Czech rider Roman Kreuziger is not filing a lawsuit against the UCI or WADA for damages or to reclaim legal expenses, but that doesn’t mean that his employer won’t.
Kreuziger’s team, Tinkoff-Saxo, paid his wages throughout 2014, including several months that saw the Czech rider sidelined due to the UCI’s biological passport case, which was ultimately dropped on Friday, just days before it was to be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The UCI and WADA have not yet offered any explanation as to what “newly obtained information” brought them to the conclusion that there was “no basis to proceed further.”
Tinkoff-Saxo voluntarily pulled Kreuziger from the 2014 Tour de France, but when he was not provisionally suspended by the UCI, the team attempted to enter him into competition at the Vuelta a España, which the UCI prevented with provisional suspension, which was upheld by CAS.
However that was overturned in September when the Czech Olympic Committee cleared Kreuziger of any wrongdoing, and he returned to racing for the final events of the 2014 season.
In all, Kreuziger raced 37 days in 2014, compared to 73 in 2013, 67 in 2012, and 65 in 2011. By contrast, he has already raced 34 days in 2015 and is expected to take the start at the Tour de France, riding in support of Alberto Contador.
In 2013, Kreuziger finished fifth at the Tour, one spot behind Contador. A rider of Kreuziger’s caliber — top five at the Tour de France, winner of the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de Romandie, and Tour de Suisse — can command a salary of over 1 million euros per season.
Further complicating matters, Tinkoff-Saxo paid Kreuziger’s salary while he was sidelined by suspect blood values that occurred in 2011 and 2012, when he was riding for Astana. Kreuziger signed with Tinkoff-Saxo in 2013, and was first notified of his questionable blood values just prior to the 2013 Tour de France.
Ultimately, during 2014 the Tinkoff team paid a seven-figure salary to a rider who was only able to participate in half of his normal race days, due to suspicious values recorded while a member of another team, in a case that was ultimately dropped with no explanation. And while missed racing days are measurable, quantifying damages to the team’s image is for less straightforward.
Asked if the team is considering filing a lawsuit, general manager Stefano Feltrin said that they were, but that there is much more to discuss.
“I have to say, we are carefully considering this possibility,” Feltrin said. “It’s definitely a possibility. But it’s not the most important aspect of this entire story. There is a lot more to learn form this story, hopefully a new way of dealing with these problems. This situation has obviously been of great impact on the team. We said a year ago that we believe the biological passport is a wonderful tool, but it can be improved upon. The problem is how you manage it.”
“The Roman Kreuziger case shows that it was poorly managed, and it created a lot of problems. We would like to understand what were the facts behind the decision to drop the case five days before the hearing. We would like to get the UCI’s view on the full story. We would like to understand how to deal with the huge impact this thing had on all people involved. Obviously Roman was the person who was most impacted, and I understand his position to move forward, to forget the whole story, but as a team we should consider what this meant for us, and how the UCI intends to deal with it. At the moment [a lawsuit] is a possibility. We are at the stage that we need to review the facts, and to understand the other party’s decision.”
Feltrin added that the team has not heard any more, from the UCI or WADA, on what, exactly, led to them dropping the case. “Only what they posted online,” he said.
“If you couple this with the Astana case, you have to ask yourself some questions,” Feltrin said. “This way of managing the regulatory aspect of cycling has an impact on all teams and race organizers. Last year the timing was terrible, asking Roman to pull out right before the Tour de France. The Astana case put the Giro d’Italia in jeopardy. What if their license had been pulled, in late April? What would have been the impact for the race? There is a need for a more transparent and coordinated way of managing the sport.
“Teams are already struggling desperately for survival because of the economic cost and difficulties in finding new sources of revenue and income. In other sports, the jersey-sponsorship model is an old model, but in cycling this is the only source of revenue, other than manual contribution from race organizers, merchandising, and hospitality. More than 95 percent of a team’s budget is covered by uniform sponsorship. And if you have uncertainty, if you have these difficulties on the regulatory side, you have a desperate battle for survival.”
Feltrin stressed that, while the Tinkoff team is considering suing for damages, it’s more interested in making sure no rider will again spend two years defending himself against a bio-passport case that is ultimately dropped.
“The money and economics has an impact, but it’s not the most important thing,” he said. “Seeking compensation for damages is possibility, but the bigger part is ‘how do we manage this in the future?’ I would be much happier to not seek compensation if I was told this would not happen in the future because of this, this, and this — if I was told that a team would not be put under scrutiny over what happened two years before a rider joined the team.”
Feltrin also pointed out to the damage done to the team when a person of authority, such as UCI president Brian Cookson, told Cyclingnews.com in August 2014 that Kreuziger’s bio-passport values showed “serious anomalies” that led UCI and CADF experts to believe there was “a very strong indication of manipulation.”
(In that interview, Cookson also agreed that bio-passport cases take “too long to resolve,” adding that the UCI would seek provisional suspensions, treating bio-passport violations as the equivalent of a positive A-sample drug test.)
“There were statements made that there was strong evidence of wrongdoing,” Feltrin said. “Of course, when it comes from up high in UCI management, it has an impact on the team. We all know those things are reflected on the team where the rider is at the moment, not where the rider was two or three years before. It’s a Tinkoff-Saxo rider. In their stories, journalists use photos of the rider who is under suspicion in the clothing of his current team, not the former team where the alleged violation occurred. Our team was nowhere to be blamed, but we took blame and criticism. Some of the regular haters, on social media, were saying ‘Oh, it’s no mystery why the UCI dropped the case — they took money from Tinkoff. Case solved.’ We’ve suffered from this, and that’s why it’s important that there is a lesson learned, and an assurance that it won’t happen in the future.”