Team Astana cleared one hurdle when it received its WorldTour licence for 2015, but cycling’s president, Brian Cookson warned that the team could lose it before the season begins in earnest based on the Padua investigation.
“They are very much under probation and scrutiny, and they won’t be given another chance,” UCI president Cookson told Cycling Weekly.
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“We want to see what in the Padua files. We are all concerned when we read these revelations in the newspapers, but we can’t take that as evidence, we have to see the files.”
Last night, the UCI renewed Astana’s licence to race in the first division for 2015. It had asked its licence commission to review the Kazakh team’s status after five recent doping cases.
Maxim Iglinskiy, who helped Vincenzo Nibali win the Tour de France in July, tested positive for EPO. His younger brother Valentin also failed an EPO test. Three riders from the team’s continental third division team, also called Astana, failed steroid anti-doping tests.
“It’s still a very troublesome time. It’s a great frustration,” Cookson continued. “There are still people who are not taking seriously the need to bring about a new era of protecting clean athletes.”
Alexandre Vinokourov manages the team. Besides winning the London Olympic road race, he is known for starting Astana in 2006 in the wake of the Operación Puerto doping scandal and failing a blood doping test at the 2007 Tour de France.
Based on documents from a criminal inquiry closed last week in Padua, the La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper reported that the 41-year-old Kazakh worked with banned doctor Michele Ferrari both as a cyclist and as a manager. The sports daily also said that Vinokourov asked for 10 to 12 of his riders to be followed by Ferrari for 2011.
La Gazzetta reported that 17 current and former Astana cyclists, out of 38 total, worked with Ferrari in 2010 and 2011. The riders include Roman Kreuziger, now with Tinkoff-Saxo and Michele Scarponi.
The team and Ferrari deny the report, part of which is now in the hands of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). The CONI already banned Scarponi, Giovanni Visconti and Filippo Pozzato based on the Padua inquiry.
Cookson said that if the new reports are true, the UCI could stop the team in turquoise from racing.
“This is the beginning of the process and not the end of the process. The commission didn’t take into account of the recent revelations from Italy. The UCI has asked the CONI for that file, over 500 pages. We want to see what’s in it,” explained Cookson
“Subjective to what the licence commission might decide, a minimum sanction could be that the team could be reduced to the Pro Continental level and be dependent on wildcards for the WorldTour races. A maximum sanction could be that the team’s licence would be removed all together.”