UCI taking cautious approach with Astana’s license

UCI President Brian Cookson says the threat of legal action played a role in the decision to give Astana a 2015 license

MILAN (VN) — Cycling’s governing body is being careful to avoid a wasteful legal fight with team Astana. UCI President Brian Cookson explained that he would only want the UCI to refuse the team’s 2015 racing license if it felt that its reasoning would stand up in court.

“I know that whatever happens,” Cookson told VeloNews, “that those with resources will challenge whatever decision we make.”

Last Wednesday, after a drawn-out review, the UCI awarded Astana a WorldTour racing license for 2015. With the license, Astana is automatically able to participate in all of the big races next season, including the Tour de France.

Cookson and the UCI raised their eyebrows with concern in the months following Astana’s Tour win with Vincenzo Nibali in July.

The Kazakh team in turquoise produced five doping cases. Nibali’s Tour helper Maxim Iglinskiy failed an anti-doping control for EPO in August. His brother Valentin failed a control for the same drug. Three riders from Astana’s Continental team, which also races in turquoise and with the name Astana, were caught using steroids.

The team reasoned that it only had two doping cases on its hands because it has nothing to do with the third-division team. It further added that since the Iglinskiy brothers probably shared their secrets, it was really only looking at one problem.

Others pointed to the past problems related to the team and general manager Alexandre Vinokourov. “Vino” began the team in 2006 and saw it travel down a rocky road. Along the way, Vinokourov blood doped, Johan Bruyneel managed the team with Lance Armstrong on the roster, and Alberto Contador lost his Tour title after a failed drug test.

However, the UCI’s license commission last week had to consider the 2014 Astana professional team and not the past or the feeder team that is registered separately. Also, the last time the body went to battle over a license, it lost.

The commission withheld Katusha’s license for similar ethical problems in 2012. The Russian team in red had doping cases and several management changes that saw Viatcheslav Ekimov put in charge. Ekimov, who raced with Lance Armstrong, is allegedly Rider-11 in the USADA’s investigation in Armstrong.

Katusha appealed the decision to sport’s high court, the CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland. The court ruled in the team’s favor and forced the UCI to accept Katusha into the 2013 WorldTour.

Vinokourov said before Wednesday’s decision that if the UCI refused Astana a license, he would follow in Katusha’s footsteps and appeal to the CAS. Keeping the Katusha case in mind and Vinokourov’s promise to challenge, the UCI wanted to make sure it had a legally tight case if it were to take such a step.

“To be honest, taking the fight to the CAS is not really the issue,” Cookson said.

“I’m not prepared to put our organization and sport at risk by taking a decision that would be challenged legally.

“We have to make sure that when we take decisions that they are ones that can stand up to those challenges.”

The challenge may still come.

In recent days, Italian media leaked information from the Padua criminal investigation that allegedly shows banned doctor Michele Ferrari worked with the team in 2010 and 2011, and visited it at a November 2013 training camp.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that investigators photographed Ferrari, who was barred for life after the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, talking to members of the Astana team at its camp in Montecatini Terme, Italy.

Cookson added that the UCI is waiting to see the files from the Padua inquiry. If the allegations are true, the UCI could revoke Astana’s license and take on any possible legal challenges.