Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fallout XVI

The CyclingNews says the ProTour just went "Poof!" All 17 teams at the Tour will not renew their licences next year, and will do something with the Grand Tour organizers (ASO, RCS, Unipublic) instead. McQuaid is reduced to huffing and puffing. The timing looks good -- the UCI can't threaten Olympic participation now that it has not objected to the Tour, so it has exactly zero leverage on the teams as far as we can see. And so much for that "double your ban" clause -- Landis might be employable by any of the teams when his time is up. Rock, below, may have to increase an offer, if one is on the table.

Also at BBC, AFP, and ESPN/Reuters, and Cycling Weekly. The AP notes the license costs €15,000 a year, which doesn't seem like much to us -- but it's control and conditions of the license that are at issue.

CyclingNews reports Rock Racing is going to Europe next year, and hiring riders, including an American whose name "you would guess." Armstrong coming out of retirement?

VeloNews' Mailbag contains a couple of pertinent letters this week. One, in light of the Beltran doping "positive", questions the continuing "leaks" of information. Ken Kabira writes:

Once again, an A sample being positive has been leaked to Le Equipe, a "known" outlet of confidential information of a WADA lab. Can a system in which one is "guilty until proven innocent" truly be called fair? All doping tests have a certain level of false positive (however low they may be). That's why a B sample is reserved for additional testing. Why can’t an athlete be deemed innocent until the B sample result is confirmed? It's a completely one-sided system in which the accusers have absolutely nothing to lose by being sloppy and incompetent, but the falsely accused is destroyed in the process.

Rant writes about the "Triki business" of having any sporting event ever without cheating. Funny thing is, the press coverage of Beltran's "A" sample positive has been somewhat surprisingly less than sensational, and Rant refers to Bonnie Ford's excellent piece on the subject.

Tribabe is worried about her business and its profitability, but that's the least of her problems. She also had a disturbing dream about Floyd Landis being in love with her.

Bam finds the "awesome" Floyd Landis' advice for getting up hills to be simply the best.


daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...

Actually, regarding the CyclingNews story, I heard it was some former three-time Tour winner staging a comeback. Now that all the dopers have been run out of the sport, he ought to at least be able to hang on.


jrdbutcher said...

This is anything but a big surprise. The only thing that I find perplexing is how badly UCI played its (admittedly) weak hand.

IME, the UCI’s only hope had been to either allow/encourage the riders to have their own union or to actually take on that role to protect the rider’s interests (fat chance).

Instead, the UCI padded its pockets to support shinny headquarters and lavish expense accounts with high sanctioning/other fees, but without providing enough value in return. They exacerbated the situation by playing fast and loose with their own rules, compounded by their farcical stance on the riders wrt a legitimate rider’s union. Now they will have to find other sources of income or scale back their lavish lifestyles. Poor Patty. My heart bleeds.

The ASO Federated League will not be any improvement for the riders. They won’t play fast and loose with any published rules because they will maintain the status quo and just make them up as they go. They do have the advantage of having the majority of the best known races. That’s not lost on the teams or their sponsors. Take Judge Hue’s advise from a slightly different subject; “follow the money”. The teams are.

Larry said...

regarding the Pro Tour going "poof" -- at this point, we have no idea what it means for the Pro Tour to go "poof".

What follows is NOT carefully researched and may require correction, which won't be too hard to do since what follows is mostly questions with few answers:

Let's start with a simple point: the "Pro Tour" is not just a series of races, it's also one of the three men's team licenses available through the UCI and the national cycling federations. As a rule, a team needs a license to ride in any road race on the UCI calendar, and, I think, on most or all of the road races on a national federation calendar. So when a Pro Tour team like Team Columbia races in a non-Pro Tour event such as the Tour of California, the team's authority to do so is based on its Pro Tour license.

Are the Pro Tour teams planning to obtain a different kind of license from the UCI, such as the Pro Continental license held by smaller teams such as Garmin-Chipotle? This is apparently what Team Cofidis planned to do when it announced earlier this month that it did not plan to renew its Pro Tour license. However, it's not clear that all 18 Pro Tour teams would have the right to convert over to Pro Continental licenses, or that UCI would go along with this plan. Also note that Pro Continental teams are by rule smaller than Pro Tour teams, so there may be a lot of unemployed cyclists if such a mass license conversion is in the works.

Do the current Pro Tour teams plan to race without any UCI license whatsoever? It's unclear to me how this would work. Every cycling team you've ever heard of, from Astana down to Jelly Belly, has a license recognized by UCI. There's also the question of what happens to the national cycling federations like USA Cycling and AFLD in France, if the top teams drop out of UCI-recognized licensing. It's not clear whether teams can drop out of UCI licensing without also losing their licensed status within their national federations. Would AFLD continue to be in a position to run the Tour de France if none of the Tour teams held national licenses?

Are we now looking at a situation where the various national cycling federations will also consider dropping out of UCI? That creates an additional set of complications, as UCI is recognized as the official world body of cycling by the International Olympic Committee. If, say, USA Cycling was able to drop out of UCI, then who would have the authority within the U.S. to conduct the Olympic trials and choose the riders to race in the Olympics? Would each country have to have TWO cycling federations, one to deal with the Olympics and one to deal with pro cycling? And could a cyclist be licensed by both of these national federations, or would he or she have to choose one or the other?

Then there's anti-doping and WADA. We can guess that the UCI's biological passport program just went down the drain -- even if the Pro Tour teams stay affiliated with UCI in some manner, they're likely to do so in a cheaper fashion that would not support the expense of the bio passport. Besides, if the teams are going to form their own federation, why wouldn't they take charge of their own anti-doping testing? Would the new pro cycling federation contract with WADA to supervise and provide the rules for its doping testing? And what happens to third party testing groups like ACE, Dr. Daamsgard, et. al.? Will the teams dump these testers now that they can set up their own anti-doping regime? Or might one of these groups end up in charge of an anti-doping program that all pro teams would be required to join?

Questions, questions, questions, and at this point, I know few of the answers. Suffice it to say that the UCI cannot be removed from this picture as easily as, say, removing a fly from a bowl of soup.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

At only 15k euro per team, that wasn't funding much of the passport programme anyway, so the money for that sort of thing is coming elsewhere, and could be applied in other ways.

It seems to me the teams can tell the UCI to go away as far as licensing goes. They are willing to race with ASO, RCS and Unibet. What do they need a UCI license for at all?

It might make it hard for riders to race in UCI sanctioned events, like the worlds, national championships, and the Olympics. But none of those are really team events requiring team licensing.
And it is now effectively 4 years off to worry about the Olympics, the biggest problem.

I believe we've already established a position that riders can't be required to race only in sanctioned events, so that leaves the worlds national championships and Olympics technically open to riders who wish to do so, and can persuade their teams to allow them to participate. As at the Olympics, team livery may not be allowed at nationals or worlds if the teams aren't UCI licensed. Oh well.

If the UCI tries to require riders to race only in UCI races, they'll be told to jump into a nearby Swiss lake.

The main thing here is that the governments of countries allow races to be held that are not UCI sanctioned. If they do, the game is up for the UCI. Otherwise, the local federations can be brought to heel.

It appears that France, Italy and Spain are prepared to de-facto de-require the previously assumed de-jure UCI presence.

I will not suggest this is likely to be better for riders, though the UCI was doing a rotten job of protecting them on its own.


Larry said...

TBV, a UCI pro tour license is not 15K Euro per team. See UCI Fee Schedule. The fee is 75,000 Swiss Francs for a one-year license, and 150,000 Swiss Francs for a 4-year license. The exchange rate today is about one Swiss Franc per dollar. In terms of Euros, this translates to about 45K Euros per year, or 90K Euros for 4 years.

I think we're talking about serious money here. $1.5 million in license fees, for 20 teams at $75,000 per team per year. Add to this the license fees for Pro Tour races that are all going to cancel. Professional road cycling has to be UCI's main source of revenue.

As for the value of a UCI license, consider that this year's Tour de France is being run under the rules of the French national cycling federation, the AFLD. We have not yet reached the point where a major pro cycling stage race has been run as a purely private affair by a for-profit corporation such as the ASO, with no involvement from national or international cycling authorities and no role for the French government.

Is it possible to organize a Tour de France without the UCI AND without the AFLD? I guess it's possible in theory. Is it possible to similarly divorce the Tour of California from USA Cycling, the Giro from the Italian cycling federation, the Vuelta from the Spanish cycling federation? This is pretty radical stuff.

TBV, I'm not trying to suggest that I see how all this is going to play out. I don't have a clue how it's going to play out. But potentially, a number of dominos are going to fall in addition to the Pro Tour series of races.

Larry said...

Sorry, I should have said that the Tour is being run this year under the authority of the FFC. Sorry. Sometimes I can't keep the alphabet soup straight!

tbv@trustbut.com said...

The issue in part boils down to money teams pay 15,000 (US$23,985) annually for the licenses and control of the sport. The Grand Tours oppose the requirement that they accept all 18 ProTour teams in their events.

So that is in error, as they say. What you quote does start to add up to real money.

Anyway, I don't see why you draw the FFC out of the picture. Why wouldn't they continue to sanction the Tour? I don't think the FFC will much care what the UCI does -- it has its own incorporation, and lives without the UCI.


jrdbutcher said...

Thanks Larry for linking the UCI Fee Schedule in your post. I should have linked it in mine. Would have saved us some time and confusion.

Larry said...

jrd, no problem.


Good questions about what FFC can do and might do. Because I don’t speak French well, I’m reluctant to dive into FFC’s rules and regulations to see whether they can organize an event consisting of teams without UCI licenses. For the moment, let’s make it easy on ourselves, and focus on what USA Cycling could do if it wanted to organize a race in the U.S. (say, the Tour of California) and include teams without UCI licenses.

Caveat: I’m not an expert here, and I welcome correction.

Let’s start with the men’s team structure recognized by USA Cycling. See USA Cycling on Clubs and Teams. USA Cycling recognizes three kinds of teams: Pro Tour Teams (like Team Columbia and most of the teams in the Tour de France), Pro Continental Teams (like Garmin-Chipotle, formerly known as Slipstream), and UCI Continental Teams (like Rock Racing). Again, I’m not an expert, but every team I’ve ever heard of seems to fall into one of these three categories. There are also cycling “clubs”, which are for amateur riders and aspiring professionals. Clubs can be sponsored or unsponsored, but I don’t think that a club can participate in a professional race. (There are probably a lot of people on this site who ride for clubs and may understand this better.) So I think we can limit our focus to “teams”.

At the moment, USA Cycling will only recognize a team that is registered through the UCI. ProTour and Pro Continental teams are registered directly with the UCI; UCI Continental teams are managed directly by USA Cycling but must be officially registered with the UCI.

I have not done an analysis of all of the regulations, which run hundreds of pages, but my understanding is that this team structure is mandated by the UCI. The national federations have a little bit of choice in the matter, but not much.

OK. Let’s say that USA Cycling rewrites its regulations to create a 4th category of professional team, one that has nothing to do with UCI and requires no UCI registration. They could then amend its rules and its calendar of events to allow this 4th category of team to race in events like the Tour of California. To attract international participation, USA Cycling could amend its rules to allow teams registered in a similar 4th category with non-USA cycling federations to also race in events like the Tour of California. USA Cycling would then need to step forward (as did FFC) to make certain that they have a full staff of race officials, as they won’t be able to draw on the UCI for assistance.

If USA Cycling were to take this kind of action, they would lose their good standing with the UCI (which is what has happened to FFC). For this, USA Cycling may be tossed out of the UCI and lose its recognition by the International Olympic Committee. You’ve indicated that this matters only for the World Championships and the 2012 Olympics. But you’re only considering men’s road cycling. What about women’s cycling, and mountain cycling, and track, and cyclo-cross, and BMX? The U.S. could lose its international standing in all of these forms of cycling. This would be political suicide.

If I look at the big picture, USA Cycling has a number of constituencies, only one of which is men’s pro road cycling. If USA Cycling had to choose between organizing the Tour of California and its good standing with the UCI, I think it would choose the latter.

My guess is that most other national cycling federations would make the same choice.

We also have to consider that the national cycling federations would not be the driving force behind these changes. The driving force would be the new organization of professional teams. If you were the CEO of this organization, would your strategy be to rely upon the coordinated cooperation of a couple of dozen national cycling federations? Or would your main strategy be to bypass these organizations and set up a structure that did not depend on these organizations? Only the latter strategy makes any sense (though it would be possible to utilize the services of a national cycling federation or two that, like the FFC, was eager to cooperate).

So … as I see it, the pro teams are moving towards a completely self-contained system (though they probably don’t know it yet), where they will promulgate the rules and do all of the race organization in conjunction with the ASO and other race sponsors. I don’t see a role here for national federations …

I could very well be wrong, but this is what I’m thinking at the moment.

Russ said...

The cyclingnews flash said:

"The teams indicated that they would form a new alliance with the three Grand Tour organisers"

The Alliance? This could only have come about because Darth Vader was identified here at TBV in comments recently!


Mike said...

If this really does mean that Landis' extra two years now go "poof," then...cool!


Mike said...

Another aspect of this to consider is that, as individuals, the riders are still subject, in some way, to the UCI. If I understand right, as individuals, the riders are members of their national federations, which are "members" (or whatever the right word is) of the UCI.

I don't know what practical implication that has for the future, but it is something that needs to be thrown into the mix.

I wonder if the UCI could still ban Landis for an extra two years through some provision they write into the charter of whatever UCI related body follows the ProTour (if any).

Hmmm...more questions.


Larry said...

Mike, you also have to consider that, if all the Pro Tour teams are going to become Pro Continental teams, as McQuaid indicates in UCI President hits out at teams' shortsightedness at Cycling News, then there could be a lot of riders out of work.

The math: Each UCI ProTeam must employ at least 25 riders, 2 team managers and 8 other staff (paramedical ssistants, mechanics, etc.) on a full time basis for the whole registration year. Each professional continental team must employ at least 16 but no more than 25 riders, 2 team managers and 3 other staff (paramedical assistants, mechanics, etc.) on a full time basis for the whole registration year.

daniel m (a/k/a Rant) said...


In a number of races that I've seen (and a some that I've participated in), Pros can be mixed with the amateur categories, usually in a Pro-1-2, or Pro-1-2-3 format. So, yes, amateur clubs can participate in certain Pro races, depending on how the race is set up and organized.

By the way, before there was USA Cycling, there were a number of independent cycling federations. USPRO was for the professional racers, USCF was for the roadies, NORBA for the mountain bikers, and there was a BMX federation, too.

The IOC deemed that there would only be one national federation for a sport, and hence, the four organizations "merged".

In some ways, with developments like today's, we may be going back to the future.

Thomas A. Fine said...


Based on Larry's comments, it seems like maybe it's the UCI that's going poof, and not just the pro tour. I mean, probably not, they'll probably work some things out. But I think the people in charge must clearly realize that if the UCI doesn't do something useful, they can be replaced without too much effort.

And that's what it all comes down to with the Pro Tour - what have you done for me lately? The promise was basically, join the pro tour, make more money, guaranteed.

But I don't think that really panned out. Largely it was doping. Or, how the UCI handles doping - that is, by maximizing media attention on doping, and insuring that every time the media reports on cycling, they mention doping. Cycling has taken a lot of damage due to the mishandling of doping, and it's cost a lot of money.

Of course, a lot of that comes from the WADA/UCI/IOC relationship. I think that WADA targeted cycling as a political chew toy. But UCI was completely worthless in dealing with it, because the olympics owns them too thoroughly. I agree pretty strongly with Floyd on this one - cycling should have kissed the Olympics goodbye.

I think that for ASO, Floyd Landis was the sequoia that broke the camels back. I'm not saying that ASO handles doping in any way more responsibly than UCI, but clearly ASO believes that they do, or at least can. ASO blames Floyd on the UCI. And it's simplistic antidote is to make sure it can exclude anyone it wants (all viable Americans, perhaps?) from le Tour. Of course I think that's a childish approach to anti-doping (mine mine mine).

There are ways to make real substantive progress against doping, without making big splashy headlines. I find myself agreeing with the attitude projected in St. Millar's recent comments on the Beltran case. It happens, and it'll always happen, we do what we can, and move forward.


Larry said...

Oops. Upon a closer look at rules 2.15.169 - 2.15.176 of the UCI Cycling Regulations, it appears that a Pro Tour team had to pay BOTH of the fees I mentioned each year: 75,000 Swiss Francs plus 1/4 of the 150,000 Swiss Franc license fee.

Annual cost: 112,500 Swiss Francs per year.

tbv@trustbut.com said...

In terms of employment, I don't know that having lots of pro continental teams limits anything -- there is no limit on the number of teams, as there was in the pro tour.

What *is* the limiting factor is the number of races, and the number of starting slots in those races. If the races vanish, then there is less need for employing riders. I'd be more interested in counting races than the number of teams.

At some level, team count will ultimately follow sponsorship dollars, which follows economics more than rules and sanctioning organizations. If we have economic downturn where cycling is not seen cost-effective, then there will be fewer teams and riders.

Also, arguably, the pay scale at the high end might go down, but it's hard to say the 23rd guy on a ProTour team was being paid any better than the 15th guy on a pro continental squad.

I don't see the end of the ProTour as then conceived to be a loss for the sport, but a sign it's time to try something else that might commercially work better.