Vincenzo Nibali must be viewing the latest chapter in the Astana saga and wondering whether he will make it to the Tour de France in July to defend his title.

The 30-year-old Italian will, like the rest of us, have learned this morning that his team’s WorldTour licence is likely to be revoked by the Union Cycliste Internationale’s Licence Commission, meaning the team has no automatic right to race in the world’s top cycling events, including the Tour de France. So far, Nibali has not issued a comment.

It is possible that if the evidence collected by Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne during its audit of the team is utterly damning, then Astana could disband entirely, leaving Nibali, the other riders and team staff with no jobs.

With the 2015 season already in full swing, there are very few teams – if any at all – with the necessary budget to take on Nibali, let alone his trainer and valued support riders and staff. He’d also have to find a team with a big budget that doesn’t already have its own Tour contender, and that narrows his options down considerably.

Whilst there will be disappointment for Nibali, there cannot be surprise. Well before Nibali joined Astana in 2013 the team had frequently been at the centre of controversy, not least the squad’s removal from the 2007 Tour de France after Alexandre Vinokourov – now Astana manager – tested positive for blood doping. The following year, Tour organiser ASO refused to invite the team.

>>> UCI requests for Licence Commission to withdraw Astana licence

There is a possibility, therefore, that even if Astana loses its WorldTour licence, but successfully appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have it reinstated, that ASO will still not let them start the Tour de France, just as it did in 2008. The Tour is, after all, its event. Equally, if Astana is demoted to Professional Continental status, like Europcar, then it could be invited as a wildcard. But that seems unlikely. There are a lot of ifs and buts.

To his credit, Nibali has previously been quick to air his disgust and distance himself from the doping positives within Astana, saying that he was in a ‘rage’ when he heard of Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy’s positive tests for EPO. Nibali and his people have operated like a team-within-a-team at Astana, and he could successfully argue that he has had little to do with the overall team’s culture.

It’s not over yet for Nibali, but time is running out for him to secure his place at this year’s Tour de France one way or another. With the variables dictating Astana’s fate likely to chop and change many times over the coming weeks, Nibali needs to put a firm plan in motion to ensure he is on the start line in Utrecht on July 4.

  • Thomas Raba

    Well, I wouldn’t say that he (Nibali) has never performed as a superman. During the tour 2006 Armstrong finished 4 hours earlier than Nibali in 2014 (with just 100km more in 2006). He has been pretty lucky last tour, but I don’t see him as a doping king like Armstrong

  • Burt Fleming

    Thought the same thing, unfortunately… This sounds so much like the Lance Armstrong days of ‘no positive tests’ but riders (former teammates or rivals) getting popped left and right for doping.

    Hope Nibali is clean, he’s a great rider!

  • SonOfTheIsles

    I always wondered why Nibali couldn’t beat Wiggo in the 2012 Tour de France and then a year later turned into Superman, having moved from Liquigas to Astana.

  • James Cooper

    Did Vinukorov, the Astana team and the Kazakhstan government have wind of this – or was Vino’s resignation as an ambassador for the 2022 Olympics just a co-incidence?
    Perhaps Kazakhstan are now realising that the likes of Vinokourov detract from, rather than enhance, the reputation of their country.

    Vincenzo – use this as an opportunity to find pastures new – even if less well paid.

  • Bob Smith

    yes badly advised and very greedy….

  • dave

    If he did not know what he was getting into by chasing the money at Astana or was badly advised what is there to say other than Ambition versus Greed