quo is the least-worst option…

    • I hear you but in the Tour de France all the teams find the penalty so small that it’s cheaper to break the rule than respect it. A new rate of tariffs for World Tour races, an extra schedule, is something to think about.

  9. Perhaps they keep the fines low so that teams like Bretagne-séché and Europcar aren’t severely damaged if they incur a significant fine. An expensive fine would surely mean more to them than Sky or Ettix-Quickstep.
    This is probably not the case though but would be a problem if the UCI increased the fines.

    • this is where things get messy – the race context is relevant to the significance of a rule infringement
      a rider off the back struggling to stay in contact, maybe with a mechanical or injury… a sticky bottle is maybe no big deal so a slap on the wrist fine is appropriate. most times nobody notices or cares about such incidents (though its not unusual for sprinters to break the rules to stay in the race and then win the next day)

      a rider about to win like geschke or the infamous froome/porte gel incident, there is no question it is significant, potentially even race deciding so there needs to be a real deterrent – time penalties/relegation/disqualification are the only practical options in a sport where some teams can happily pay fines that would bankrupt other teams.

      the beauty of a time penalty is that the guy hanging on the back doesn’t care if he loses 30 seconds, whereas the gc contender/stage winner does. so you can apply the same penalty to all incidents regardless of situation and still get the effect of a greater level of penalty when it matters.

      the problem is with DS/team car type incidents where you don’t always have a specific linked rider to penalise. Yates’ disqualification (for a day) is an appropriate penalty for that. i think i might have heard of a team losing one of their cars completely for a day due to some misbehaviour?

      • Messy is right. Mr Inrng is practically begging for someone to deliver a unifed theory of how these “traditions” of cycling can (or cannot) be squared with actual rulebook-type rules. But then there’s probably a reason some rules are (traditionally) unwritten.

        • Exactly. See “The Spirit of Cricket” for an outside case study in how difficult the “tradition” vs “rules” issue is 😀

    • I’m glad you mentioned this. I was going to comment on the sticky bottles on the penultimate climb as well. The cameras caught at two very flagrant sticky bottles. Where there more?

      At that point, Geschke doesn’t care about a 30 second or even a 2 minute penalty. A 200CHF fine is a small price to pay for a TdF stage win. I see this more than just a professional foul, and borderline unsportsmanlike.

  10. Uniform financial penalty regardless of performance level is normal procedure for sporting federations. Take football in England for example, whereby a sunday league punter will receive a £15 fine payable to the FA for the yellow card received for his ill timed lunge. Messrs Rooney/Fabregas/Terry receive exactly the same fine for theirs. Recipients of red cards receive a £30 fine; i don’t have the care/stomach to calculate how many seconds worth of earnings that is for Premiership players…

    As for the disparity between the financial penalty and the ‘actual’ punishment inflicted by the UCI in the form of time penalties & disqualifications, perhaps this is yet another oddity we could just attribute to cycling ‘tradition’.

  11. Perhaps these fine amounts are from the ’60s ~ ’70s when 200~1000 SWFrancs was a lot of money back then. Do these amounts get updated now and then? And what happens to this money received by the UCI–is it just ordinary revenue?

  12. Fines are a joke. What’s needed are TIME penalties. Not the old “failed the dope test and lost 10 minutes” gag, but time penalities levied upon the team’s highest guy in GC. Otherwise Sky will do as they please with their huge budget. Read a claim their motorhome fleet allows their riders each a private room in the assigned hotel rather than two-to-a-room? How is that fair? UCI for too long has been lax in enforcing rules or making infractions costly enough. Pro cycling’s headed in the pro wrestling direction in far too many ways these days. Putting real penalties in place for dragging your rider around with a bottle wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Tossing the same bottle onto the roadside as soon as the tow has been completed shows complete disdain for the rules and can’t help but make someone wonder if they enforce ANY of the rules?

    • @Larry T,
      Clever idea to go for the by proxy and punish the highst GC team mate. But as I write below this only works in stage races. It does nothing for one day races; e.g. classics or the like.

    • What a stupid idea.

      Example, Alex Dowsett is suffering off the back of the peleton after he crashed earlier in the race, so gets a sticky bottle / magic spanner off the second team car. A UCI or race commissaire spots this, so gives Quintana a 30 second time penalty, that’ll really make sense. Especially when most of these infractions are sorted out post stage.

      Most of the viewing public will switch channels once the main guys have crossed the line, then come back the next day and see the the GC gaps are completely different to what they were the night before. You could end up with one GC contender losing 2 minuts plus becuase of multiple infractions by other riders.

      A much better solution would be a larger fine to the actual rider (500 CHF) and the team 1000 CHF) for the first offence, both amounts should go to the riders health fund or whatever they have set up to help injured riders etc (like the PCA in English cricket), then disqualification for a subsequent event. Over he course of a 3 week grand tour teams like Sky, Movistar and Tinkov would be so scared of depleting their domestiques that they wouldn’t be able to risk disqualification.

      • Thanks so much for the polite comment on my post. TON. The idea could work just as well in one day races…the team’s top finisher gets docked X amount of time depending on the infraction. Wouldn’t take long for the cheating to stop if a win or top placing was taken away, don’t you think? With budgets like SKY has to play with, do you really believe they’d care about a few thousand euros or CHF’s when a major race win was on the line? What do you think their budget is for those motorhomes?

  13. Some “fine” comments above.
    Fine sums has remained constant (with a few additions) since I started out as a commissaire almost 20 years ago. And they are the laughing stock of the peloton at all leves but Junior. I have fined and sanctioned but I recall only complaints from Junior races.
    The idea of the schedule linked by Mr. INRNG is for us commissaires to apply sanctions evenly for the same offence. Alow me to conclude; this doesn’t work – not at all. Le Tour sets precedence for all other races.
    The punishment of the DS is kind of punishment-by-proxy. As commissaire in other races, not all in the team car are licensed, especially not in a Junior men’s or women’s race or U23 and it is thus almost impossible to seek out the offender. What we have got is the DS and his/hers license + phone.
    What can be done?
    At all levels of bike racing, time is the most important factor and I believe a time penalty applied would be appropriate. It means a lot to GC contenders and means nothing for the domestique. Cars should more often be relegated as this is quite a substantial punishment for most teams to have their rider wait and wait; it could mean lost time again.
    Tiem penalties have some merit in stage races but in one day races, they could be detrimental to the outcome; imagine 2-3 riders in a breakaway. One has a technical and is “helped” by a quick sticky bottle back to the group. He is on radiotour punished, say 10 secs. Now he has to make up these seconds to actually win the race. And if this took place under 10 km from finish and in a lower cat race, we perhaps did not have the means to communicate this to the rider, only to his DS. So the riders is unaware that he has to make up another 10 secs to actually win. Not a good situation.
    If monetary sanctioned are deemed necessary (UCI to decide) they shoud, as said before by the blog’s respected commenters, be revised and upped substantially. Also revised on the offences. I once experienced a yellow jersey wearer forgetting his jersey at the last hotel and showing up for the TT without yellow. As a commissaire, do I assume this is because he did not wan’t to wear the organisor supplied jersey and wanted to wear his TT suit or do I assume he really forgot it? Either way he should be out of the race if not taking the start in yellow. Being a local hero that would have caused havoc and we decided to fine CHF 1000 and agreed with his DS that he could not complain this fine for any higher body, which you can if it is above 200 CHF (art. 12.1.012).
    We often sanction becasue it is mandatory. If we did not sanction, then it boomerangs for the next race. You get a reputation as being “easy-to-deal-with”, soft, inconsistent or all the opposites as a commissaire. This transpires to the UCI and you get the “lousy” races and have to work you way back. Commissaires also want to improve.
    Finally, consider one day races. Do you have – I am sure you do – any idea how difficult it is to deliver the sanction after a one day race? Besides everybody hurrying to get back home, the parking lots are mostly spread out and locating the offender is damn near impossible.

    Well, it is a necessary discussion that the UCI must get started as the system of fines and sanctions clearly are more in view with today’s media situation.

  14. At least motors in bikes have a high fine attach to it (from 12.1.013):
    Any technological fraud shall be sanctioned as follows:
    1. Rider: disqualification, suspension of a minimum of six months and a fine of
    between CHF 20’000 and CHF 200’000.
    2. Team: disqualification, suspension of a minimum of six months and a fine of
    between CHF 100’000 and CHF 1’000’000.

  15. Cycling is the only sport I’ve seen where rules are routinely broken, without enforcement. Consequently, we have a huge great area. So they all cheat! And that’s OK? Not in my book!

    • Hmm, I’d say that almost every sport has its gray areas where athletes do things that are technically illegal but are rarely enforced. Basketball players regularly take an extra step and get away with it, soccer/football players get away with contact in the box, and so on.

  16. My understanding was that the fines are paltry to negate the need for a review process?

    If the fines become onerous, surely then teams/riders would argue the point and then evidence is required, costs rise etc etc. It’s probably why the motors in bikes fines are so high because either there is or isn’t one.

    Imagine the scenario where one rider gets a time penalty and/or huge fine for a partially subjective breaking of a rule whilst 17 other riders get away with doing the same thing. At the hearing team X bring out clear footage shot by spectators of the other riders breaking the rule. The CAS anyone?

Comments are closed.