Crunch time for Astana’s WorldTour license

Embattled Astana team should know its fate the week of December 8, when the UCI officially announces licensed WorldTour teams

MILAN (VN) — Team Astana, after five doping cases, will know its fate in the coming week as the UCI is set to announce which teams will receive WorldTour licenses for 2015.

Cycling’s governing body told VeloNews that it will confirm a possible 18 teams for its WorldTour series next week, Wednesday at the latest, one week later than originally planned. Astana already has a license for 2015, but the body asked its license committee to review it due to “serious concerns” stemming from the doping positives.

Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France for the team in turquoise this July, but since then, the taste has gone sour. One of his helpers at the Tour, Maxim Iglinskiy failed a test for EPO on August 1. Inglinskiy’s brother, Valentin also failed a test for the drug in the same fortnight. Afterward, three riders for Astana’s third-division feeder team — Ilya Davidenok, Victor Okishev, Artur Fedosseyev — failed anti-doping tests for steroids.

“The feeling is not what it should be in a Tour de France-winning team,” team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews.

“We won the Tour, [with] the first Italian to do so in 16 years, we should be jumping up and down with joy, but instead we’ve all got frowns on our faces.”

Four teams are linked to the Kazakh capital and team boss Alexandre Vinokourov: the WorldTour team, the women’s team, and two third-division teams, Astana and Vino4Ever.

Astana management is quick to point out that, besides the name and color, no connection exists between the teams that would signal a large-scale doping problem. It further reasons that it has only had two cases in the professional team or only one if you consider that the brothers probably shared their doping practices and secrets.

“The Astana pro team is the Astana pro team; the continental team is the continental team,” Nibali told VeloNews. “There is no connection and no problem.”

Vinokourov or ‘Vino’ convinced companies in Astana to back his team in 2006 when sponsor Liberty Seguros left. He failed a test for blood doping at the following year’s Tour de France. He returned to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time and the 2012 London Olympic road race before retiring. He now manages the Astana WorldTour team, which spurred sponsors to support the three smaller squads.

UCI president Brian Cookson expressed concern in September about former cyclists, like Vinokourov and Bjarne Riis, with tainted histories managing teams. He said that he wants the ongoing Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) “to decide who is fit and proper to run a team.”

Vinokourov’s past could weigh on the license commission when it makes its decision. It could also take into consideration that, unlike Lance Armstrong, ‘Vino’ has not spoken to the UCI reform commission about his past.

Astana also has other connections to past doping scandals. Doctor Joost de Maeseneer, according to Tyler Hamilton, gave Team CSC cyclists illegal prescriptions, and Martinelli and Doctor Emilio Magni both worked with Marco Pantani. Roman Kreuziger, now with Tinkoff-Saxo, is currently in a battle with the UCI over biological passport violations from his years racing with the team.

“What do we do?” Martinelli said. “You need to see what the person is dong now, what role they have. You can say fire Vino, fire Magni and even fire Martinelli. We are talking about the past and people who’ve paid.”

The Kazakh federation suspended the Astana third-division team and dismissed the general manager, Dmitri Sedoun from his position. Sedoun, who helped the team in the three English stages of the 2014 Tour, continues as a sports director in the professional team.

The Tour-winning team will know its fate early next week when the UCI announces all of its WorldTour teams. The body could let Astana continue, but do so with a clause that recommends changes in light of the recent doping cases.