The UCI?s ProTour Licence Committee have decided that Manolo Saiz?s company, Active Bay, will no longer form part of the ProTour. In the same communique the UCI also announced that Unibet.com – which has British rider Jeremy Hunt in their line-up, along with Tour stage winners Baden Cooke and Jimmy Casper – have been granted a licence following a two-year wait.
But the most dramatic news undoubtably concerned Saiz, one of the founders of the ProTour along with former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, and now excluded from cycling?s top league. Following Saiz?s implication in the major anti-doping investigation codenamed Operacion Puerto this May , Saiz?s sponsor, Astana, has opted to bypass the Spaniard for 2007 and set up a new team for next season, based in Switzerland and run by former rider?s agent Marc Biver.
The Swiss-based Astana may still have problems becoming the 20th ProTour team. Their application has already been rejected once, and Biver has claimed the latest documents requested by the UCI have been lost in the Swiss post.
For Saiz, the non-renewal of his ProTour licence means he will almost certainly retire from cycling management. At the same time the Spanish based version of Astana – formerly the powerful ONCE squad of the 1990s, and then sponsored for 18 months by American company Liberty Seguros – will disappear.
In the same communique, the UCI struck back at the three major stage race organisers announcement on Wednesday that they are leaving the ProTour and will no longer automatically acccept the ProTour teams in any of their events. ?Their recent declarations are a flagrant violation of the regulations. All ProTour teams must take part in ProTour races.? the UCI stated.