The WorldTour Points Shuffle
As the daylight gets shorter and the temperature starts to drop, we all know what that means – team training camps! The current craze is to have riders with T-Rex bodies perform tasks or feats of endurance in the hopes of promoting team bonding. While that may work for the riders, I’ve never seen any bonding occur between them and management. Every year those who haven’t earned enough WorldTour points aren’t re-signed no matter how many times they’ve shielded their team leader from the wind or how many tug-of-war victories they might have been a part of. But I digress...
At these training camps there are times when riders speak to the press so we may try to interpret the tea leaves for their upcoming season. Do you have good legs? How is the (fill in the blank: new team, new captain, new equipment, new director...)?
Team Saxo-Tinkoff took a break from a military boot camp to try beach fun in Gran Canaria. Alberto Contador pulled himself out of the ocean and had the quote of the camp; even beating out the photo of a naked lady at the top of a climb the sexy, err ... Saxo-Tinkoff rider posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Contador, who has had his 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia champion titles stripped from him, told French TV’s Stage 2 program, “I express myself less than certain others, but it is clear that there is no place for cheaters.”
At first glance I thought that this was some kind of European April Fool’s prank. But no – he was serious. Maybe he’d gotten sun stroke or perhaps a dolphin had smacked him, destroying his ability to form sentences that made sense. Remember dolphins are large mammals and pro cyclists are rather small mammals. A well placed flipper could do some damage.
Just the other month Contador defended ex-teammate Lance Armstrong as being “lynched.” The Spaniard clarified that remark by saying that he was being ironic at that moment and his words were taken out of context.
“I was just being a bit ironic when I said he would be missed.” explained Contador. Now he was stating that Armstrong deserved to be banned and the whole sport should go Spanish Inquisition on everyone.
Contador should have said, “I had no clue at the time that Nike, Giro or the other sponsors were going to drop Armstrong, or how much crap I was going to have to take from my handlers. Since I would like to ride in the Tour de France again, it only makes sense that I meant the exact opposite of what I said.”
Maybe it’s just a zombie-like reaction still alive, buried deep in Contador’s brain that made him feel the need to defend the disgraced American. Armstrong waged a psychological war on him during the 2009 Tour de France when they were teammates at Astana. He chastised him publicly on Twitter and on the final podium in Paris, Armstrong looked like he was wearing bibs with a full load of crap in them. Despite that, and there was probably more we’ll never know of, he still defends him.
What it comes down to is the all-important Tour de France invitation. Teams live and die by that invite. Saxo-Tinkoff is in a sticky situation. In their ranks they have a rider (Contador) who, barring an unforeseen accident, is a five-star favorite to win the 2013 Tour de France. Defending champion Bradley Wiggins is already making plans to skip France in July and instead focus on the 2013 Giro d’Italia, leaving teammate Chris Froome to fly the Team Sky banner. And that makes sense. Froome is a more explosive climber, a la El Pistolero, than Wiggo’s diesel-like style of climbing. Plus the Tour isn’t so time trial favorable. But let’s get back to Saxo-Tinkoff’s problem.
There’s a stipulation in the rules regarding a rider returning from a doping suspension – for a period of two years any WorldTour points earned by that rider don’t count toward the team’s total points sum. This WorldTour point total is what the A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organisation) uses as the benchmark to invite teams to the Tour de France. Without Contador’s points, Saxo-Tinkoff sits in 20th place on the team rankings. Ouch!
So there’s a real possibility that a major Tour favorite will not line up in Corsica come June. They’re in the basement of the WorldTour rankings, but at least Saxo-Tinkoff has some company: Team Argos-Shimano. The last spot in the WorldTour, which includes a definite Tour invitation, is going to go to one of these two teams. Think “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the Golden Ticket is the Tour invite. Who will get it? Let’s check under the hood of each team.
Other than Contador, Saxo-Tinkoff signed Nicholas Roche. While not a grand tour winner like his old man, he should be a threat in some ten-day races. Roman Kreuziger is also joining Team Eagle. He’s a stage winner in the Giro d’Italia and can climb – a perfect complement to Contador. Contador, Roche, and Kreuziger make a formable Tour squad. And for the Americans we have the always popular Timmy Duggan as a late joiner. Those are the positives, what about the negatives?
In his book, “The Secret Race” Tyler Hamilton claims that team director Bjarne Riis introduced him to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, who was part of Operation Puerto. The rub is that Riis denies that ever happening. So that’s kinda awkward...
Also awkward is that Riis buddied up with Oleg Tinkoff who, according to Hamilton, encouraged his riders to dope when he owned the Tinkoff Credit Systems team.
Argos-Shimano doesn’t have a Tour general classification contender. Instead they have sprinters who could snag stage wins. John Degenkolb won five Vuelta a Espana stages in this year’s edition. Also on the team is Marcel Kittel who has 13 lucky wins in 2012. Between the two of them, they ought to get a least get one opportunistic stage win.
The team that receives the last WorldTour team invitation doesn’t receive the Golden Ticket strictly on points. There is a certain standard that the UCI calls a sporting criterion. In addition to the amount of points a team has, it is subject to an ethical, financial and administrative evaluation by the governing body. This gets tricky – again.
Astana has secured a WorldTour placing and I wouldn’t trust recently retired, but new team director Alexandre Vinokourov as far as I could throw him. In addition to being suspended for blood doping back in 2007, he’s under investigation for buying his win at the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Yet, Vino and company passed the UCI’s sniff-test and Team Astana was rewarded with WorldTour status.
Who gets that final WorldTour spot is anyone’s guess. Argos-Shimano seems to be the “cleaner” of the two options as there is no stink on them. Saxo-Tinkoff is a ripe garbage can on a summer day with enough questionable shenanigans that should make the UCI fully investigate this team.
But with anything involved with the UCI I have my doubts of an honest outcome. Historically they look at what benefits them immediately, rather than at what benefits the long term growth of professional cycling. President Pat McQuaid is the king of the short term. This habit goes back to his own racing days where he decided to race under an alias in apartheid South Africa. He was caught and forever barred from racing in the Olympics. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, just the sneakiest.
What I will say is that the UCI will pick the team that is most beneficial to them and no one else. That’s how they operate, like an oligarchy. Why should they change now?
Follow Roadcycling.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+