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Lance Armstrong and Danilo Di Luca in racing for free salary row

UCI becomes involved as salary rules come under scrutiny

Cycling stars’ salaries have come under the spotlight this week, focused under the issue of whether or not high-profile riders can forgo their salaries and, in effect, ride for free. The issue was raised by the return of Danilo di Luca to the sport, who offered to ride for Katusha for nothing, and now it has also embroiled Lance Armstrong too.

World cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has confirmed that Armstrong, who in 2008 ahead of his comeback with Astana claimed that he would be riding for the Kazakh ProTour outfit for free, did actually take a salary from the team for that season, although he donated it to charity and was therefore effectively racing for free.

The issue came to light after the UCI said earlier this week that DI Luca would not be allowed to ride for Katusha without taking a salary this season since it contravened UCI rules.

The Italian is returning to the sport after his suspension following a failed drugs test in the 2009 Giro d’Italia, a race in which he finished second overall.

The former LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini rider, who has signed a one-year contract with Katusha, had agreed with team manager Andrei Tchmil that his salary would be set at zero and that he would only race for prize money.

However, that fell foul of UCI regulations stipulating riders must receive a minimum salary of €49,500, partly designed to prevent teams exploiting cyclists desperate to break into the pro ranks or keep their place in the peloton once there.

News of the UCI’s stance on Di Luca caused thoughts to turn to Armstrong, who repeatedly asserted both before and during his comeback season in 2009 that he was riding for free to raise awareness for his Livestrong cancer charity.

In an interview published in the American magazine Vanity Fair in September 2008 after announcing his comeback, Armstrong said: “Everybody in cycling has a team and takes a team salary. I am essentially racing for free. No salary. No bonus. Nothing on the line… This one’s on the house. And you know what? At the end of the day, I don’t need money… Not only will I be fine, my kids will be fine, my grandkids will be fine.”

Armstrong consistently stated throughout the 2009 season in media interviews that he was riding for free, which since it has now emerged that he donated his salary to charity, was effectively the case.

Confirmation of that was given this week by a spokesman for the seven-time Tour de France to the website Velonation this week, which also reported that the UCI had confirmed that Armstrong had drawn a salary from Astana.

It is not the first time that statements made by Armstrong, currently preparing for next week’s Tour Down Under, which he has said will be his last race outside the United States, have been questioned.

The cyclist has in the past categorically stated that he didn’t own a stake in Tailwind Sports, owner of the former US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams, but in a deposition made by Armstrong himself in relation to a 2005 lawsuit brought by SCA Promotions, he said he owned around 10% of the company, an inconsistency his critics have been quick to seize upon.

Last year, the Texan’s final full season on the road with the newly-launched Team RadioShack, was in large part overshadowed by the allegations of organised doping levelled at Armstrong and other members of US Postal Service by former team mate Floyd Landis, who at the same time confessed to his own past doping transgressions.

Since then, Armstrong and other former US Postal Service and Discovery Team colleagues have found themselves at the centre of an investigation into doping within US cycling led by Special Agent Jeff Novitzky of the Food & Drug Administration which is also the subject of a Federal Grand Jury Investigation in Los Angeles.

The US press has followed developments in the case closely, and rumours have been circulating for several weeks now that the magazine Sports Illustrated will shortly publish a major story on Armstrong which it is widely believed will contain further allegations against him.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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