By Gregor Brown
Saxo-Tinkoff prepares for the worst as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) may boot the team from its first division on Monday. With only 18 spots available in the WorldTour, the Danish team with disgraced star Alberto Contador appears an unwanted guest.
The governing body will announce its 18 ProTeams that have guaranteed entry into the 2013 WorldTour races, including the major classics and Grand Tours. Second division teams must rely on wildcard invitations to the big races, and that makes planning for major objectives, like the Tour de France, stressful.
If Saxo-Tinkoff's bid fails, the most successful recent Grand Tour rider, Contador, may miss out on the Tour and other big races. Some say it's due justice as he doped in the 2010 Tour and served a relatively short ban. After backdating, he sat out for six months and returned in August to win the Vuelta a España.
Team owner, Bjarne Riis has also had his share of problems. He admitted in 2007 that he doped to win the 1996 Tour and via his riders, has been tied to doping scandals. In his book, The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton alleged Riis was aware of, and encouraged, his doping practices.
Riis has been quiet on the subject, but this week when in Moscow with Contador to visit sponsor Oleg Tinkov, he commented. "We hope we get [the licence]," the Dane said, according to Biciclismo. "We have a whole season ahead of us, and we are prepared and ready for it. We have a good team that can win."
The UCI, based on its arithmetic, disagrees. On October 29, it released a top 20 team ranking that it will use to issue the ProTeam licences and placed Saxo dead-last. As the UCI stated, "The sporting criterion is crucial for the obtaining or retaining of UCI ProTeam status, in addition to compliance with ethical, financial and administrative criteria."
It sorted the 15 teams alphabetically and the others by rank: AG2R-La Mondiale, Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rabobank, Garmin-Sharp, Katusha, Lampre-Merida, Movistar, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Orica-GreenEdge, RadioShack-Nissan, Sky, Vacansoleil-DCM, 16) Argos-Shimano, 17) Lotto-Belisol, 18) FDJ, 19) Europcar and 20) Saxo Bank.
As Cycling Weekly noted before, two teams - Argos and Saxo - will dispute one remaining ProTeam slot. Though they need to go through the steps, Lotto and FDJ already have valid licences through 2015 and 2014, respectively. Europcar pulled out of the running because it is unable to meet the financial requirements.
Lotto's general manager, Bill Oliver told La Dernière Heure, "We remain confident for the licence... I think we do not have to worry. It's more the other teams to worry about. A simple example: We finished 11th in the WorldTour 2012, we had many victories."
Saxo placed 15th in the WorldTour and 16th in CQ Ranking. It placed just ahead of Dutch team Argos, but with the advantage of automatic entry into all the top races.
"Alberto Contador is a superstar, I know nobody really from Argos," Tinkov told Russian media this week, according to Dutch website NU Sport. "It's a crazy situation. I can not imagine that we are not licensed."
The ethical criterion
Tinkov forgot about Argos' rising stars, Germans Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, and his team's ethical stance. Riis stood by Contador through the doping trials. He reportedly helped pay for Contador's lawyers and in June, renewed his contract through 2015. He has also signed Roman Kreuziger, who is allegedly linked to Michele Ferrari in the Padau investigation.
According to a poll printed in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper, one out of three Danes wants Riis to abandon his team.
"Here in Denmark we have a single problem in Bjarne Riis," Peter Pedersen, Danish member of the UCI's anti-doping board, told TV2. "His team helped develop Danish cycling, but that he's been quiet at the moment, and will neither confirm nor deny the allegations against him, is harmful to the sport and its credibility."
Given its ethical and sporting criteria - not to mention the mounting criticism it faces after the Lance Armstrong scandal - the UCI's choice seems clear: Argos over Saxo.
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