The announcement Wednesday that Timmy Duggan would join Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank on a one-year deal for 2013 means more than a ride for the U.S. national champion next season.
Duggan’s points that come with his national jersey could help secure a valued ProTeam license next year for Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank team, just as the squad is in danger of losing its place among the elite teams and the automatic bids to such races as the Tour de France and the one-day classics that come with it.
Saxo Bank is on the bubble right now and finds itself on shaky ground over its status in the WorldTour.
The reason for the points shortfall is largely due to a UCI rule that nullifies points from two seasons for riders coming off a doping ban, meaning that star rider Alberto Contador — who finished the year ranked 12th in the world with 290 points, despite only racing three months — brings nothing to the table in terms of sporting criteria for 2013.
Without Contador’s points, Saxo Bank languishes last among a merit ranking of the top 20 teams released last month by the UCI, meaning it’s far from certain it will retain its WorldTour license.
Duggan’s late-hour arrival, however, could help tip the balance toward Saxo Bank, as a desperate search among teams to secure necessary points to stay within the 18-team WorldTour league reaches its climax.
Duggan’s U.S. title was worth 100 points in the national calendar, and although they do not directly translate into WorldTour points, they will be thrown into the cloudy calculus called “sporting criteria” the UCI uses to determine the next round of licenses.
(See Mark Johnson’s recent article on the points structure for a closer look at how the points are tallied, and the fallout teams and riders are facing. —Ed.)
Without one of the 18 licenses, Saxo Bank will have to rely on invitations to enter the major grand tours and one-day classics. The presence of Contador all but assures the team a wildcard ticket to the Tour and other major races if the Spaniard is healthy, but Riis wants to have the assurance that comes with a ProTeam license if he can get it.
Perhaps that’s one reason why Duggan landed at Saxo Bank this week.
According to rankings released in late October by the UCI, Saxo Bank is more than 200 points short of securing one of the 15 automatic licenses to be renewed by the UCI in the coming weeks.
Ag2r La Mondiale and Euskaltel-Euskadi are slotted into the final two spots among the top 15, meaning that four teams — Argos-Shimano, Lotto-Belisol, FDJ-BigMat and Saxo Bank — will be scrapping for the final three licenses. Europcar is not pursuing a ProTeam license, despite ranking 18th.
Argos and Lotto look well positioned to take two of the three remaining licenses, so it will likely be Riis versus FDJ boss Marc Madiot for the final spot in cycling’s major league.
Ironically, it’s not money that’s causing Riis headaches this time around. The arrival of Russian investor Oleg Tinkov, the former owner of the Tinkoff Credit Systems team that later morphed into Katusha, has given Riis his most solid financial footing in years. With Duggan’s arrival, Spidertech, the kenesio tape brand that backed the shuttered team for home Duggan was supposed to ride in 2013, also comes on as a secondary sponsor for Riis.
Instead, it’s the UCI’s points system that’s tripping up the Dane.
Riis nearly lost his ProTeam license earlier this year when the UCI banned Contador and erased his points from July 2010 to February 2012.
Riis is now challenging the UCI points rule in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, arguing that it is a type of double-punishment and that it is an unfair penalty against a rider who has already served a ban. Until CAS hears the case, the UCI defends the rule and insists it is an extra deterrent against doping.
Saxo Bank signed several new riders for 2013, many with the clear objective of bringing their points to the table, including Roman Kreuziger, Nicholas Roche, Daniele Bennati and Rory Sutherland, who won the America Tour prize. But with the exit of Nick Nuyens (to Garmin-Sharp), coupled with Contador’s blank ticket, Riis finds himself languishing at the tail-end of the peloton in the race for points.
A few late-hour twists, including Lampre-ISD’s suspension of Michele Scarponi and its role in the looming Mantova doping trial, could change things, as the Italian squad could lose Scarponi’s and others’ points just as the UCI is mulling over the licenses. Duggan’s arrival will certainly help.
Either way, it will be down to the wire for Riis.