Italian Ruling Adds to Anti-Doping Arsenal
Decision against ex-Liquigas rider Beltran sets precedent for teams looking to recover cash.
After a groundbreaking decision against Spaniard Manuel Beltran this week, cyclists now know their bank accounts and not just their reputations could be in tatters if they cheat.
Beltran was ordered to pay 100,000 euros ($134,300) in damages plus legal fees to Liquigas by the Italian Cycling Federation after he failed a test for EPO during the 2008 Tour de France.
"Technically, the case we presented and won was for compensation for damage to our image, but it was possible to pursue this because the rider broke conditions in his contract by taking a banned substance," Liquigas press officer, Paolo Barbieri told Reuters.
The Italian Cycling Federation tribunal will not release the reasoning behind its ruling until April 30, Barbieri added.
Some teams believe the ruling could set an important precedent.
Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Garmin-Transitions team which was created on a strong anti-doping stance, acknowledged teams now had another retaliatory measure against the cheats.
"I think the Beltran/Liquigas verdict is a great thing," Vaughters told Reuters.
"It gives teams that have fought for clean cycling internally a measure of recourse against potentially reckless athletes that don't care about the well-being of their team or teammates."
The International Cycling Union (UCI) opened the door in June 2007 when they had an agreement with teams stating offenders would have to pay a year's salary as a fine, which would be used by the UCI to fund its anti-doping program.
Italian Cristian Moreni was the first rider to abide by the rule last October although others have not paid up, taking the matter before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
UCI president Pat McQuaid said the ‘pay as you cheat' policy could be used by teams.
"Liquigas decided to sue Beltran and that's every sponsor's option," he told Reuters.
"It's just another message to tell riders that doping cannot be accepted. It shows there is a hard line against the cheats. There could be a line in each contract saying ‘We have the right to take civil action and sue for damages if you cheat'."
French Cycling Federation lawyer Paul Mauriac said: "Is an employer in a position to sue for damages because they believe their image has been harmed, whatever the wording of the contract? The answer is yes."
Mauriac added such a measure was mentioned after the 1998 Festina drugs scandal.
"Some thought of it but nobody went that far," he told Reuters.
"But it takes a lot of time and a trial costs a lot of money. And what impact does it have on the media with the time-lag?"
Francis Lafargue, head of communications for the Caisse d'Epargne team, said cheats might think twice before taking a banned substance.
"It is going to scare everyone," he told Reuters.
Lafargue pointed out cycling was already well armed in the fight against doping.
"We're spending a lot of money in that fight already," he said. "We have the biological passport and I think the new generation has another mentality."
Tour de France organizer Christian Prudhomme declined to comment on the matter as did Tour of Spain organizers Unipublic.