2011 Tour de France, stage 8, Alexander Vinokourov
UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani raised eyebrows in late August with comments that seemed to imply that points accumulated by Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov during 2011 could be applied toward his squad’s 2012 WorldTour license application, independent of whether he chose to continue riding for the team. The Kazakh was (until recently) believed to have announced his retirement in July after crashing out of the Tour de France during stage 9’s descent of the Pas de Payrol.

Vinokourov, who currently ranks 14th in the UCI’s individual standings, appeared to contradict both points this week, declaring not only his intent to continue riding into 2012, but also his rationale: preventing Astana from being downgraded to Pro Continental status.

Must Vino have returned for his points to be applied to Astana’s license or might they have been bequeathed upon the team like the estate of a brash, blonde uncle? This week velonews.com turned to Carpani to sort out the details — which reflect the complex methodology by which the sport’s 18 World Tour licenses are assigned.

The bottom line: Vinokourov’s retirement would have had a potentially devastating effect upon the team’s continuation amongst the World Tour ranks. Here’s how it works:

The UCI’s licensing commission evaluates prospective applicants in several areas, taking into account each team’s relative sporting, ethical, financial and administrative strengths (and then managing to award licenses anyway). The assessment of rider points is part of the applicant’s “sporting evaluation.” Here each team is judged on the combined points of riders with contracts on file with the accounting firm of Ernst and Young in Lausanne, Switzerland, by October 20 of the year preceding the desired registration.

Vinokourov’s situation is indeed unusual. His status as an active rider came as an apparent surprise to even his team who (believing his retirement to have been announced) replaced him with fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin just prior to the Vuelta a España. Kashechkin’s signing was equally surprising to Vino, who — apparently oblivious to his own press statements — announced in late August that he intends start the Giro di Lombardia on October 15.

The rider’s July announcement notwithstanding, Vinokourov remains under contract with Astana, never formally severing ties with the squad. And guess who’s already got a contract on file for 2012? As the UCI’s Carpani explained this week:

“If there is a contract between Astana and Vinokourov for the 2012 season by the end of October 20th [2011], then Astana can benefit from [his] points. As that is the case and given the fact that Vinokourov has stated that he intends to fulfill his contract – and the UCI has no reason to believe he is being deceptive – then there are no grounds for refusing Astana the attribution of Vinokourov’s points.”

Could Vino simply postpone his retirement until after the team’s license is awarded? Not likely, says Carpani, who notes that “should the sporting value of the team decrease after the granting of a licence or registration (i.e., should a rider retire) in such a way that the UCI would consider the sporting criterion no longer fulfilled, then the UCI would initiate a licence withdrawal procedure.”

Indeed Article 2.15.040 of the UCI Rules provides a powerful disincentive for teams looking to engage in post-license shenanigans. It states that “The license commission may withdraw (a team’s) license (if) the information taken into account in granting the license or the registration of the UCI ProTeam has changed such that the issue conditions are no longer fulfilled, or the commission considers that the new situation does not justify the issue of a licence or registration.”

With 230 points to his credit during 2011, Vinokourov personally accounts for 59 percent of Astana’s overall points and commands (as of the UCI’s September 12, 2011 rankings) a higher individual sporting value than many of the cycling world’s most prominent names – including Ivan Basso (170), Mark Cavendish (152) and reigning world champion Thor Hushovd (123).

In the end, look for Vinokourov to ride a reduced calendar as he begins his transition to management of the team built around him in 2006. Meanwhile expect Astana to undertake an aggressive effort to sign riders capable of replacing his sporting value as we approach the likely end of Vino’s pro cycling career in 2013.

For more on the Astana-Vinokourov-Kashechkin saga, see The Livestream Diaries: Astana Pulls a Bewitched. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.