MILAN (VN) — Cycling’s multi-layered anti-doping rules may create headaches for Lampre-Merida when it deals with Diego Ulissi. A rival team might even have the opportunity to sign him after his doping ban ends in March.
The Tuscan cyclist won two stages in the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Anti-doping tests, however, later revealed that he over-used asthma drug Salbutamol in the 11th stage to Savona.
Switzerland, where Ulissi lives and is licensed, issued a back-dated nine-month ban Monday. It took into account the time he already sat out last summer and allows him to return to racing on March 28. Ulissi could return in time for the Ardennes classics and the Giro d’Italia, and thanks to a contract technicality, he could do so in Lampre’s blue and pink racing kit.
The Italian team is one of 11 first-division teams that signed up for the voluntary group, the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC). The teams must follow the group’s anti-doping rules, which provide additional, stricter sanctions than those written by cycling’s governing body, the UCI.
One of the MPCC’s rules states that a team should not sign a cyclist who received a ban of more than six months for the two years following his return. The rule blocked Astana from bringing onboard Franco Pellizotti in December 2013.
The same rule would stop Ulissi from returning to racing until March 28, 2017. That rule, however, only applies to MPCC teams. Six first-division teams — BMC, Movistar, Etixx-Quick-Step, Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, and Trek — could sign Ulissi as they are not part of the voluntary group.
Lampre’s team manager, Brent Copeland told VeloNews that he needed time to examine the situation because Ulissi has an existing contract.
In 2013, Lampre renewed Ulissi’s contract for two years, 2014 and 2015. When his ban ends, he will still be a Lampre employee and technically will not be signing a new contract. If Lampre was to tear up contract, Ulissi might sue based on various labor laws.
“It’s a particular situation,” said Yvon Sanquer, MPCC vice president.
“The rule is six months or more, which blocks a rider for two years from joining MPCC teams, but we need to speak about this case with the MPCC board because it’s a bit touchy because Lampre already has a contract with the cyclist.
“We are a voluntary movement. We know that sometimes problems come up with labor laws, but that’s sometimes the price for better and cleaner cycling. For sure, it’s not easy for Lampre to find a solution. The board will have to meet to look at this situation and the rules.”
The same set of MPCC rules, specifically the one concerning low cortisol levels, forced Lampre to pull American Chris Horner from its Vuelta a España team on the eve of his title defense in the 2014 race.
Sky, which is not a member of the MPCC, was free to race Chris Froome in the Tour de Romandie in 2014. Had Sky been a member, Froome could not have participated in the stage race, and won the overall, because he was taking cortisol Prednisone to treat a chest infection.
The Froome, Horner, and Ulissi cases highlight a double-standard in cycling, a situation cycling’s governing body, the UCI, wants to avoid.
“It’s confusing with teams running under other rules, but really there is just one set of anti-doping rules,” UCI president Brian Cookson said in September.
“If teams want to follow other rules, they can, but I think it’d be easier if they are all under the same rules. It’s confusing for the riders, teams, and public. I’d like to harmonize it under the UCI’s code.”
The UCI rolled out new rules for 2015 that step closer toward MPCC’s. It introduced a possible ban if a team has more than one doping case under its roof. Such harmonization could eventually do away with the MPCC and the confusion that a case like Ulissi’s brings.