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Already facing the scrutiny of the UCI Licence Commission, which will decide whether or not the team should be given a WorldTour licence for 2015, the doping cloud the Astana team is under has darkened with the news that a fourth rider with links to the team has tested positive.
The UCI announced Wednesday that the Kazakhstani rider Victor Okishev has tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids. Okishev is a member of Astana’s Continental team, a feeder squad for the WorldTour outfit, and was tested at the Asian Cycling Championships on May 29 of this year.
He became a stagiaire with the Continental team in August 2013 and graduated to a full contract with the team prior to the start of the 2014 season. His results this year include fourth in the country’s under 23 time trial championships as well as top ten placings on stages of the Vuelta Mexico and the Tour de Korea.
The UCI said that Okishev has been provisionally suspended and has the right to request and attend the analysis of the B sample. If that confirms the A result or if he decides not to have his B sample tested, he could face a lengthy ban.
His team has subsequently issued a statement, including this reaction to the news. “All Continental Team Astana riders and staff are shocked and disappointed by the news that comes from a UCI Press Release this Wednesday, effectively six months after the sample was taken,” it said.
“Continental Team Astana will scrupulously follow all UCI rules and regulations, and continues to follow the additional rules as per its voluntary membership in the MPCC. Currently the team is organizing immediate inquiries into the Okishev case in order to establish an overview of the facts and explanations.”
Astana’s 2014 spate of positives began on September 10 when the UCI confirmed that Valentin Iglinskiy had failed a doping test taken on the opening day of the Eneco Tour on August 11. The A sample had revealed traces of EPO. The rider waived the right to have his B sample tested and was fired from the Astana team.
On October 1st the UCI’s list of provisionally suspended riders revealed that his older brother Maxim Iglinskiy had also failed an A sample test for the same substance.
The former Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Strade Bianche winner was part of Vincenzo Nibali’s Tour de France winning team and was tested on August 1st, one day before he finished 26th in the Clasica San Sebastian.
He too has decided against getting the B sample tested, although not before the Astana team indicated that he would do so and were able to ride Il Lombardia and the Tour of Almaty as a result.
A member of the MPCC anti-doping organisation, the team would otherwise have had to sit out those races under that body’s rules.
On October 16 the UCI revealed that a third rider, Kazakhstan’s national champion Ilya Davidenok, tested positive on August 27, shortly after winning stage four of the Tour de l’Avenir. His A sample analysis revealed the presence of anabolic androgenic steroids.
He has ridden for Astana’s Continental team since January 1 2012, and became a stagiaire with the Astana Pro Team on August 1 of this year. He won the Tour of Qinghai Lake in July and placed eighth in the world under 23 road race championships in September.
Although the latest positive isn’t linked to a rider racing with the WorldTour team, it further enforces claims that the team is either tolerant of doping or simply not doing enough to try to ensure its riders are clean.
The UCI’s Licence Commission assessment will seek to determine if the problem goes beyond the positive riders. It will consider if the team itself should be sanctioned.
That commission met the team on November 6th. It is now assessing documentation in relation to that. CyclingTips understands that recommendations will be given from that commission to the UCI within the next fortnight, after which the decision will be revealed when the UCI publishes the 2015 list of UCI WorldTour teams.