The UCI's Licence Commission has today rejected a request made by the governing body itself to have the UCI WorldTour licence granted to Team Saxo Bank last September withdrawn. The UCI had asked the Licence Commission to review the Danish team's status after Alberto Contador received a two-year partly restrospective ban in February as a result of his positive ban for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France. The 29-year-old's ban expires in August.
Contador had won that race in the colours of Astana, but was already lined up to join Saxo Bank when news of his positive test was made public at the end of September 2010.
As part of the Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling in February this year, he was stripped of that 2010 Tour de France title as well as results obtained with Saxo Bank including his overall victory in the 2011 Giro d'Italia, his fifth place overall in the 2011 Tour de France, and an overall win in another WorldTour race, the Volta a Catalunya.
In achieving those 2011 results as well as various other placings and stage results, Contador single-handedly amassed more than two thirds of Bjarne Riis's team's points, and its WorldTour status was widely perceived to be at risk following the Spaniard's ban.
It should be noted that the 'sporting value' points that are used for calculating a team's eligibility for a WorldTour licence are not the same as UCI WorldTour ranking points, and there is little precise information regarding how they are arrived at.
However, a quick look at the latest UCI WorldTour team rankings shows that the Danish outfit is likely to face a monumental struggle to keep its status beyond the end of the year. With defending champion Nick Nuyens out of the Tour of Flanders yesterday due to injury, the team has just two ranking points so far in 2012 - the next team above it in the rankings, FDJ-BigMat has 71, while the team currently leading the ranking, Liquigas-Cannondale, has 376.
Should Saxo Bank lose its WorldTour status, that would also place a question mark over its continued sponsorship by the Danish financial institution, which has been reported more than once over the past three seasons to have considered terminating its backing.
The potential loss of the coveted WorldTour status will no doubt be a cause of worry for team owner and manager Bjarne Riis, during a season in which he and the team should be celebrating the departure of the Giro d'Italia from his home town, Herning, the first time any of the three Grand Tours will have started in Denmark.
According to a statement released by the governing body this afternoon, "The UCI filed the request on the basis that the points obtained by Alberto Contador, representing approximately 68% of the Saxo Bank team's total points, therefore were annulled and without these points his team would not have been considered, and can no longer be considered, to fulfil the sporting criterion required for the UCI WorldTour.
"However the Licence Commission, whilst accepting that without its star rider, the team does not reach UCI WorldTour level, today ruled in a detailed decision that the special circumstances of the case, including as outlined above, did not in themselves justify the withdrawal of the licence granted on 18 November.
"As the Team Saxo Bank licence expires on 31 December 2012, the team will be required to satisfy all the criteria taken into account by article 2.15.011 of the regulations should it wish to compete again as a UCI ProTeam in 2013.'
Commenting on the decision, UCI President Pat McQuaid said: “UCI followed the correct procedure in accordance with the rules. The Licence Commission carried out its work and took its decision in an entirely independent manner and therefore we accept this ruling in a serene manner."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.