Skil-Shimano has announced its intention to annul the contract of Japanese rider Fumiyuki Beppu after the cyclist breached its terms by negotiating a verbal contract with Team RadioShack without informing his current team.
The news comes less than a fortnight after UCI President Pat McQuaid said that the sport’s governing body was examining current rules regarding pro riders switching teams, giving rise to the prospect of a football-style transfer market.
The Netherlands-based UCI Continental team, which made its Grand Tour debut last year thanks to a wild card entry to the Tour de France, made the decision after securing an acknowledgement from Beppu that he was subject to a valid contract with it and was therefore unable to sign a contract with another team without Skil-Shimano’s permission.
That, said Skil-Shimano in a press release, established an important point of principle since otherwise it could damage the relationship between teams and their riders, with existing contracts no longer seen to be binding.
The decision leaves the 26-year-old Beppu – who Skil-Shimano does not intend to replace – free to join the likes of Lance Armstrong at Team RadioShack after Skil-Shimano offered him the option to annul his contract in return for him paying a non-negotiable sum in compensation.
Prior to joining Skil-Shimano in 2008, Beppu had raced with Armstrong’s former team, Discovery Channel. He announced last November that he had agreed to join Team RadioShack, but Skil-Shimano subsequently revealed that his contract still had a year to run.
In today’s announcement, Skil-Shimano said that part of the reason behind its decision was that “the team is no longer confident of a continued successful relationship due to the rider's actions a few months ago,” a reference to Beppu’s premature announcement of his joining Team RadioShack.
Skil-Shimano added that it will “continue to focus on the current roster of riders and prepare thoroughly for the coming season,” and that it is “confident its four remaining Asian riders will be able to make an undiminished contribution to the development and promotion of cycling in China and Japan, which is one of the goals of Skil-Shimano.”
The case highlights once again the tensions that can arise between teams and riders under the current contract system, a subject that was often in the headlines towards the end of last year as a result of Bradley Wiggins and Ben Swift moving to the new Team Sky from, respectively, Garmin-Transitions and Katusha when each had a year of their existing contracts left to run, and World Champion Cadel Evans, who reportedly paid a year’s salary to buy himself out of the final year of his contract with Silence Lotto to join BMC Racing.
As happened with Swift, who was erroneously named in Team Sky's squad for the Tour Down Under while still under contract to Katusha - he was eventually confirmed as riding for the British team at its press launch in London in early January - Beppu was confirmed in a Team RadioShack press release last November as being in the new outfit's roster for the 2010 season.
Last month, UCI President Pat McQuaid, speaking at the Santos Tour Down Under, said that the sport’s governing body was reappraising rules regarding the transfer of riders between teams as a result of those cases, giving rise to the prospect to rules similar to those existing in football.
McQuaid told AFP: "Because of what other people feel was fairly harsh and businesslike work of Sky in trying to get exactly the riders they want, maybe we should tighten up the regulations in relation to transfers," adding, “that’s something we are working on at the moment."
He continued: “There's no panacea for it because if a new team comes into the market... as with Sky last year, they've got to get 25 to 30 riders and most of them are already on a contract of one form or other.
"It's difficult for them to come in at a good level and just take the available riders who are already at the end of a contract."
McQuaid acknowledged that “we probably do need slightly tighter controls and regulations on the transfer system,” adding that the UCI was addressing those issues because this past winter there have been several controversies in relation to transfers."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.