“It is as if Lionel Messi returned to play for Barcelona after a suspension and scored goals, but his goals would not count.” Those were the words of Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis today as he indicated that his team will challenge the UCI rule that means riders returning from suspensions cannot earn points towards the secret UCI ranking for two years after their return.
The team have obviously already lost the points that Contador won in 2011 and the early part of this year, as his ban was retroactive. This means he will return towards the end of this season (almost certainly with Saxo Bank), with the Eneco Tour likely to be his first race back, followed by the Clásica San Sebastián and Vuelta a España, a race which he has already been widely tipped to win. In a radio interview two days ago, he stated that the World Championships are also on his radar.
Under the UCI’s rules, Contador and Saxo Bank would not receive any points from these races towards the rankings which determine whether teams are allowed into the WorldTour the following year. In short, the team’s chances of being in the WorldTour in 2013 pretty much rely on the points Contador might bring in (they are already some way adrift at the bottom of the public rankings, with only 32 points). Alejandro Valverde, who returned earlier this year, is the other big name affected by the rule, though the fact that Movistar didn’t challenge the rule is likely down to the fact that the rest of the team is more able to pick up the necessary points that he is unable to earn.
There is a similar situation between the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which is currently being disputed and awaiting a CAS ruling. The BOA has a rule in place which places a lifetime ban on Olympic competition for any athlete who has been sanctioned for doping. Among those affected by this rule is Garmin-Barracuda’s David Millar. If this is overturned by CAS, it looks as though the chances of the UCI rule also being successfully challenged would increase.
Despite the UCI’s good intentions when introducing this rule, I don’t think that additional punishment is the way to go. Are the UCI trying to discourage doping or are they trying to create a blacklist of riders? Both Contador and Valverde committed their offences a long time before this rule was even proposed, never mind established, which I believe is reason enough for them to be exempt from it.
CAS arbitrator and Danish lawyer Lars Halgreen has already said that he would expect Saxo Bank to win any possible lawsuit against the UCI should the case come to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.