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Analysis: UCI demands prize money be returned, but to whom?

U.S. officials aren't sure how or to whom prize money should be redistributed in the Armstrong Affair

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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — In its statement issued Friday, the UCI announced that, in light of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s findings — which included admissions from several current and former riders — it would not award victories, or upgrade placings, from any affected events from 1998 to 2005, including Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins.

The UCI Management Committee also called on Armstrong and all other affected riders to return prize money they had received during that period.

But what that might look like was far from clear.

For starters, where will the prize money be returned? Pro races have several management groups behind them, such as event owners, subcontracted operational groups and sponsors, as well as the national and international cycling federations.

UCI rule 1.2.073, which dictates on how prize money should be returned and redistributed, is vague:

If there is any dispute that might influence placing and hence entitlement to a prize, the prize shall be withheld until a decision has been reached. Unless specially provided otherwise, the following riders in the classification shall each advance by one place and shall be entitled to the prizes corresponding to their new places. Should a rider or a team lose the place that entitled him or them to a prize, the prize must be returned within one month to the organizer who shall proceed to its redistribution. In the event of non-compliance, the total amount repayable shall be increased automatically by 20% (twenty per- cent) and the organizer may refer the matter to the UCI. The rider or team shall be suspended automatically if the prize, increased by 20% (twenty percent), has not been repaid in the hands of the UCI within one month of notice being given by the UCI until such time as the total amount due has been repaid.

Requests for further explanation from the UCI and Tour de France owner Amaury Sport Organisation were not immediately returned.

It is estimated that Armstrong earned over $3 million in prize money for his seven Tour victories.

USA Cycling president Steve Johnson told VeloNews on Friday that the federation would not receive any returned prize money, and that, based upon UCI rules, the national federation is not required to facilitate the return and redistribution of prize money.

“Our policy is that riders are to return the money to the organizers, and the organizers are to redistribute it to other riders,” Johnson said. “It’s a relationship between the race owner and the athlete.”

And while the UCI’s demand that the return of prize money from 1998 to 2005 may send out a strong message, in many cases, it may end up being more symbolic than realistic.

In order for prize money to be returned equitably, ultimately a group will need to examine the results, determine who was paid what amount and where that money now belongs, and then contact riders and ask them to return their prizes. Who will do that work, and where that money is to be returned, remains an unknown.

As an example, Armstrong and Tom Danielson won the 2004 and 2005 Tours de Georgia, respectively. Both results have been voided, with prize money now to be returned. However, the Tour de Georgia, which was owned by a local organizing committee, has not existed since 2008, and its contract with operations group Medalist Sports is long-since expired, with no further existing obligations.

Levi Leipheimer, whose results from June 1, 1999, to July 30, 2006, have been stripped, won the 2005 Tour of Germany, a race that also no longer exists.

“In almost every case, a race organizer is an LLC or some other entity, that exists for a fixed term,” Johnson said. “If it is still in existence, this sort of thing is manageable, but if you don’t have one, it’s very difficult.”

Medalist managing partner Jim Birrell was at a loss for words on how redistribution of prize money might happen. “Who is enforcing this, and how?” he said. “Who is going to go through results and determine how much money was paid out? If someone won $500, are you going to go and chase it down? You could end up spending more in man-hours than some prizes are worth.”

Further complicating things, prize money, particularly from stage race results, is generally distributed among team members and staff; retrieving money from more than a dozen people, many who are now on other teams or retired, could prove to be impossible.

“There is no defined process,” Johnson said. “The specifics of the assignment of responsibilities are not spelled out in the rules. Normally these are rare occurrences, and typically we find out in short order, and there is time to resolve problems like this. But this is an unprecedented situation. It will take a lot of time and a lot of parties working together to rectify it.”

What USA Cycling can do is notify riders of their obligation and ask them to begin the process of returning prize money. The federation can also enforce the repayment of prize money by suspending a rider’s racing license, though in cases with retired riders such as Armstrong and George Hincapie, that enforcement would mean little.

“These are not criminal or even civil penalties, they are sporting penalties,” Johnson said. “If an individual doesn’t return the prize money to organizers, there’s not much that can be done about it. We could suspend their license, but that’s about the only thing we can do.”

Johnson said he was open to suggestions on how USA Cycling might handle the prize distribution.

“We went through something similar when Geneviève Jeanson was sanctioned,” Johnson said. “We went through previous results from previous years, and it was almost impossible in her case to retrieve the money. So what do we do? Do we create a fund of some kind? How do we get everyone to agree? There is an obligation under international rules to return money and redistribute it, and there are other riders who would benefit from receiving that money, and then you have money from GC results being distributed within teams, and people now on different teams. It gets real conflicted, real fast.”

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