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Responding to the UCI’s stated request to its Licence Commission to withdraw Astana’s WorldTour licence, the team has indicated that it will fight the decision before that commission and may also take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The statement raises the prospect of a battle between the team of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali and cycling’s governing body.
“Astana Pro Team has received confirmation from the Union Cycliste International of their receipt of results from the recent audit by the Institute of Sport and Science at the University of Lausanne, and the subsequent transfer of those results to the Independent License Commission,” said the team in a statement.
“Astana Pro Team will consult with its attorneys to prepare documents and testimony before the Independent License Commission.
“Astana Pro Team will reserve its rights pending due process at the Independent License Commission to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport following the scheduled procedure.”
If the matter goes to CAS, Astana will hope to convince that court to overturn the UCI’s decision, much as it did with the Katusha team prior to the 2013 season. However the circumstances are different and it is not clear if the team will succeed.
The Kazakh squad ran into problems after five riders – divided between its WorldTour team and its Continental squad – tested positive in the past seven months.
The first three were the brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy, who both tested positive for EPO in August, plus WorldTour team stagiaire Ilya Davidenok. He had started the year as a member of the Astana Continental team.
Those cases led the UCI to ask its Licence Commission to undertake a review of the WorldTour team’s licence.
Two more riders from the Continental squad, Artur Fedosseyev and Victor Okishev, subsequently also tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids.
The five riders all waived the right to a B sample analysis, thus effectively accepting the accuracy of the A sample result.
The UCI requested its Licence Commission study the matter. While that commission granted the team a probational licence in December, that licence was subject to several conditions.
Once of those was that the team would be independently audited by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) to determine “to what extent the team and or/its management is responsible of the recent events.”
It said that the audit would also seek to “assess the team’s internal structures, culture and management systems to understand whether these are adequate to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld.”
The UCI recently received the results of that audit and, in its communication earlier today, made clear that the outcome was not good for the team.
“After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn,” it stated then.
“The UCI considers that the ISSUL audit has, among other things, revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground.
“In addition, the Italian authorities have provided the UCI with the sections of the Padova investigation which it has been authorized to share. As some evidence concerns Astana Pro Team members, the file has been passed to the Licence Commission as part of this referral.”
The Padova investigation is a large inquiry carried out by Italian authorities, looking into the activities of the banned doping doctor Michele Ferrari and others.
Ferrari previously worked with the team’s general manager Alexandre Vinokourov when he was a rider, including prior to Vinokourov’s positive test for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France.
Media reports in recent months claimed that Ferrari attended an Astana team training camp in the autumn of 2013, something the team disputes. There are also claims that he may have trained several of its riders.
Further details are likely to emerge over time, particularly if the situation does end up before CAS.
However, unlike the Katusha situation, the UCI will hope that if that court is ultimately involved, that the ISSUL audit plus the Padova documents will see CAS arriving at a different decision and backing the governing body.