Cycling's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), renewed Astana’s WorldTeam licence in December after an extended review. With the licence, the team in turquoise that includes 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, is able to take part in all the top races automatically.
The Kazakh team suffered from five doping cases: three came from its continental feeder team and two came from its professional team. Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO after helping Nibali win the Tour. His brother Valentin also tested positive for the same banned blood booster.
Astana manager Alexandre Vinokourov says "We want to erase every doubt and respect the rules" as teams starts Dubai Tour
"It's a very unfortunate situation for everyone and definitely not satisfying how things went," team Giant-Alpecin's Kittel said when asked about his comments on team Astana in December.
"I hope that they will change that in the future to be able to react in a different way in case that happens again."
President Brian Cookson told Cycling Weekly that he preferred to renew the team's licence rather than "to put our organisation and sport at risk by taking a decision that would be challenged legally".
The UCI faced and lost a legal challenge in 2013. Its commission refused Katusha's licence for ethical problems in 2012. The Russian team appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and forced the UCI to accept it for the 2013 WorldTour.
Reports leaked at the same time that 17 former Astana cyclists, including current General Manager Alexandre Vinokourov, were part of a doping inquiry in Padua, Italy. It centred on banned doctor Michele Ferrari, who was also allegedly photographed at Astana’s November 2013 training camp.
Kittel took to Twitter after the decision and the Ferrari reports.
"I really hope that the recent changes at the UCI & the new trust in @BrianCooksonUCI pay off after all the bad doping news," he wrote.
"I hope that they will show strength with a decision that protects clean riders & underlines our call for a credible anti-doping fight. There can't be any tolerance for a doping system especially like the one from the Padova investigation.”
"They were, of course, under pressure that if they took a decision, they would lose in a legal case to a team that would appeal the decision," said Kittel.
"The most important thing is that we saw that the rules are not strict enough. I hope that they will change the rules to be able to react in a different way."
Astana could still suffer. The 550-page case summary from the Padua investigation was passed over to the UCI and into the hands of its licence commission. In addition, the report from the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) is due at the end of February. Both the dossier and commission report could create problems for Astana.
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