Team Astana had a rough 12 months with doping cases, licence issues, poor results and cheating. It has paid too high a price, according to its management.
The latest bad news, at a time when its rider Fabio Aru is leading the Vuelta a España, is that the voluntary anti-doping group MPCC kicked the turquoise team out over a Tour de France case.
The Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC) decided on Friday that Astana could no longer be a part of its group after it raced Lars Boom in the Tour despite the Dutchman having low cortisol levels. According to the movement's rules, a team must bench a cyclist for eight days in such a case.
"I'd like to give a message of support for Astana. Not because it's our team, but because in our opinion, Alexandre Vinokourov's is that we did all we could to stay in MPCC," Team Manager Giuseppe Martinelli told Cycling Weekly.
"We paid a high price at the end of the season last year. We weren't able to go races, etc, for what happened."
Last season after winning the Tour de France with Vincenzo Nibali, the team suffered five doping cases – two EPO positives from the top team and three for steroids from its feeder third division team.
Because of the MPCC's rules on multiple doping cases, the team had to pull itself from competition for eight days. It missed the Tour of Beijing and other races.
Cycling's governing body, the UCI, introduced a similar rule over the winter. It still does not have one for low cortisol levels, however. Only MPCC teams, now not including Astana, have to follow that rule.
The MPCC, without Astana, counts eight of the 17 WorldTeams with Ag2r, Cannondale, FDJ, Giant, IAM, Katusha, Lotto-Soudal and Orica. Sky along with Astana, BMC, Etixx-QuickStep, Lampre-Merida, LottoNL-Jumbo, Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing are not members
"Boom at the Tour... We had Alessandro Vanotti arrive as a possible replacement, but we couldn't risk starting the race with only eight riders, one less than nine, because we had Vincenzo Nibali as captain. We made a decision, either A or B, and we went with A. With A, that was going to happen, it's clear, but I'm sorry that they made that decision," Martinelli said.
"We wanted to stay in the MPCC, but the decision was made by them, unfortunately."
Aru leads the Vuelta a España by 26 seconds over Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and 49 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
The team also began the Vuelta with Nibali, but the race jury sent him home for cheating in stage two. He took a long pull from the team car while chasing back from a crash. Nibali wanted to race after a season marked with only one win.
The team needed its big gun. After the doping cases, it nearly lost its racing licence. With the problems, General Manager Alexandre Vinokourov explained at the Tour that a grand tour win is needed. He told Cycling Weekly, "We must win at least one grand tour this season."
The pressure is on young Sardinian Aru. Martinelli said that the recent MPCC should not leave a black mark on his Vuelta ride.
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