The Explainer: That extra penalty for top riders

Dear Explainer,
Here is a question for you. Alberto Contador has now said that he would like to return to Saxo Bank and Bjarne Riis certainly seems eager to have him back. How can he return to a WorldTour team since he will be returning from a “two year” suspension? I thought the rules required a rider to be banned from a WorldTour team for four years. Or did I miss a rule change somewhere along the way?

Thanks for the explanation.
— Dave

Dear Dave,
You are correct in recalling that when the UCI’s experiment with the old “ProTour” began in the 2005 season, the rules did include an additional two-year exclusion for riders suspended for doping violations.

The additional ban has never been part of the “UCI Anti-Doping Rules,” but rather it was incorporated in the “ProTour Teams’ Code of Ethics.”

Unfortunately, like the ProTour itself, the code began to unravel almost as soon as it was started. Early on, there were problems enforcing that sort of secondary ban. To start, several riders whose suspensions had begun prior to the establishment of the ProTour and the adoption of the Code, were able to return to the top tier of the sport without too much trouble. Case in point, you might recall the case of David Millar, who was suspended for two years after police discovered three empty vials of EPO in his apartment in France.

Riding for the Cofidis team, Millar’s suspension began in June of 2004. His suspension ended just a week before the 2006 Tour de France. Upon his return, he inked a deal with the Saunier Duval-Prodir squad. How did he manage to slide straight into a spot on a ProTour team? Well, early on in the process, those developing the new rules realized they would have a huge hurdle to overcome if the ProTour tried to impose its new rules retroactively. Such ex post facto enforcement would most certainly have been struck down, if not by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, then by a further challenge to the European Court of Human Rights. Indeed, it was such a clear issue, it was never tested in either court.

Now you might also recall that beyond its Ethics Code, the ProTour itself was the subject of some controversy. For one thing, the idea hatched in the mind of former UCI president Hein Verbruggen and then handed off to his successor, Pat McQuaid, didn’t have the support of the sport’s biggest promoters. The Amaury Sport Organisation, which organizes the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Dauphiné to name just a few, opposed the concept from the start. Joined by the organizers of the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, the opposition came from the people who were putting on the bulk of what the UCI called the ProTour.

The organizers, however, declined to recognize the effort and began inviting teams based on their own criteria. The problem was highlighted when Liquigas inked its own deal with Ivan Basso at the end of 2008. Basso had been suspended for admitting that he had “intended” to dope in advance of the 2006 Tour, using the talents of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, who was busted in the Operación Puerto case.

The ex post facto enforcement problem wasn’t at issue. Basso’s suspension began well after the establishment of the ProTour and the adoption of the Ethics Code. This time, the problem was that the teams and promoters didn’t give a damn about the Code. Liquigas saw in Basso not only a talented rider, but one with broad appeal, especially in its home base of Italy. Liquigas signed him October of 2008 and he rode to a fourth-place finish in the 2009 Giro. That pretty much spelled the end of the secondary penalty.

The final nail in the coffin, of course, came as the whole idea of the ProTour began to unravel in 2009 and 2010.

Other additional penalties?
So now we have a new creature, the UCI World Tour. The top 18 teams in the world are now labeled as “ProTeams” by the UCI and the whole concept has at least the tacit approval of the big promoters, including Amaury and the other grand tour organizers.

The Ethics Code, and particularly the secondary suspension provision, have quietly slipped into the background.

But that doesn’t mean the end of UCI efforts to hold riders at the very top of the sport to a higher standard.

Last fall, the UCI management committee adopted a new rule ratified by the Pro Cycling Council which bars the points earned by riders within two years of a suspension from having their UCI points counted toward a team’s standings in the world rankings.

Now, as mentioned, the World Tour is open to those teams that have earned the ProTeam designation. Purportedly, that’s the world’s top 18 professional cycling teams. For example, Saxo Bank would not have qualified as a ProTeam in 2012 had it not been for the points earned by one Alberto Contador in 2011. That his results and points were later negated by the CAS ruling in his 2010 doping case didn’t change that for 2012. Saxo Bank was already part of the 2012 ProTeam roster and the UCI didn’t see fit to yank that for this year.

UCI ProTeams for 2012

  • Ag2r La Mondiale
  • Astana
  • BMC
  • Euskaltel-Euskadi
  • FdJ-Big Mat
  • Garmin-Barracuda
  • Greenedge
  • Katusha
  • Lampre-ISD
  • Liquigas-Cannondale
  • Lotto Belisol
  • Movistar
  • Omega Pharma-Quickstep
  • Rabobank
  • Radioshack-Nissan
  • Sky
  • Saxo Bank
  • Vacansoleil-DCM

But what happens in 2013? If the rule survives expected legal challenges to CAS and, perhaps, the European Court of Human Rights, then it means that even if Contador is rehired by Saxo Bank at the end of his suspension and, as expected, rides the Vuelta in September, the points he earns won’t count toward Saxo’s end-of-season rankings.

That will certainly hurt the team’s chances of staying in the top tier for 2013. The UCI criteria also consider the standings of individual riders for the past two seasons. Again if Contador is rehired, his now-negated 2011 rankings wouldn’t count, nor would anything he earns in 2012, even if he goes on to win the 2012 Vuelta. It’s the same problem now faced by the Movistar team of returning doper Alejandro Valverde, who’s been riding quite well this season, but won’t have any of the points he’s earning this year applied to the team’s standings.

There are other standards the UCI considers, including the financial viability and accounting practices of the team. Saxo has had its problems over the years, but appears to be relatively stable financially, for now.

That said, even if Saxo Bank doesn’t earn a spot among the ProTeams in 2013, it could still get a wild-card invite from one or more of the grand tours, whose organizers to maintain a degree of autonomy when it comes to the two, three or four additional teams to offered a spot. And really, which of them would be disinclined to invite a team with a rider who is arguably the best grand tour rider of his generation?

So, there you have it. There is a secondary, post-suspension penalty, but it’s not nearly as onerous as the one originally envisioned by those who crafted the ProTour Team Code of Ethics.
— Charles

The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey

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  1. randomactsofcycling

    So the secondary penalty is designed to de-motivate teams from hiring convicted dopers? I would certainly think twice about paying an enormous salary to a rider that, although he may earn my sponsors fantastic publicity, could not help to ensure that I could continue to get that publicity by making appearances in the biggest races the following year.
    At the end of the day, it all comes down yet again to financials. If Contador were to win the Vuelta, maybe the Worlds and place well in the latter parts of the season, would Saxo Bank consider the publicity good enough to run the risk of not getting the same publicity next year? How heavily would this weigh on the mind of Bjarne Ris, given his admitted lack of luck in finding alternate Title sponsors in the past?
    Finally, does a doper consider their future in this light? Evidence would suggest not.

  2. Paul I.

    Even if Saxo were to lose World Tour status next year, with Contador on their roster they would be almost certain to be invited to all the major races that he would ride. So definitely the Ardennes classic, the Tour, and probably several more. Look at how well Europcar does at the highest level, racing as a Pro Conti team. Everyone wants to see Voeckler and Pierre Rolland at their events.

  3. Jesus from Cancun

    I see some similarity with the case of the Geox non-invites last year. They had Menchov, Sastre and a few other interesting names, and were still denied a ride at the Giro, Tour and many other races.

    Could this happen to Saxo if they re-hire Contador and lose their ProTeam status? Or is the Contador/Riis team so much more attractive than Menchov/Sastre/Gianetti were?

  4. Shawn

    I don’t understand why the UCI doesn’t see a similar ex post facto problem in not counting Contador’s future points, since the rule was put into effect after Contador’s offence.

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