Team Katusha, the Russian squad that fought the UCI to preserve its 2013 WorldTour license, is facing a potential suspension from pro cycling’s highest ranks after a second positive drug test in 12 months.
The UCI reported Friday that Russian rider Eduard Vorganov tested positive for Meldonium, a hormone and metabolic modulator, in a sample collected during an out-of-competition control on January 14, 2016.
Meldonium, also known as Mildronate, was placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list on January 1.
Produced in Latvia to treat angina and myocardial infarction, Meldonium is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.
It’s the second adverse analytical finding for a Katusha rider in 12 months, following Luca Paolini’s positive result for cocaine during an in-competition control at the 2015 Tour de France.
Per UCI anti-doping rule article 7.12.1, Katusha now faces a potential suspension of 15-45 days, as determined by its Disciplinary Commission.
In a statement, the UCI said that it will “refer the matter to the Disciplinary Commission, which will render a decision in the coming days.”
A 45-day suspension would mean the team of classics specialist Alexander Kristoff would miss Milano-Sanremo, while Spanish stage-racer Joaquim Rodriguez would miss Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya.
UCI rules state that once a decision is rendered, it is “immediately enforceable and cannot be appealed, neither by the team nor by individual team members.”
However, Katusha may file a request to have the suspension lifted.
In order for that to happen, the team would need to establish three things: 1. At least one of the two anti-doping violations has no reasonable prospect of being upheld; 2. at least one rider bears no fault or negligence for the anti-doping rule violation asserted; 3. at least one anti-doping rule violation was committed by the rider “with no involvement of any team member or staff, and that the team applied all due diligence and took all measures that could reasonably be expected in order to avoid the commission of anti-doping rule violations.”
Vorganov has the right to request and attend the analysis of the B sample.
In a statement, Katusha said that Meldonium “has never been used by the team in any form and was not provided to the rider by the team,” adding that Vorganov has been suspended from all team activities, effective immediately.
“In the event that Eduard Vorganov took this product on his own initiative, Team Katusha will conduct an investigation as such conduct is in breach of the team’s strict medical and anti-doping internal rules,” the statement read. “With that said, Eduard Vorganov awaits the results of his B sample, and Team Katusha respects and will adhere to the process of the anti-doping authorities and will not comment further at this time.”
Likewise, the UCI concluded its statement saying, “At this stage of the procedure, the UCI will not comment any further on any of these matters.”
Vorganov’s positive test comes during a perilous time for Russian athletes, and sporting organizations. A WADA report in November accused Russia of operating a state-sponsored doping program in track and field and also led to the national anti-doping agency RUSADA being stopped from carrying out tests, following accusations that it covered up drug use by Russian athletes.
Implicated in that report were the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF), the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), and the Russian sports ministry. The Sunday Times alleged that Russian athletes suspected of doping had won 80 percent of Olympic and world championship medals between 2001 and 2012.
Vorganov’s is the eighth doping case for Katusha since its inception in 2009. Others include Christian Pfannberger, Antonio Colom, Alexandr Kolobnev, Denis Menchov, Giampaolo Caruso, Denis Galimzyanov, and Paolini.
Katusha team owner Igor Makarov became one of the wealthiest men in the world after founding gas giant Itera in the early 1990s. The multi-billion dollar empire controls a substantial portion of Russia’s natural gas reserves. In 2008 he bought Oleg Tinkov’s second-division squad and turned it into Katusha, Russia’s only WorldTour team.
Makarov is president of both the Russian federation and the Russian Global Cycling Project, which is known to have a board of officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
Makarov also holds a seat on the UCI’s powerful Management Committee, and was instrumental in unseating former UCI president Pat McQuaid. That relationship soured when the UCI’s License Commission ruled that Katusha should have its 2013 WorldTour License revoked on ethical grounds. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the decision, but Makarov quickly became vocal in his support for Brian Cookson, even going so far as to compiling a dossier of testimonies and allegations of corruption at the UCI under McQuaid.