In a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT) has taken a strong stance and voted to exclude Discovery Channel and Active Bay, Manolo Saiz' company, from their group. The organisation presided by Quick.Step team manager Patrick Lefévère cited Discovery's signing of Ivan Basso as an action against the voluntary agreement that riders named in the Operación Puerto doping scandal would not be given a contract.
"Discovery Channel didn't respect the rules," a participant of the meeting said. "The ethical code is clear: a ProTour team should not sign a rider involved in the Puerto affair." Except for Caisse d'Epargne and managing company Active Bay, all members of the IPCT were present at the assembly. Discovery Channel was represented by an attorney.
On Saturday, team manager Johan Bruyneel reacted to the exclusion from the squad's training camp in Austin, Texas. "Now, we know we have enemies, but if someone decides to make this attitude a mission, they have to know that we, too, are ready to go all the way," he told Italian tuttobiciweb. "It seems to me that only the names of Ullrich and Basso have been soiled in this story. I wonder why nobody stood up against Lampre, Euskaltel or other teams that have riders that are in the same situation."
Bruyneel didn't exclude legal actions. "We'll read the meeting statement, then we'll decide how to protect us," he added.
However, the decision will not affect Discovery Channel's participation in races, as it retains its ProTour license. "It has nothing to do with the ProTour," UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf told Cyclingnews on Saturday. "The IPCT is a company set up by a number of UCI ProTour teams to represent them and take care of their interests, but it has no official or regulatory relationship with the ProTour."
Still, Rumpf weighed in the political importance of this decision, even if the so-called 'Code of Conduct' is a set of ethical rules separate from the UCI's own reglement. "The Code of Conduct has been implemented by the teams separately from the UCI ProTour because it is not part of UCI regulations. That is their decision. Obviously, we support any efforts that are made by all the ProTour stakeholders to fight doping and safeguard the image of the sport," he added.
At the meeting, the ProTour teams' representatives also agreed to bring down the number of ProTour teams from 20 to 18 in the near future, a proposal initially made by the Grand Tour organisers - more on this below.