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Astana is pulling the plug on its Continental team following a third doping positive that threatens to implicate the WorldTour team as well.
The second-division Continental team Astana has been suspended from competition, and its manager, Dmitri Sedoun, has been sacked following a third positive doping case, the Kazakh Cycling Federation (KCF) announced Friday.
“The managing board of Kazakhstan Cycling Federation has decided to suspend the activity of the Astana Continental Team while an internal investigation into doping cases is carried out,” read a statement by the Kazakhstan Federation, which runs and manages the team. “Dmitri Sedoun, the general manager of Astana Continental team, has been dismissed from his position.”
Perhaps looking to distance a growing doping controversy from the WorldTour team captained by Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, Astana general manager Alexander Vinokourov also told La Gazzetta dello Sport the continental team is being “suspended indefinitely.”
“These young guys are crazy if they don’t realize doping has no place in cycling,” Vinokourov told La Gazzetta during a team camp in Italy. “I want this to be a ‘warning shot’ to our federation. The Kazakh federation needs to do more controls.”
On Thursday morning, there was no official confirmation of Vinokourov’s declaration.
According to La Gazzetta, there also appears to be some behind-the-scenes shakeups inside the KCF as a result of the growing doping scandal.
A string of doping positives have put the Kazakh-backed organization under the microscope. Two cases involving the Iglinskiy brothers, who both popped for EPO, upped pressure on the WorldTour team. Maxim Iglinskiy was a member of the Tour-winning team headlined by Nibali.
Three more doping cases involving Astana’s development team, with the latest revealed Wednesday involving Artur Fedosseyev for steroids, has created new doubts over the team’s credibility.
Team officials insist they are isolated cases, and do not reflect a larger problem within the organization. Tour-winner Nibali has also staunchly defended his team’s track record, saying earlier this month after a fourth case that, “these four idiots have nothing to do with me.”
That hasn’t stopped the UCI from reviewing the team’s WorldTour license. Speaking to VeloNews‘ Matthew Beaudin last month, UCI president Brian Cookson said the cycling governing body asked its four-member License Commission to review the situation.
“It’s safe to say that everyone was very disappointed by this turn of events,” Cookson told VeloNews in October following the first cases. “But if we assume that there have been three cases [now five -Ed.], that’s something that’s obviously very, very serious, and that’s why we’ve referred it to the licensing commission, asking them to look into all the issues around that and make recommendations as to what impact these issues should have on the license of Astana.”
On Thursday, officials said the UCI would not comment, but confirmed the License Commission would reveal the 2015 WorldTour licenses no later than December 10.
Vinokourov insisted there is no connection between the continental team and the WorldTour team, and said the team has cooperated with the UCI License Commission.
“People must understand that they have nothing to do with us. The only thing they have in common is the jersey and the name,” Vinokourov told La Gazzetta. “There is no problem for the license. We have given all the information that we have been asked about.”
The KCF underwrites the Astana Continental team, and included 19 riders during 2014. All of them, except two Italians, were from Kazakhstan. The squad is viewed as a feeder team for the WorldTour team, and is being used to help scout new talent.
KCF president Kairat Kelimbetov said the body, in conjunction with management from the Astana Pro Team, will “carry out a thorough investigation of the doping cases in the Continental team.
“Our strategic policy is for clean Kazakhstan cycling. I can assure you that the investigation will be organized in full accordance with the UCI rules and its outcome to be announced in due course.”