Do regulation breaches in Asia Tour reveal a new source of fraud?
Evidence of deliberate tampering of results by race officials at this week s Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen is the latest episode lending weight to cynics contentions that unethical behaviour in the Asia Tour is far more widespread than reported.
As the UCI in recent years has continued to busy itself with cleaning up and regulating the sport based on challenges at the highest (and most broadcasted) level, a small chorus of skeptical riders, commentators and cycling fans remain doubtful about the integrity of those same controls at the margins.
At a time when many specialty news outlets are still leaning nervously into the new media paradigm (possibly while shadowed by a budgetary Grim Reaper), it s perhaps understandable that Asia Tour coverage would not meet the cost:benefit test. Absent of on-ground reporting capabilities, forensic scrutiny and rigorous fact-checking becomes disproportionately onerous.
Case in point: suspicions of doping in the Asia Tour by certain teams and riders particularly from Iran, following sanctions of several Iranian riders in the last five years surface frequently, but are seldom investigated unless disquiet amplifies to levels sufficient to alert a media usually more interested in what s happening in Europe. It helps when a respected rider makes a noise.
Pan y agua my arse !
Matt Brammeier (@Mattbrammeier85) July 13, 2013
Though it may not evoke the same moral outrage as biological or mechanical doping, flagrant disregard for UCI regulations by race officials at two separate incidents during this year s Asia Tour season sits comfortably on the spectrum of fraudulent behaviour that continues to tarnish the image of professional road cycling.
The first instance came at the Tour de Taiwan earlier this year. Both Pishgaman Giant Team and Giant-Champion System Pro Cycling secured invitations to the race, although one of these teams should have been excluded based on UCI article 2.2.001, which states:
Riders belonging to teams with the same paying agent or main partner may not compete in the same race except in the case of an individual event. Furthermore, no more than one national team of each nationality may compete in an event. In addition, the participation of both a UCI WorldTeam and the development team supported by this same UCI WorldTeam in accordance with article 2.15.130 is prohibited. Likewise, the participation of both a UCI professional continental team and the development team supported by this same UCI professional continental team is prohibited. The teams which are concerned by articles 2.2.001 and 2.15.130 are following:
When contacted by Cycling iQ, race director Jamaludin Mahmood simply stated that they don t have the same paying agent and it was all a misunderstanding . Emails were sent to the UCI s Road and Media departments asking for an explanation of this apparent misunderstanding, but regrettably all went unanswered.
The apparent lack of will by the UCI to stand behind all of its documentation/regulations does not create an environment in which the governing body appears as a strong and omnipotent enforcer a fact potentially exploited by unscrupulous race officials yet, given the Article citing the relationship between both teams remains unaltered to this day, it can only be assumed that the paying agent relationship exists.
A second, more serious, incident took place yesterday at the UCI2.2-ranked International Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen (ITDBI).
Five riders from the Singapore-registered Singha Infinite Continental team were named in the official start list published one day prior to the 11 May race start. The squad included two-time (2014, 2015) ITDBI GC winner Peter Pouly and two new riders, Bart Buyk and Loic Desriac.
However, when a rider from another team pointed out to race officials moments before the first stage that Buyk and Desriac were not properly registered with the UCI, both riders were deemed unable to compete. This left Singha Infinite with three riders which, according to UCI regulation 2.2.003, made the team ineligible to start.
Part 2 Road Races | Chapter II General Provisions, sub section 1: Participation, article 2.2.003
However, the team did start with three riders it would be fair to assume that other participating teams would have overlooked this, given the task of being across all of the UCI s regulations is the occupation of race officials and all three finished the first stage. However, things got weird when the results from stage one were disseminated on Wednesday afternoon:
In addition to Pouly, Fast and Magnan, a fourth Singha Infinite rider, Kian Hiang Brian Ng, appeared from nowhere as a DNF. However, Ng was not even in Indonesia and he certainly wasn t in Singha Infinite s plans in the days leading up to the race.
The ITDBI team announced on Singha Infinite s Facebook A picture of the ITDBI team taken in Indonesia. No Ng here.
Ng s name could only have been added under the instructions of race officials, evidently to ensure that the team of last year s GC winner was technically eligible to start the race.
Is this wasn t bad enough, there was also another problem: UCI regulation 1.2.090 states that no substitutions can be made after the riders have been confirmed as starters (refer to the start list above; Ng is not mentioned).
Part 1 General Organisation of Cycling as a Sport | Chapter II Races, Section 3: Race procedures, sub-section 5 Entry check, article 1.2.090
Further evidence of deliberate tampering by race officials came later on Wednesday, when a revised results sheet was emailed out. The original results sheet showed that Pouly, Fast and Magnan would be starting the second stage:
In the revised results sheet, Ng miraculously appeared as a starter for the second stage and even had a finishing time from the first day even though his DNF from stage one still appeared in the same revised results sheet.
All three Singha Infinite riders remain in the race, with Pouly currently 5th on GC only 10? behind race leader Benjamin Prades (Team Ukyo). There are no signs that any action will be taken.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER STRIKE THREE?
It would be easier to accept these incidents as minor indiscretions, and to not report them. However, it s exactly that laissez-faire attitude which permits rule-breaking in the first place.
There are still 20 Asia Tour events yet to take place in the 2016 season and, based on previous years, it s likely some of those races will also raise questions some will be easier to examine than others, but this process can only begin if people on the ground have the courage to continue to speak out about questionable behaviour.
Common elements taken from the two incidents above distill into a worrying conclusion: if some race officials the people entrusted by the UCI, the riders, the fans, and also the race organiser who arguably has the most to lose are prepared to turn a blind eye to a few regulations here and there, or even invent situations to conform to them, there must be a degree of uncertainty about the same official s preparedness to act against more serious violations.
Everyone who cares about the image of cycling should be concerned.
Cycling iQ contacted Peter Pouly, Brian Ng and ITDBI race director Jamaludin Mahmood for comment, but had not received any replies at time of writing.