With the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban Alberto Contador and strip him of his results onward from and including the 2010 Tour de France, the entire Saxo Bank team stands to be punished for the Spaniard's doping offense even though it occurred when Contador rode for Astana.
At issue is the team's "sporting value", a measure of the points of the team's recruits for the upcoming season which is used to calculate which teams will be included in the WorldTour. That honour comes with automatic entry to the three Grand Tours and all of the other WorldTour events - and this can be critcal for a team's survival.
However, since Contador was responsible for better than half of Saxo Bank's value toward its 2012 WorldTour license, and he has been stripped of those results, the UCI can now, under its own rules, reconsider the team's inclusion in this year's WorldTour. Without Contador's points, the team would have been 18th.
Only the top 15 teams are taken automatically, while the next five teams are weighed against each other in terms of ethical, financial and administrative criteria and three are chosen at the discretion of the UCI licensing commission. That commission's president, Pierre Zapelli, explained the situation to Sporten.dk today, but said his commission has yet to be asked to reconsider Saxo Bank's license.
"If a team is between 16th and 20th in the ranking, we must decide which of those are licensed. We issue only 18 licenses, so we must exclude two of the teams. If Team Saxo Bank did not have Contador's points, they did not have enough points to compete among the best 20 teams, and they would not have received a license," Zappelli said.
There is no precedent for stripping a team of top tier status because of a disqualification, since the points system was only implemented two years ago. Contador's case is the first to so severely impact a team's standing, albeit retroactively.
However, Zappelli said the commission would have also factored doping cases into its decision in picking the final three WorldTour teams, had the CAS decision been issued previously.
The UCI has not yet asked the licensing commission to reconsider Saxo Bank's WorldTour license, but the debate surrounding the issue is a contentious one, since Contador was racing with Astana when he tested positive and had signed with Saxo Bank before he knew about the result.
Teams association (AIGCP) president Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews that this case points out just one of several serious flaws with the UCI's system for doling out WorldTour licenses.
"The specifics of this case aren't the largest issue. The points system, in my opinion, is a very poorly constructed way of deciding which pro teams are allowed into the WorldTour or not. It's demeaning to the team's and the sponsors."
The issue is sure to be heavily debated when the AIGCP convenes for its general assembly on March 2.