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SOCHI, Russia (AFP) — An International Cycling Union (UCI) commission is expected to rule this week on whether the doping-tainted Astana team should be stripped of its license, UCI president Brian Cookson said Monday.
If Astana loses, star rider Vincenzo Nibali could forfeit the right to defend his Tour de France title.
“I am expecting a decision this week, I am hoping so. I don’t have a final date, but the sooner the better,” Cookson told AFP on the sidelines of the SportAccord convention in Sochi, Russia.
The UCI president — elected to the post in September 2013 — said he did not expect the license commission would have another meeting on whether Astana’s WorldTour racing license should be revoked.
Astana could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but legal officials have said Astana would not automatically have the right to carry on racing while the tribunal comes to a decision.
Astana’s place in the peloton has been under threat since five riders with either the professional WorldTour squad or the Kazakh team’s Continental Tour affiliate failed doping tests last year.
Cookson said that whatever the decision, the UCI has sent “a really strong, powerful signal, not just to Astana, but to other teams as well, that this has to stop, we cannot have multiple doping cases from one team in a year.”
Stronger monitoring rules and team sanctions introduced by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have now been added to UCI regulations for this year.
If multiple doping cases “happened this year that would be very, very serious for Astana or any other team,” said Cookson.
“Teams have to take their responsibilities very, very seriously in terms of how they monitor riders, how they support riders and coach riders.
“Doctors as well have to be very very careful about the processes that they have been involved in,” said Cookson.
“Others who are allegedly floating around on the sidelines, the people who have been banned, there are rumors that they are still acting as intermediaries, it is a warning to them as well,” added the 63-year-old Englishman.
Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, who was criticized for being too lenient in a report on the federation’s handling of the Lance Armstrong case, hit back at Cookson in a letter published by Dutch media on Monday.
Verbruggen said Cookson deliberately avoided meeting him at events and that the independent commission’s report contained “incorrect accusations” based on unidentified people rather than documented evidence.
“I think it is very sad that he sees it this way,” responded Cookson. “The report is not all about him.
“His reaction just demonstrates yet again how the UCI used to get things wrong in the way that it deliberated and the way that it managed the sport. I am not going to get into that sort of personal dispute.”
The report, published in March, highlighted the close links between UCI leaders, especially Verbruggen who was president from 1991 until 2005, and Armstrong who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping.