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The UCI's new sporting criteria combined with its transfer regulations is having an adverse affect on the stability of teams, according to Garmin-Cervélo boss Jonathan Vaughters.
The UCI’s rules allow for a fixed transfer period from August 1 to 20 October, with teams only able to recruit during that period although they are allowed to privately talk to riders throughout the year.
However, under the new ranking system all of a rider’s points transfer with him, creating an environment in which teams could be in a position of developing riders for opposing squads and see their talent leave at the end of the year. Such a scenario could see a team stripped of its points and without a ProTeam licence the following year.
Vaughters, who runs one of the biggest teams, has expressed concern to Cyclingnews that his crop of young, talented Australians have been strongly linked to the GreenEdge and could leave at the end of 2011 to join the nascent squad.
The reality of such a situation occurring has left Vaughters facing a dilemma over whether he races such riders in top level races, aware that any points they gain between now and then will go to their new team in 2012.
“I’m really annoyed and I sent my riders an email saying that with Grand Tour selection, that long term loyalty to the team is definitely something that I consider. I'm not very happy or proud about that email. It just should not be a part of my selection mindset. At the end of the day I’m not going to flick them, but it sure did cross my mind.” Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
"I was in the same position in 2007-2008, as Bannan is now, and I respect how hard it is with grumpy folks like myself around. However, in 2008, the system of being able to buy points was not there. We relied on our team's early season performance and the generosity of ASO to get us into the Tour, not more. Now, if you purchase enough points, you are automatically considered for a license.
“It’s not a problem caused by me or Aussie riders on the teams, it’s the due to the current sporting criteria weighting system and the fact that 100 per cent of a rider's points are transferable. Those three things are horrible. They’re pulling the thread work of teamwork apart.
"Now, I have been informed that the teams are misunderstanding the way this sporting value system works, but from what I can see in the rules, if you buy enough points to be in the top 15 teams, you'll most likely have a license. That type of system totally discourages a team manager, like myself, from ever sending a rider who I think may transfer to another team to any good race because you’re basically giving points to another team.
"I have no interest in not selecting riders to races based on rumors and the like. It upsets me that this even crosses my mind."
Jack Bobridge and Cameron Meyer are two riders possibly on their way from Garmin to GreenEdge. Both were signed on the back of promising junior pedigrees and have blossomed into two of the most exciting riders on the pro circuit.
“I like Jack and Cam, quite a bit, and I was really upset about the system but that’s not their fault, and quite frankly it’s not Shane Bannan’s or GreenEdge’s fault either. All they’re doing is operating with the incentives and disincentives that are given to them.
"Right now, if you're a rider on the market, those incentives favor not working for your current team and riding for 9th place instead. That is horrible."
Added Vaughters: "I am lucky that both Jack and Cam are honorable guys that like winning, either for the team or themselves. And I know they won't race selfishly, no matter what they are doing next year. But why tempt them?"
While Vaughters has the relative security of having a team rich in talent and more importantly points, not all teams are as lucky. Saxo Bank saw their team decimated by last year’s exodus to Leopard Trek. The Danish team fell from being the number one team on the planet to a squad utterly reliant on Alberto Contador’s points gained in 2010. Had the Spaniard been banned for his positive test at last year’s Tour then the team would have been outside of the ProTour, calling into question their sponsors' commitment.
Points system is killing 'panache'
Already this year, the sport’s points system has had an effect on the outcome of several road races. Last week Jerome Pineau hit out the collective defensiveness sweeping the bunch.
“What ruins everything is the UCI points system. Teams think about getting sixth and ninth place instead of trying to win and finishing 10th. They say that earpieces are killing panache, but these points do the same thing. People play it defensively,” he told Ouest France.
At the Tour of Turkey Allan David (Astana) was a first hand victim of the new attitude. An Australian, he too is out of contract at the end of the season and with Astana far less secure in term of points, found that his teammates were no longer told to work for him at the race.
"It's a fact," he said referring to his belief that he and other Australians were now on the outer with their current teams. "There definitely [are such riders]. I can tell you firsthand. It's disappointing … As Aussies, we finally have this opportunity to have a team. It's normal [for it to be] interested in Australian riders up for contract. Some teams should just respect that, get on with the year and get as many results out of us as they can while they still have us."
“It’s not Allan's fault, Astana's fault, or Shane Bannan's fault, it's just a system that needs to be adjusted,” Vaughters added.
“And it’s another example, right along with the race radios, and bike design and technology of why the UCI needs to have people that actually work in the field be an integral part of the rule making. Until they do that these sort of errors and dramas are going to happen over and over again.
“Did I think about playing the situation and leaving certain riders out of races? Does it make me angry that I’m potentially developing riders for somebody else? Yes, absolutely. Am I going to act on that? No. Cam is doing the Giro, GreenEdge or not, and I hope he has a great Giro, whether the points end up as mine or somebody else's. But I can tell you, this is a problem that isn't going away until the system is revisited."
In theory and according to the rules, a Meyer or a Bobridge, and they’re just examples of a growing trend, may have already signed contracts with new teams, leaving many squads in the dark until August at the very earliest.
“Let’s have it be a big honour if you’re the number one ranked team in the world but lets have it stop affecting whether you’re selected for the Tour de France or the ProTour. Or perhaps totally redesign the rankings and have total budget caps to ensure fair competition amongst teams."
"Or maybe just split the points, 50/50, teams and riders. Keep teamwork and fairness in the highest possible regard. Winning races and winning the ranking should be the goal of every team, not selfishly chasing around points at the cost of teamwork and unity.
“Unless you have people working in the field of cycling, with the teams and riders and the physical and sporting dynamic, unless you have those people involved and creating and voting on the rules you’re always going to come up with an inferior system that only causes problems.”