By Susan Westemeyer
The Deutschland Tour has taken the unprecedented step of revoking a wild-card invitation to participate in the race, only three days before the Tour is due to start. The Austrian Professional Continental team Elk Haus Simplon responded angrily to the announcement that it would not be allowed to ride.
"Team Elk Haus-Simplon did not obey the deadline for sending in the Bulletin d'engagement as set out in the UCI's Procedure d'engagement," Tour spokesman Reinald Achilles told Cyclingnews, pointing to the requirement for rosters to be lodged 20 days prior to the event. "We received the riders' names on August 3, not on the appropriate form. We still do not have an official Bulletin. That alone is enough to exclude them."
Achilles said the team's failure to prescribe to the UCI's ethical code for ProTour races was the defining event in management's decision to axe the squad.
"In addition, Team Elk Haus-Simplon has not fulfilled the obligation of supplying the UCI's prescribed ethical code for ProTour races (Feb. 9, 2007), which is to accomplish the equalization of ethical criteria of ProTour teams and invited Wild Card teams," he said. "Team Elk Haus-Simplon is the only team, from whom we have no signed statements. Neither from the managers nor from the riders."
The Austria-registered squad responded to the event's decision, saying it has no understanding for the "flimsy grounds for this decision".
"I cannot understand this step and the news hit me like a bolt of lightning," said team manager Bernhard Rassinger. He said that the team was reserving the right to take legal steps. He added that the team could have supplied the necessary signatures before the start of the race in Saarbrucken, and that the whole team was ready and willing to sign.
"I have prepared myself intensively for the Deutschland Tour, visited the stage routes and feel in absolute top form," team captain Christian Pfannberger said. "That we can't start is like a slap in the face. If we had known that, we would have ridden the Volta a Portugal. We turned down that invitation in favour of the Wild-card for the Deutschland Tour."
The Austrian had trouble with the reasons given for the exclusion. "It is not Austria that has had numerous scandals and doping confessions the last few weeks," said Pfannberger. "And the teams involved in all of that are starting in the Deutschland Tour."
Other riders from the squad joined Pfannberger in reacting angrily to the news. "I am disappointed that we can't start, because my form is good," confessed Jochen Summer. "But I am even more disappointed at how cycling is treating people. If someone wants to denigrate you, then that is obviously very easy. We are not allowed to start because of conjecture and lies. We won't accept that!"
Rudolf Massak, the general secretary of the Austrian cycling federation ÖRV, weighed into the debate, saying the organisers have picked on the small squad. "The grounds that have been given, if that is true, [it's] an absolute puzzle to me and unworthy of a Deutschland Tour," he said. "They made it easy for themselves and threw out a little Austrian team, from whom they don't have to worry about any consequences."
Massak noted that Tirol-Werbung, the tourist agency for the Tirol region of Austria, is a co-sponsor of the race. "If I were Tirol-Werbung, I would think twice about continuing my engagement as sponsor after this insult," he said. "Elk has three riders from the Tirol on its roster."
Race organizer Kai Rapp noted that the ProTour teams had spoken out against Elk Haus' participation, which Massak attributed to jealousy, suggesting that the riders are worried about being beaten on Stage 5, which ends with a mountaintop finish at the Rettenbachferner Glacier in Austria. "That the ProTour teams protested against Elk Haus doesn't surprise me," said Massak. "I wouldn't want to lose on the Rettenbachferne against a Pfannberger either. Especially if my name was Jens Voigt."