Tour de France champion, Vincenzo Nibali wasn’t short of words for UCI president Brian Cookson when asked about team Astana’s licence situation recently. With a decision on the team’s licence by the Licence Commission expected as early as this week Nibali’s Tour defence hangs in the balance.
Cycling’s governing body requested that its licence commission strip the Kazakh team of its WorldTour status following the 2014 doping cases and an independent audit by the University of Lausanne. Following Nibali’s Tour win, two riders from the team failed a test for EPO while three from the continental team with the same Astana name were caught using steroids.
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“Cookson has expressed himself in interviews many times and says that he wants what’s best for cycling, but I’ve never seen him at the races,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
“Since the Tour, I’ve not heard from him and this is may be the thing that’s missing the most. I think he should talk more, create dialogue, not only with me but with all the cyclists.”
Cookson visits races while juggling his other responsibilities as president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). He was spotted at the track worlds in Paris and at Belgium’s Ghent-Wevelgem in March.
This week, he attended the SportAccord convention in Sochi, Russia. He spoke about Astana’s licence situation during his downtime.
“I hope for a decision ideally this week,” Cookson told AFP. “I don’t have a final date, but the sooner the better.”
Astana’s team officials, including disgraced former cyclist and current general manager Alexander Vinokourov, are due to face the Licence Commission again on Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, over an audit this winter.
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La Gazzetta reported that the second hearing may not take place, however, because the commission could already have enough in hand to rule whether or not Astana should keep its WorldTour licence.
The audit’s findings were not made public, but it appeared to be bad news given the UCI’s request to strip Astana’s licence.
Nibali, depending on an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), could be forced to skip the Tour if Astana do not have a licence to race at cycling’s highest level.
The Italian’s participation is up in the air after the actions of his Kazakh teammates and the reported links of 17 former Astana cyclists, including Vinokourov, to an inquiry centred on doping doctor Michele Ferrari in Padua, Italy.
Regardless of the decision, Cookson said the UCI had sent “a really strong, powerful signal, not just to Astana, but to other teams as well, that this has to stop. We cannot have multiple doping cases from one team in a year.”
The situation has not helped the team in turquoise as it prepares for the Tour de France and its other objectives.
“It’s clear that the situation is stressful,” Nibali continued.
“Everyone asks me, everyone wants to know. There’s only one thing to know: I am and I’ll stay a cyclist with Astana, and I’m convinced that we will get to the end of the season.”