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.
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.