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Cookson on the ‘serious’ Astana issue and the MPCC

UCI president Brian Cookson discusses the Astana situation, noting it could have a profound impact on the team's future

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UCI leader Brian Cookson said Friday that the recent doping positives could be a very “serious” situation for the Astana team but that he hadn’t met with team officials regarding the incidents.

Astana, home of 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, has come under withering pressure after two recent EPO positives by brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy and now what may be a third positive, as rider llya Davidenok returned an “adverse analytical finding” for anabolic androgenic steroids in a sample collected at the Tour de l’Avenir on August 28.

“It’s safe to say that everyone was very disappointed by this turn of events,” Cookson told VeloNews Friday. “But if we assume that there have been three cases, 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. That’s the right and proper process. That’s what the license commission was established to do, and we’re going to let them get on with their job now.”

Cookson said he has not and will not meet with Astana officials until after the committee has discussed the team’s license.

The UCI’s License Commission is a committee composed of four members who are independent of the UCI: President of the Commission since 2004, Pierre Zappelli is a former Swiss Supreme Federal Court judge; Hans Höhener, is a former president of the Swiss Athletics Federation and a senior corporate executive; PhD André Hürter, is president of the board of directors for Schnyder SA Biel; and Paolo Franz, who is a senior manager at IBM.

The License Commission reviews, withdraws, and tacks on conditions to the coveted UCI WorldTour licenses, which a team needs to guarantee entry into the sport’s biggest races. The team, the UCI has said, is expected to appear before the commission in the next month.

Cookson also addressed public trust in the UCI. In light of the investigation into Lance Armstrong, past UCI leadership was criticized for bending rules; Cookson, who’s been president of the sport’s governing body for a little over a year now, said there would be none of that.

“If you look at the regulations around the WorldTour and WorldTour teams … the process is reasonably clear. It’s down the licensing commission to make an annual assessment of the various criteria which are taken into account when teams first register. And ethical criteria is one of them, and clearly doping is a matter of ethics, and if a team has committed a series of offenses, or its riders have committed a series of offenses, then … that has to be taken into account,” he said. “We’re in the offseason now as it were. I think it’s important we review these matters in a timely fashion. That’s the process, you know? It’s not down to the whim of me or any other individual in the UCI to drag the team over the coals.”

The impact on Astana from the positive tests may be profound. In 2008, Alberto Contador was unable to defend his Tour de France title after signing with Astana because Tour owner ASO banned the team due to its now-manager and then-rider Alexander Vinokourov’s doping positive at the 2007 edition. It is unclear, for now, if Nibali may face a similar situation.

“The impact on the team could be quite serious. I don’t want to say any more than that at this stage, because it’s ongoing,” Cookson said.

Nibali has been taciturn. He recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “It’s been taken very badly. You know how I think about doping. Anyone who tries to be clever like that is an imbecile,” Nibali said. “Will there be consequences for Astana’s WorldTour license? I don’t know.”

UCI at odds with MPCC?

Astana, and a passel of other teams, belong to the MPCC, or the Movement for Credible Cycling. The teams volunteer to be part of the organization, which has a stricter anti-doping policy in some cases than the UCI. Astana, for example, was forced to self-suspend from Oct. 10-17 in light of two doping positives in a 12-month period, per MPCC rules. If the team were not a MPCC member, its riders could have raced the final Tour of Beijing, which they sat out. In another instance, American Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) sat out his attempted defense of the Vuelta a España, due to an MPCC conflict.

Horner, who was treated with cortisone after suffering from bronchitis during the Tour de France, acquired a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the UCI and was given the all-clear to race the Vuelta. Lampre, however, is a member of the MPCC, and when it became known that Horner’s cortisol levels were lower than the minimum, the team took Horner out of its Vuelta roster on a “complete voluntary decision,” it said in a statement.

“I think it’s unfortunate,” Cookson said of the MPCC and UCI contrasts. “Let’s be clear. At the end of the day the UCI’s rules are the rules that go into the sport; the MPCC is a voluntary organization that has guidelines for its members. If those guidelines put any team or individual on conflict with the UCI’s rules, then it’s still the UCI’s rule that apply. So in the case of Astana, the MPCC rules forced them to miss the Tour of Beijing. That’s been referred to the disciplinary commission of the UCI, and they will make a judgment on the matter in due course. But missing a WorldTour event puts them in contravention of the regulations, and there are consequences for that.”

Astana is the third team to suspend itself under MPCC rules; Ag2r-La Mondiale had to sit out the the 2013 Critérium du Dauphiné, and RusVelo didn’t start last year’s Giro dell’Appennino.