By Gregor Brown
The UCI confirmed today the 18 teams that will race with a ProTeam licence in 2013, surprisingly relegating Russian team Katusha at the last minute.
There were four teams waiting to hear which three would receive the licence as speculation mounted that the Saxo-Tinkoff team of Alberto COntador would miss out. The Danish team were alongside Argos-Shimano, FDJ and Lotto-Belisol as the last four teams awaiting a licence.
In the end all four received a WorldTour licence as Katusha, who finished the 2012 WorldTour in second place behind Team Sky were relegated from cycling's top division.
The UCI is yet to explain the decision behind Katusha's relegation.
Iwan Spekenbrink, Argos' general manager said in a statement, "The WorldTour licence puts us in position to consistently continue our policy in the next few years and so keep on growing."
Teams with a first division or ProTeam licence are able to race in all 29 WorldTour races, including the major one-day classics and Grand Tours such as the Tour and Giro d'Italia. The season begins next month in Australia with the Tour Down Under stage race.
Sky received a ProTeam licence in 2010 which valid through 2013. The UCI's licence commission confirmed the team's place along with AG2R La Mondiale, Argos-Shimano, Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale, Euskaltel, FDJ, Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida, Lotto Belisol Team, Movistar, Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, Orica-GreenEDGE, Rabobank, RadioShack-Nissan, Saxo-Tinkoff and Vacansoleil-DCM.
Teams AG2R La Mondiale, Euskaltel, Garmin-Sharp and Rabobank received renewed licences.
The commission based its decision on four criteria: sporting, ethical, financial and administrative. On October 29, it ranked 20 teams based on its sporting criterion, giving the first 15 teams licence priority and creating a competition amongst the final five. Lotto and FDJ already had valid licences through 2015 and 2014, respectively, but needed the nod today. Europcar pulled out of the running early due to financial constraints. After the first 15 teams, Lotto and FDJ, only one spot remained for Argos-Shimano and Saxo-Tinkoff.
The surprise, however, was that the licence commission rejected Katusha's application after it raced the last four years in the first division.
"The request from the team Katusha for registration in first division has been rejected," read a UCI statement. "In accordance with UCI regulations, this team's application has been forwarded to the UCI administration [for the] possibility of registering this team as a professional continental [second division] team."
The UCI licence commission allowed Saxo-Tinkoff to continue, renewing its licence for 2013 and 2014. Bjarne Riis' team placed dead-last in the commission's sporting criteria list released on October 29. In addition, several doping scandals have given the team a tarnished ethical record.
In his recent book, Tyler Hamilton alleged that Riis knew about doping and encouraged his riders to cheat during his two years in the team in 2002 and 2003. Alberto Contador drug the team through the mud in the last two years. He tested positive at the 2010 Tour, fought the case and continued to race, and win. After the sport's high court ruled against him, he lost his 2010 Tour, 2011 Giro d'Italia and other wins, and further sullied Saxo's record.
The commission turned on Russia's team Katusha, though. Team officials were called in last month to answer questions regarding financial and administrative aspects, but the UCI gave no further indication why the commission ruled as it did.
If selected for the 0second division, Katusha will have to scramble for wildcard invitations to race in the Grand Tours and classics.
Argos received the golden ticket to the big races, a valid ProTeam licence through 2016. The Dutch team began as Shimano-Memory Corp in the second division team in 2005. Its hard-nosed riding in ASO's Paris-Nice in 2008 and 2009, helped it earn a spot in the organiser's big race, the Tour, in 2009. It returned again this year on a wildcard invite.
German's Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb sprinted to the majority of the team's wins in the last two seasons. Kittel won 13 times this year and 17 last year. As an added bonus, the 24-year-old is out-spoken on doping. In a recent interview with Belgium's Het Nieuwsblad newspaper, he questioned why the UCI allows Astana to race in the WorldTour.
"We need new principles," Kittel said. "I don't get the UCI's ethical position given it allows Astana a WorldTour licence with [Alexander Vinokourov] as team manager. ... I would never sign [for Astana]. Never. Money is not everything. I need to feel good in a team."
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