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Commenting as the ongoing Astana scenario rumbles on, one of the team’s top riders Jakob Fuglsang has said that he and other riders on the team are prepared to go to the courts if the UCI strips the team of its licence and the team ultimately stops.
“I have not done anything wrong, so if UCI take my job away from me, so I think it ends up in a lawsuit,” Fuglsang told Ekstra Bladet.
“If the team loses its license, it is likely that our sponsors withdraw, as they probably will not sponsor a team without access to the big races.
“Then us riders will suddenly be in a situation where we are from one day to the other without work.
“If that happens, then I expect a lawsuit from all the riders’ side against UCI, as is the UCI which has taken away our work, and it’s up to the UCI to cover our losses.”
The Astana squad has been under scrutiny since 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 began the season as part of the Astana Continental team; two more riders from that squad subsequently also tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids, Artur Fedosseyev and Victor Okishev.
The five riders all waived the right to a B sample analysis, thus effectively accepting the accuracy of the A sample result.
Although the team was given a probational WorldTour licence last December, that was subject to several conditions including an independent audit by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).
After analysing the results of the audit, the UCI said on February 26 that it had decided to ask its Licence Commission to strip the team of its WorldTour licence.
A hearing was held earlier this month, with ISSUL representatives plus those from the UCI and the Astana team speaking before the Licence Commission. The UCI subsequently indicated that the matter is pending and that no further comment would be made; according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, that hearing lasted nine hours and the president of the Licence Commission Pierre Zappelli decided to give the team further time to prepare more documents plus evidence.
It is thought that another hearing will be held next Friday, April 24.
Fuglsang said that he assumes all the team will stand together if there is a threat to their jobs.
However he also told Ekstra Bladet that he believed that a likely appeal would mean that the riders could continue racing.
“I will say that I personally do not have the great fear that we will lose the license,” he said. “And should that happen, so I dare say that the team will immediately appeal to CAS.
“So far, I have understood, we can continue to race while the case is heard there. Looking at how long the CAS takes to reach a decision – including the Roman Kreuziger case – then there is probably no reason to fear that we will miss races this season.”
In that case it would seem that Vincenzo Nibali would be able to defend his Tour de France title, even if the UCI’s Licence Commission decides to strip the licence. The one exception to this would be if Tour organisers ASO decided that having the team in its race was a threat to its image and made its own decision to block the squad.
That too would likely end up before CAS, though, and give the team further time to play with.