Monday, February 25, 2013

Sticky Situation for Etixx-iHNed

The title might be a bit confusing but I shall clarify for you. This off-season, the UCI World Tour team Omega Pharma-Quickstep, funded by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala and Omega Pharma boss Marc Coucke, founded a UCI continental team, Etixx-iHNed (Just so we all know, Etixx is a nutritional company while iHNed is a Czech news website). The team is a feeder team for Omega Pharma-Quickstep (OPQS) and made big signings in the offseason with Julian Alaphilippe, Patrick Konrad and others. The team itself is registered in the Czech Republic because of UCI rules dictating that a continental team must register in the country where the majority of their riders are from.

None of this would really be news except for the fact that OPQS already have another development team, EFC-Omega Pharma-Quickstep. EFC is an amateur team in Belgium which receives funding from OPQS and Bakala and has a goal of sending at least 2 to 3 riders to Etixx-iHNed a year. The progression makes sense: riders starting out on a amateur squad then rising into the continental ranks and then hopefully to the World Tour. Except now, because of a lack of forethought by OPQS and Bakala, Etixx-iHNed has run into a problem.

Since both Etixx-iHNed and EFC essentially get their money from the same place, they are not allowed to start in the same races, as per a UCI rule that state that two teams owned by the same person and/or company cannot race together. One of the bigger early season Belgian races for continental and amateur teams is the Kattekoers Deinze - Ieper. With the UCI rules, Etixx-iHNed has been barred from entering the race. 

While I sympathize with the riders about getting barred from a race, OPQS and team management should have understood this rule in the first place before trying to enter two teams into the same race. Why should two teams that are owned by the same people get to race together? They could easily team up if they have a rider in the break and you have a 12-man team. This is the same logic which bars many World Tour teams from possibly riding in the same races as their development squads. Katusha/Itera-Katusha and Blanco/Rabobank Continental are the biggest example but before this we had RadioShack/Bontrager-Livestrong and Garmin-Sharp/Chipotle. While this situation is with a UCI Continental team and a prominent amateur squad, the same rules apply because the Kattekoers is a UCI race.

In any case, the OPQS management and Bakala should not be blaming the UCI on this one. They should have known the rules before they started complaining about it. While I understand that it is unfortunate for the squad, they will still have a big schedule this season. The team's first race will be the GP Ville de Lillers on March 3rd.

EDIT: So the UCI has decided to be bend the rules (what a shock, eh?) with Etixx-iHNed and EFC and allow them to race together. It seems as if the Belgian Fed. appealed to the UCI and they made is so. Patrick Lefevere still seems to have no concept of the UCI rules because an hour before Omega Pharma  boss Marc Coucke announced the good news, he was complaining about Etixx-iHNed not being able to race with OPQS and lamenting why he even bothers investing in young riders.

P.S. This is the first entry of my new blog! I will mostly be dealing with U-23 cycling and World Tour neo-pro's and I appreciate any support I get along the way. I apologize about the blog design right now but it'll get better in the future.


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