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Although the UCI Licence Commission is scheduled to meet on April 2 to determine the fate of the Astana team, De Telegraaf has claimed that the decision has already been finalised and that the squad will lose its WorldTour licence.
The Dutch publication credits what it termed a senior person within the UCI as revealing that the decision was taken on March 20, two days before Milan-Sanremo.
It claims that Astana will only be allowed apply for a Continental licence, thus ruling it out of all of the top races.
It had however been expected that the decision would only be made after April 2.
The Licence Commission has reportedly invited team managers, doctors and riders to come and answer questions before a panel on that date. CyclingTips understands that this remains the case, raising questions about the latest news [note – see update below].
March 20 was the deadline for the team to submit documents in defence.
If De Telegraaf’s story is confirmed, it would mean that Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, would not be able to defend his title this July. The news would be a major blow to the team.
In the event that Astana is indeed downgraded, it remains to be seen if it would have to reduce its roster size. The squad currently has 30 riders; Continental teams are limited to 16 riders, with this number expandable to 20 riders if the extra four are drawn from other disciplines such as cyclocross, mountainbike or track.
In addition to that, current UCI rules require that the majority of riders on a Continental team are under 28 years of age.
If the team is demoted the UCI could opt to waive these rules as it would otherwise mean that the team would have to released contracted riders.
The team came under scrutiny last autumn when it emerged that the brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy had both tested positive for EPO in August. The situation was exacerbated for the team when one if its stagiaries, Kazakhstan’s national champion Ilya Davidenok, was found to have traces of anabolic androgenic steroids in his system.
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.
In December the UCI’s Licence Commission gave a probational WorldTour licence to the team, but stressed that licence was subject to certain 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 audit was paid for by the team.
On February 26 the UCI said that upon studying the results of that inquiry, that it had decided to ask its Licence Commission to strip the team of its WorldTour licence.
“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.”
It was subsequently stated that the Licence Commission would meet April 2 over the matter, but if De Telegraaf is correct in its claims, that meeting is a foregone conclusion and the team is already set for demotion.
CyclingTips has sought a reaction from both the UCI and Astana. The team has declined to comment at this point in time, while the governing body has not yet responded.
Astana previously indicated that it will take a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport if it is stripped of its WorldTour licence.