Astana’s license troubles

Astana are in big trouble (Cor Vos)
Astana are in big trouble (Cor Vos)

In a surprise move, the UCI have today asked its License Commission to revoke Astana’s WorldTour license. Back in December, the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) began the process of auditing the team – a condition of the team’s WorldTour license following the positive tests of the Iglinskiy brothers (EPO) and Ilya Davidenok (anabolic steroids).

The UCI has now finished their review of the audit, which was tasked with reviewing the “anti-doping culture, policies, structures and management systems” of the team. In a press release issued today, the governing body have announced that they “believe that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn”.

In addition to the audit, Italian anti-doping authorities have passed on information relating to the long-running Padova investigation. That’s the investigation centred around Dr Ferrari. Numerous riders and staff are implicated, with Astana team boss Alexandre Vinokourov a standout name.

Now, we wait on the License Commission – an independet body tasked with issuing and reviewing licenses as well as enforcing its conditions. They will call a hearing on the issue, and should the team lose its license that will be that, pending any appeal to CAS. It is unknown how long we will have to wait for further action, as there is no precedent for a case like this.

You can cast your mind back to late 2012 and Katusha’s WorldTour exclusion, but there was no lengthy audit process from an independent party. CAS ordered their license to be re-instated in February, so it seems likely that months will pass before we know the final outcome.

Nibali won't like today's news (Cor Vos)
Nibali won’t like today’s news (Cor Vos)

So what will happen if the team’s WorldTour license is taken away? Well, a drop down to ProContinental level seems impossible given the nature of this investigation. This is a threat to the existence of the team itself.

The riders and staff will be the ones in the biggest trouble. Here, we are faced with the chance of a large number of people out of work thanks to the actions (or rather inaction) of a few. Some riders, like Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, have contract clauses that allow them to leave if the team loses its license but lesser names will be stuck. Regardless, the season is already in full flow and teams (and budgets) are full, so where could go?

Conclusion

The UCI seems very sure of their standing – the public announcement proves that. Rather than people rushing to ask why have they waited for so long, we should be congratulating them for being more thorough than they were back in 2012.

Given the language of the press release, it does seem that the team haven’t taken the threat of an audit seriously enough. Certainly the management hasn’t changed enough in order to satisfy ISSUL and the UCI that things have changed for the better. It is hard to imagine a future in pro cycling for Vinokourov.

Together, for now (Cor Vos)
Together, for now (Cor Vos)

As for Astana, well they can participate in races for now but it feels like a stay of executio. If the License Commission agrees with the UCI’s assertions then we could see the team prevented from racing within days.

A CAS appeal could see a temporary license granted granted which would allow them to race until the final ruling. With the Tour de France still five months away though, it’s impossible to know whether the reigning champion will be there or not.

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