In the clearest indication yet that the UCI and several teams look set for a collision course over the possible formation of a breakaway league, UCI President Pat McQuaid has threatened at least one team with financial repercussions if they push ahead in their discussions.
Cyclingnews obtained a letter in which UCI president Pat McQuaid has confronted Jonathan Vaughters, manager of Garmin-Cervélo. According to the UCI, Vaughters is "seen as one of the leaders of the group of teams that are apparently considering to split from the UCI and set up a new cycling circuit."
The UCI's letter, dated April 21, continues, pointing to the meeting held in Brussels last month at which all but two ProTeams walked out in protest at the UCI's ban on race radios. Though Vaughters was not present at the meeting, Cyclingnews is not aware of any other team or team manager having received a similar letter to the one Vaughters was sent on April 21.
Threat and blackmail
The most critical part of the letter comes when McQuaid threatens to bill Vaughters for the costs incurred for the Biological Passport. Currently, squads at ProTeam level pay the UCI €120,000 per season, either in a one-off payment in January or spread over three payments throughout the calendar year.
"Now you must understand that you cannot expect from the UCI that it continues to work for and invest in a team that is planning to break away from the UCI and to participate in a series not sanctioned by the UCI," wrote McQuaid.
"This will include, in the first instance the Biological Passport, the cost of which exceeds the contribution paid by the teams."
The total cost of creating passports for applicable riders was €5.3 million in 2008. Currently the largest component of this cost is the haematological profile which costs approximately €3 million per year and is divided up between the teams and number of other stakeholders, including the UCI and race organisers. It is unclear from the letter as to how much extra Vaughters would have to pay the UCI.
McQuaid gave Vaughters the ultimatum of confirming in writing to the UCI that he is not part of the breakaway league, and thus not contravening article 1.2.019 of the UCI regulations, by April 30. If Vaughters did not bend to the UCI's will, then from May 1 his team would incur the full costs of the UCI Biological Passport. Cyclingnews contacted Vaughters, who would not comment on whether he responded to the UCI.
McQuaid adds: "Should you fail to pay these invoices, the program on your team will be scaled back down to the level that your team is actually paying for," implying that Garmin-Cervélo would be reduced to a Pro Continental team.
"On the other hand if you would confirm that you are not and will not be involved and this would turn out not to be the case, you will be held responsible for the real cost of the blood passport programme on your team and any other costs or damage incurred by UCI because it relied on your statement."
Cyclingnews contacted McQuaid, but he would not comment, saying that he "would not make any public comment on a private letter."
Vaughters also declined to comment but the letter is a clear indication both of how seriously the UCI is taking the proposition of another league and of the teams' growing discontent with how the sport is being governed. Yet the fact that the UCI has taken this step despite no formal announcement of a league being planned nor any race organiser like ASO or RCS giving their public backing suggests that they are panicking.
Cyclingnews reported in March that up to 11 teams had signed up to the breakaway idea but we understand that the number now stands at 14. Earlier this month, McQuaid told Cyclingnews that, "I think they've lost a little common sense as to what their role is. In cycling we have the UCI, the governing body, organisers and you've got teams. What's happened here is that some team managers have got a little bit too ambitious and they want to be in the role of manager and or organiser of events. It doesn't work, it's crazy."
This rule states that, "No licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognised by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI. A national federation may grant special exceptions for races or particular events run in its own country."
However the UCI's threats could be seen to contravene European Law and EU Competition Law, as under Civil Law.