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Nibali stuck if Astana fails to receive a license

Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali's 2015 season hangs on the decision of the UCI license commission, as Astana's ProTour license under review

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MILAN (VN) — Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali would be in a bind if the UCI refused his Astana team a racing license for the 2015 season. Other teams have already allocated their budgets for the year ahead, meaning the Italian would have very few options available.

“Where would I go this late in the season?” Nibali told VeloNews last week. “It’s absurd. I’m not even going to think about it happening.”

Since the 30-year-old Sicilian won the Tour de France in July, five doping cases have fell into team Astana’s lap. Brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy both tested positive for EPO, and three riders from its third-division feeder team — Ilya Davidenok, Victor Okishev, Artur Fedosseyev — tested positive for steroids.

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, called the doping scandal “an extremely serious situation” that sheds a bad light on the Kazakh teams, staff, and cyclists. Its license commission is reviewing the situation and is due to make a ruling on the renewal at the beginning of next week. If it refuses the team a license, Nibali and his cohorts could be out of work, or they might be stuck racing the UCI Continental circuit, which does not include the three grand tours.

“I could find a team for him in the season, but in December, the teams already have their rosters filled,” Nibali’s agent, Alex Carera told VeloNews.

“It would be a very difficult situation for Vincenzo. You could find him a team, but you would need time to do it. And what about Nibali’s group of teammates, his trainer, and others?”

Nibali began racing in Astana’s turquoise colors in 2013. His contract, reported at 4 million euros a year ($4.91 million), continues through 2016. Only half of cycling’s top 18 teams could afford such a rider and supporting cast. This late in the off-season, all of them already have their rosters filled and their money allocated for 2015.

“He’d need a team with an unlimited budget,” said Belgian Paul De Geyter, agent for cyclists like American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).

“Teams like Lotto have a limited budget and they’ve already used all the money from the sponsors. Even if Nibali would agree to 500,000 euros [$615,000], it’d be hard for them to find sponsors to do that. It’d be the bargain of the year for them if they did, though. Maybe they could agree to a small deal for 2015 with a jump, say to 3 million euros [$3.7 million] for the following years.

“He’d really have to look at teams with unlimited budgets — like Tinkoff-Saxo, BMC, and maybe Sky. I don’t think Tejay [van Garderen] or Contador would be happy to have Nibali in the team, though. BMC has a sponsor, Andy Rihs, who’s directly involved with the team. He could see the opportunity and could put in the money. However, Nibali would be lucky if Rihs or Oleg Tinkov agreed throw money at him.”

Most insiders, however, are saying that Astana, at worst, will receive a second-division license. With the license, it would no longer have an automatic invitations to the big races like the Tour de France, but would have to ask for permission to participate.

“Astana would not have an issue, any organizer would be happy to have Astana on the start,” De Geyter added.

“There are already a limited number of teams in the second-division that can race the top events. Maybe the Tour would refuse Astana, but unless it had a good reason, I doubt the organizer would turn away Nibali’s team.”

Astana was temporarily banned by Tour de France organizer ASO from its events in 2008 due to multiple doping infractions throughout the 2006 and 2007 seasons.