Tinkoff-Saxo have not ruled out the possibility of the team and their rider, Roman Kreuziger, seeking damages from the UCI after the governing body surprisingly dropped their Biological Passport case against the Czech.
Kreuziger and the UCI had been through a protracted battle over the rider’s Passport with the UCI President Brian Cookson telling Cyclingnews last August that there were "very serious anomalies" in the Czech rider’s passport readings. Those readings dated back to Kreuziger’s time at Team Astana between March 2011 and August 2011, and from April 2012 through the end of the 2012 Giro d'Italia.
The rider was cleared by his national Federation last September and the UCI and WADA subsequently announced their intention to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a hearing was eventually fixed for next week – only for cycling’s governing body to withdraw its appeal on Friday.
"It’s obviously something that we’re pleased about but we think that the UCI should provide a clear explanation with what’s been learnt and how we can avoid something like this happening again," Tinkoff-Saxo’s general manager, Stefano Feltrin, told Cyclingnews.
When asked if Krueziger and the team would seek damages, with the rider having to spend significant resources and cash on his defence, Feltrin added: "We have a lot of time to review it but that’s a possibility. If I was the one spending a lot of time and money defending myself over two years I might. For Roman, I can’t speak for him, but the team is reviewing the circumstances. We have to see how the UCI want to carry this forward. If they say ‘case closed’ let's move on then I don’t think that’s going to be enough."
The news of the UCI dropping the case landed late on Friday and the governing body’s brief statement lacked detail.
"The UCI and WADA have come to the conclusion that, in accordance with the applicable UCI anti-doping rules and WADA Athlete Biological Passport operating guidelines, there is at this stage no basis to proceed further. They have therefore decided to withdraw their appeals. The ABP is managed by the independent Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) in Lausanne and ABP cases are prosecuted based on the opinion of an independent Expert Panel," the statement read.
"Consistent with the approach taken during this entire case and in light of the confidential nature of the information concerned, the UCI and WADA are not in a position to comment further."
Cyclingnews still tried to reach out to the UCI for clarity but were told that no further comment would be provided. Feltrin told Cyclingnews that he has not been notified as to why the case was dropped.
"I think that it’s pretty clear that the team has been damaged by the story," he told Cyclingnews.
When the news over Kreuziger first broke last June Tinkoff-Saxo benched the rider from their Tour de France roster. The case dragged on into August and they announced that Kreuziger would start the Tour of Poland. That sparked the UCI into action and they provisionally suspended him.
"We weren’t able to line up Roman in the Tour de France last year," Feltrin said. "Alberto [Contador] crashed but we’ll never know if circumstances would have been different if Roman had been there. We couldn’t race Roman in Poland last year and he’s been racing with this problem in his year all this time. For the rider and the team it’s been quite the burden.
"Mr. Cookson and the UCI said they would be transparent so this needs to be made clear on the new evidence. There should be a public disclosure on how the system works and who is taking the decision. At first Mr. Cookson said that he wasn’t involved in making the decision but then he said a really harsh statement to Cyclingnews saying that there was serious anomalies with Roman’s passport."
Feltrin, and Tinkoff-Saxo, it appears, are willing to publicly wait for the UCI to respond and provide answers as to why they dropped the case at such a late stage, and what changed in the evidence they had against Kreuziger.
"We’ll wait for the UCI to come forward with an explanation and also what the consequences will be for the future with the system. This year it was our team but it could be any team in the future so we need to all prevent this from happening again. It’s absurd that it’s taken two years and then for them to drop the case and not to say why.
"The UCI should come forward. The Astana case was similar but different. You can’t just seek the revocation of a licence in February. You can’t just throw that out there and just walk away and say ‘sorry we, tried’. At the very least there should be an explanation of the process and why it’s taken so long. If they were so sure of their case, why did they drop it? Their case on Roman was really farfetched.
Kreuziger has not returned messages from Cyclingnews for an interview, but Feltrin added that the rider is spending time with his family as he assesses his next move. At the very least it’s now a certainty that he will support Contador at this year’s Tour de France.
For Feltrin the case has also affected the team’s ability to encourage sponsors to join the team as the squad’s reputation has been called into question due to the case.
"Yesterday was time a for celebration," he said. "[Kreuziger] and his family have gone through a lot and the team have been criticized. We were attacked by many people, the usual haters, but also those who thought that we might have been involved. We suffered a lot because when we were presenting to sponsors one of the questions from sponsor was ‘what if your rider is found guilty?’
"For a sponsor it doesn’t matter if the case was from 2011, it would have appeared on our team and you have to understand why the sponsor would not get involved. This was a big thing for us and it caused a lot of damages. Someone needs to take responsibility for that. I assume they have good liability coverage because someone is potentially looking at a lot of damages."