Alberto Contador and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank may be fighting for wildcard invitations to next year’s Grand Tours after the team missed the cut for a WorldTour licence. Because it failed to rank with the top 15 teams based of the UCI’s sporting criterion released Monday, it stands on shaky ground.
As the sports governing body underlined in its press release, “The sporting criterion is crucial for the obtaining or retaining of UCI ProTeam status, in addition to compliance with ethical, financial and administrative criteria.”
Teams need one of the 18 first division, ProTeam licences for automatic entry in the WorldTour events, including the Grand Tours. Second division, Professional Continental teams must fight for wildcard entries. The Tour de France and other Grand Tours typically accept four wildcard teams.
Sky made the cut of 15 teams with Ag2r-La Mondiale, Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rabobank, Garmin-Sharp, Katusha, Lampre-Merida, Movistar, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Orica-GreenEdge, RadioShack-Nissan and Vacansoleil-DCM. The UCI ordered the five teams that failed to make the first round cut, with Saxo Bank ranked dead-last: 16 Argos-Shimano, 17 Lotto-Belisol, 18 FDJ, 19 Europcar and 20 Saxo Bank.
Saxo Bank suffered from Contador’s doping ban. He only began racing in late summer and lost all of his results from the 2010 Tour forward, where he was using banned substance clenbuterol. General manager Bjarne Riis helped Contador win Vuelta a España and beefed up his team for 2013 by signing Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche, Matti Breschel, Daniele Bennati and Oliver Zaugg, but it was not enough.
The UCI takes the points from the top 12 riders the team contracted for the following year. The sporting criterion relies on their results from the last two years and what appears to be Swiss magic. A manifesto published by five newspapers on Saturday, including the Sunday Times, called for greater clarity in the WorldTour points and licence system because it “remains closed and opaque”.
“There needs to ranking individual, teams and nations, I get that,” BMC Racing’s general manager, Jim Ochowicz told Cycling Weekly. “It can be debated if there should be a few more WorldTour points here or there, for this win or that win, but overall it’s not a bad system. But, I don’t understand how the ranking works at the end of the year. I don’t get how they use other criteria for ranking teams.”
The UCI keeps its formula a secret. A rider may send an e-mail to request his position. Teams receive their riders’ positions at mid-season, but are unaware where the other teams and riders fall.
The teams must meet three more criteria: ethical, financial and administrative. If the top 15 teams meet them, they will receive a first division licence for 2013. The other five face a fight for the remaining three licences.
“I do not have the means to apply for the WorldTour,” Europcar’s general manager, Jean-René Bernaudeau told France’s Velo Chrono website earlier this month. “It’s 30 cyclists, it’s a very busy schedule and it was not possible to increase my budget, to have the cyclists, to make it possible.”
It seems unlikely the UCI will block Belgium’s Lotto and France’s FDJ who have licences valid through 2015 and 2014, respectively. So two teams, Saxo Bank and Argos, will fight for the remaining spot. Saxo Bank may find itself in the second division for the first time since it was team Home-Jack & Jones in 1999, before Riis took over in 2000. The Danish team ranks lower based on sporting and likely ethical criteria.
Riis stood by Contador through the doping trials. He reportedly helped pay for Contador’s lawyers and in June, renewed his contract through 2015. It will not help that he admitted to doping during his own career and that he signed Kreuziger, who is allegedly linked to Michele Ferrari in the Padau investigation.
The UCI will make its next communication regarding licences on November 26 and finalise selections in early December. However, it appears it will give the nod to the youthful Dutch team with Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, and turn its nose up to Contador and co.