Is this a planned PR campaign or simply coincidence?
With Saxo-Tinkoff and Argos-Shimano locked in battle to win the final WorldTour spot, both teams used the weekend to issue strong anti-doping statements. Were they making a last-ditched play to improve their “ethics” score on the UCI’s mysterious selection criteria?
Bjarne Riis and his boys are in a desperate situation — they’ve got Alberto Contador but few UCI points while Argos-Shimano has a stronger anti-doping stance, a cleaner reputation and young stars like sprinters Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb.
So Contador went on the offensive, telling France 2’s magazine program Stage 2 that dopers make him really really mad. “For cycling, it should be zero tolerance,” he said. “I express myself less than certain others, but it is clear that there is no place for cheaters.” Left unsaid, hey Pat McQuaid, there is a place for my Saxo-Tinkoff team in the WorldTour.
This kind of PR may not be enough to make up for the UCI point shortage, the damning claims from Tyler Hamilton that Bjarne Riis encouraged him in blood doping and Riis’ own antagonistic dispute with the UCI over the rule that prevents riders –read, Alberto Contador — from earning points after returning from suspension.
Saxo-Tinkoff also squares off against a well-organized Argos-Shimano squad that’s leaving nothing to chance in their own bid to win that final spot. In recent weeks, Kittel had been a vocal critic of doping and riders that use the secret sauce.
Turning up the PR flame, Iwan Spekenbrink, the boss at Argos-Shimano said a few days ago he wants a lifetime ban for doping. “We don’t want to see those people back in a team in the sport. Not in our team and not in other teams.”
Argos-Shimano is one of the teams who have joined the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (Movement for Credible Cycling), an group pushing for stricter anti-doping rules. While even Alexander Vinokourov’s Astana squad is making noises about joining the MPCC, Saxo-Tinkoff is not a member.
It’s an uphill battle for Saxo-Tinkoff but historically Riis always seems to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Let’s not forget that Riis held a training camp and had his riders do charity work in Israel — of all places — when one of the three CAS judges deciding Contador’s fate was Israeli. He’s nothing if not clever and creative.
However, in the post-USADA meltdown, ethics are front and center. In making the call on the final WorldTour team, the UCI can send a message about clean cycling by selecting Argos-Shimano. It’s a vote for the future versus the past but nobody ever calls the UCI a visionary organization.
Here at Twisted Spoke, we think this one is just too close to call but it will certainly prove revealing. It will provide yet another indication of how seriously the UCI is about positive changes in the sport.
Our best guess is Saxo-Tinkoff wins the last spot with the secret promise to Argos-Shimano that they’re guaranteed a WorldTour spot next year.