The UCI and Katusha - 19 is more than enough
Things are getting sticky for the UCI ... again. The Russian Katusha team had enjoyed ProTour status way back in 2012. Naturally management thought that would remain status quo the following year. They have grand tour threat and classic winner Joaquim Rodriguez on the squad. The squad also finished the 2012 season in second position on the ProTour team standings, so it seemed a lock. However, the UCI had a loophole in the ProTour application process.
The UCI rejected Katusha’s ProTour application based on an ethics clause basically stating that the team had some doping issues - meaning they had guys who had gotten popped.
From 2009 to 2012 the team has been involved in four doping cases, most recently Denis Galimzyanov who was found to be positive for EPO last April. Also, Denis Menchov scored a nine out of possible 10 on the UCI doping suspicion list. The cherry on top is the team director Vyacheslav Ekimov who had been a teammate of Lance Armstrong during his seven Tour de France wins, so yeah, that’s awkward ...
Katusha wasn’t going to let that ProTour status slide. Being a part of the ProTour means automatic selection to the grand tours and the classics - a must-have for any team to prove its worth to a sponsor. If a sponsor is sold on the idea their squad is going to a grand tour and then it doesn’t, you can count how long they will remain with the team with an egg timer.
For Katusha the next stop was the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), sport’s version of the Supreme Court, to appeal the UCI’s decision.
CAS issued a statement, “Following the hearing, the CAS Panel did not reach the same conclusions as the UCI Licensing Commission and decided to uphold the appeal.” Katusha could once again play with the big boys.
Also this meant that J-Rod wasn’t going to bolt for the door and transfer to a team that was ensured a Tour selection.
While it was happy days in Moscow, back in Aigle they were now in a bit of a pickle. The plan is 18 ProTour teams. Now they have 19. Also, each grand tour is allowed to pick four wildcard teams. These wildcard team selections are usually based on national biases and other factors. For example, the French Europcar team isn’t on the 2013 UCI ProTeams list, but it’s a safe bet they’re included in the Tour de France for a couple of reasons: the afore mentioned Frenchiness and the ever popular Thomas Voeckler. It’s a lock.
As it stands now, there are 19 UCI ProTour teams and the sport’s governing body isn’t pleased. It’s the equivalent of trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Does this mean that one of the already approved squads will get the boot?
Nope. The UCI bent its own rule and is allowing 19 registered teams into the 2013 ProTour. Does this mean there will be one less wild card selection for various races? For some race organizers this added team is already causing a headache.
The Giro d’Italia has already picked their four wildcard teams for the 2013 Giro, plus the 18 WorldTour teams. Now they have to add Katusha into the Giro, a team that hadn’t made the wildcard cut earlier, but are in due to CAS’ ProTour ruling.
The Giro has said they won’t remove one of the four wildcard selections.
Logically that makes sense. The teams have been selected and are relying on lining up in Naples. Teams rely on wildcard selection like a Christmas bonus - it’s not guaranteed, but some teams know they’ll get one.
Then there’s the logistical nightmare of having an extra team in the mix. Not only do you have the extra riders, but the extra rooms, team cars on the road, and what is manageable chaos could become a disaster waiting to happen.
Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer points out on Twitter, “So 23 teams & 207 riders for UCI World Tour races?” Things are going to get crowded on the narrow roads of Europe.
However, looking back from 2005 to 2007 there were 20 ProTour teams. The rub is in return for 20 teams the Tour reduced the amount of wildcard selections. For example in 2007 there were only two wildcard teams: Barloworld and Agritubel.
One would rightfully think that this type of logistics snafu might have been avoided with a bit of planning by the UCI. However, they’ve had their hands full with the Armstrong scandal and the dealing with the weekly doping skeletons that keep popping out of the closet. Add in the fact the UCI president Pat McQuaid is busy squabbling with USADA, WADA and any other organization with vowels. To quote the popular internet meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
In the end there will be no satisfactory result. We’ll have more riders (maybe?) in the grand tours which is good for them. The flip side to that coin is the logistical issues that come with that increase. Also, the UCI wasted more time and money on a situation that should have been decided in September.
As of this writing the UCI is respecting CAS’ decision and we’ll see how the Tour de France responds to 19 ProTour teams. Will we see 207 riders squeezing through many a French town in July? I just hope that it will be done safely.
Note: Following the publication of this article Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme announced there will be three wildcard invitations instead of four for this year's edition of the Tour de France.
Finally, I had almost forgotten all about Johan Bruyneel. He was supposed to have an arbitration hearing by the end of last year to decide his fate - banned for life or back behind a team car steering wheel. Now it’s February and the sacked RadioShack director hasn’t had his hearing yet, but is working on writing a book. On that note Armstrong in an interview with Texas Monthly said he’s waiting for some time to pass and he’ll write a book too.
As lousy as both those books will be I know Armstrong’s will be a bestseller. Armstrong will hire the same sycophantic writers he has before that will write how he wasn’t a bully, but showed “defiance.” This is one zebra which won’t change its stripes.
That’s the sad thing. After a couple of years this will have died down and Armstrong will re-enter the world with his new book and people will start to forgive him. If he shows real contrition and pulls out his checkbook to right all his wrongs then I’m all for forgiveness, but if history has shown us anything, that ain’t going to happen.