The Astana team has missed a preliminary deadline to file required paperwork as part of the UCI’s annual review of teams’ ProTour status.
Astana was one of five teams that missed the October 20 deadline, but may be the one that suffers the most immediate consequences, since UCI rules now allow riders on teams that have missed that deadline to terminate existing contracts.
Under UCI rules all ProTour teams are required to submit an application for re-certification year by October 20. The rules do allow for late filings as long as they are submitted in advance of the UCI licensing commission’s review of teams’ status, which begins on November 20.
Astana, Saxo Bank, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Caisse d’Epargne and the new Sky team were not among the 13 teams listed by the UCI on Thursday as having met the deadline.
Of those, the team most likely to suffer immediate consequence is Astana, since the failure to comply with the October 20 deadline may well provide Tour de France winner Alberto Contador with a legal basis to get out of the final year of his contract.
Contador has completed two years of a three-year contract with Astana, but has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave the team before the deal expires at the end of 2010.
The key question for Contador is whether the UCI’s new rule – adopted in July of this year – can apply to contracts that were already in effect at the time.
Article 2.15.139 of the UCI rulebook includes provisions that allow a rider to “terminate the present contract, without notice nor liability for damages,” if certain conditions or circumstances occur.
Included in that list are a team’s bankruptcy, loss of ProTour status and sub-section 8, which may serve as the key to Contador’s early exit from the Astana:
“If, on 20 October of the year preceding a year of registration covered by the present contract, the UCI ProTeam has not submitted a registration file containing the essential documents listed in (Article) 2.15.069b.”
The referenced rule 2.15.169b, requires that teams submit documents outlining their proposed budget for the coming year, signed sponsorship contracts, a bank guarantee and signed contracts with at least 12 riders.
Those documents will then be reviewed by the UCI and the accounting firm Ernst & Young to determine if teams are in compliance with UCI and ProTour rules, “particularly in terms of their administration and financing.”
Jonathan Vaughters, president of the group representing ProTour teams, the AIGCP, told VeloNews that his membership supports the new and stricter requirement.
Declining to discuss specific riders, teams or contracts, Vaughters said that “all of the teams (in the AIGCP) are supportive of having extremely high standards,” said Vaughters. “It’s essential, if our sport is to be thought of as professional.”
“The bar has to be high,” he added, “and our standards have to be impeccable.”
Vaughters’ own Garmin-Slipstream squad may be a beneficiary of that higher bar, since the Garmin is said to be one of Contador’s likely picks if he chooses a new team for 2010.
The Astana team already suffered a mass exodus of riders earlier in the year, when Lance Armstrong left to form the new RadioShack squad. In addition to recruiting team manager Johan Bruyneel, the team signed Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Andreas Klöden, Sergio Paulinho, Janez Brajkovi?, Yaroslav Popovych and Gregory Rast.
Astana, meanwhile has recently embarked on an aggressive recruiting campaign, negotiating with a number of major riders, including two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni, Australian sprinter Allan Davis, Giampaolo Caruso, Ruben Plaza, Enrico Gasparotto and Gorazd Stangelz. Those contracts have not yet been signed and the team has only recently inked deals with Paolo Tiralongo and Davide de la Fuente.
Aside from the unwilling Contador, the team’s biggest star is currently Alexander Vinokourov, recently back from a two-year racing ban for blood doping.
Vinokourov, who played a major role in securing the team’s sponsorship in 2006, has resumed an active role in the team’s management after returning to the sport. His presence may be one of the factors under consideration by the licensing commission, which has the option of pulling a team’s ProTour status for financial reasons and “other elements likely to bring cycle sport into substantial disrepute.”
If Contador succeeds in breaking the Astana contract, several teams will certainly be vying for his talents, chief among them Vaughters’ Garmin-Slipstream team and the Spanish Caisse d’Epargne squad, which, like Astana was not among the teams that met Tuesday’s deadline.
Quick Step has also expressed an interest in hiring the Spanish grand tour star, but the Belgian team is widely seen as the least likely of the three to ink a deal with Contador.
Teams that met the October 20 deadline
AG2R La Mondiale
Française des Jeux
Lampre Farnese Vini