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By Charles Pelkey
It’s another August day and I’m reading yet another story about riders planning to switch teams for next season.
I’ve been reading about potential roster changes for 2010 at least since early July. Isn’t there a rule that is supposed to keep people from discussing that until later in the year?
How are riders and teams getting away with all of the early talk and isn’t anyone getting fined for that?
You’re right, Rich.
There is a rule and, sometimes it is being violated, but as of yet, we haven’t heard much about anyone being warned – let alone penalized – by the UCI.
The rule dates back many years and essentially represents the codification of what in earlier days was simple courtesy in that teams, riders and their agents traditionally wouldn’t discuss changes until after worlds.
Well, over the years, the calendar has expanded, moving further into the fall season, driven in part by the 1995 shift of the Vuelta from the spring to the fall and the more recent push to place worlds later into the year. The rule has been revised and updated over the years, but still relies on a September 1 demarcation.
So what is the rule and what does it say?
The applicable UCI regulation now appears under Section II, Chapter 15 of the UCI rule book, that portion governing the ProTour. UCI Rule No. 2.15.125 starts out by noting that “riders and UCI ProTeams may not, before 1 September, reveal that they are involved in negotiations about renewal of their contracts or transfers.”
It seems to suggest that anyone involved in a ProTour team can’t say anything about deals for the coming year until September, right? Right. Obviously, all of that Radio(Shack) chatter during the Tour would suggest that some people were in violation of the rule. Indeed, a strict reading of the rule would suggest that even a rider like Lance Armstrong, who was apparently not under formal contract agreement with Astana, would still be in violation of the rule and subject to penalties, right? Well … not so fast.
Actually, if you’re a lawyer, or have no social life – or better yet, are a lawyer with no social life – the UCI rule book and its many changes make for some interesting reading.
The most recent revision of rule 2.15.125 – passed in January of 2009 – takes a bit of the bite out of the rule, by pointing out that enforcement is not automatic and won’t really happen unless someone with standing raises the issue in the first place:
“Upon complaint by a prejudiced team or any third party with a legitimate interest, the rider is liable to a fine of CHF 2000.00 ($1860 U.S.) and the UCI ProTeam to a fine of CHF 5000.00 ($4675).”
In the case of Armstrong, Astana isn’t exactly going to assert that it’s a “prejudiced team” and we really can’t imagine any third parties with legitimate interests raising a claim either.
On the surface, Alberto Contador could be a different issue. Astana has made it clear that it wants to enforce the remaining year of Contador’s current contract. He, on the other hand, has made it known that he wants out. Astana could, if it saw fit, raise the issue with the UCI and Contador could possibly be fined 1800 bucks.
Given that the whole 2010 season is at issue for both parties and Contador has at least a few valid arguments he could raise in court, in front of the UCI ProTour council and/or the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, it’s unlikely that Astana’s interests would be served in trying to stick its multi-millionaire four-time-grand-tour-winner with a fine of 2000 Swiss Francs. What would be the point?
You’ll also note that while the rule bars teams and riders – or their authorized agents – from revealing the nature of negotiations, there’s nothing stopping reporters from asking around and very few enforcement options the UCI can use if someone in a position to know decides to speak “off-the-record” and without attribution.
Even this morning, we started hearing news about RadioShack signing Sébastien Rosseler and Gert Steegmans for 2010. Those Belgian newspapers weren’t just guessing about those deals. Odds are pretty good that someone representing the riders or someone on RadioShack leaked details to some nosey reporter out there and that’s why we’re talking about it a week before we should be.