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Astana License Granted; Europcar Denied

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The UCI World Tour have granted a license for the 2015 season to Astana, despite a raft of sensational accusations aimed their way, and denied one to Europcar, in an annoucement today. Europcar's denial was based on the lack of financial assurances. Astana's was granted despite and subject to serious misgivings about the team's ethical foundation.

The UCI took the unusual step of placing Astana's license on de facto probation, ordering the team to submit to an immediate audit of its ethical problems and to commit to internal operating standards set to come online in 2017, and which eight teams have volunteered to implement sooner. Here are the explicit conditions:

  • That the Astana Pro Team is audited by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) (2), an independent body recognised for its expertise in this field. The ISSUL will look into the circumstances of the doping cases at stake to determine whether and to what extent the team and or/its management is responsible of the recent events. Furthermore, it will assess the team’s internal structures, culture and management systems to understand whether these are adequate to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld. It will release its report early February 2015. The audit will be paid for by the Team.
  • That the Astana Pro Team adheres from 2015 to the internal operational requirements (3), which will be compulsory for all UCI World Teams from 2017 as part of the reform of men’s professional road cycling. Astana Pro Team will join a group of eight teams that have volunteered to implement.

But that ain't all. If the ISSUL audit turns up dirt in February, the team will be potentially subject to termination of its license. Also, if another positive happens, the team will be subject to license termination. And, if the Padova investigation contains enough damning information, the team will be subject to license termination.

Translation! Basically, the UCI didn't have enough at this time to terminate, and are taking an innocent-til-proven approach, while simultaneously forcing the launch of a hunt for that proof and announcing in advance what sanction they can expect if anything is turned up. Timing says that although the Iglinsky positives are established, the whispers that have grown to a roar in the past week were not established in the timeframe in which the UCI's World Tour licensing process operates (think for a second about all the financial commitments behind a WT team who need to know, like, yesterday, thatnext season is a go). Timing is everything in life, and timing has allowed Astana to skate by. But the ice gets very, very thin, and I would be willing to bet they fall through before the next year is out.

As for Europcar, they'll be OK, and the financial requirements are something where you can't expect the UCI to bend the rules. I don't know them well enough but my sense is they are pretty clear (as opposed to the amorphous "sporting criteria") and if Europcar can't meet them, it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone involved at least. Being a French team late of the WT means they are nearly guaranteed a Tour de France start, which means their bills will be paid at the discounted Pro-Conti rate. They'll be fine.

Padova Investigation

Closely related to Astana's fate is the continued investigation by Italian police into the relationship of various riders to Dr. Michele Ferrari, the notorious doping doc behind Lance Armstrong and many others. Anyone seen having a relationship to Ferrari can expect to get the boot, and a list of 38 names connected to the investigation has been released or leaked or something. As you can see, several of them have an Astana connection. Vincenzo Nibali is not one of them, which is a relief of sorts. But the list is troubling nonetheless. And as further details come in with respect to Astana, it's this investigation which could see the team go under. Here are the names released:

  • Leonardo Bertagnolli
  • Simone Boifava
  • Diego Caccia
  • Enrico Franzoi
  • Marco Frapporti
  • Omar Lombardi
  • Fabrizio Macchi
  • Marco Marcato
  • Andrea Masciarelli
  • Francesco Masciarelli
  • Simone Masciarelli (family rate?)
  • Daniele Pietropolli
  • Morris Possoni
  • Filippo Pozzato (crap!)
  • Alessandro Proni
  • Michele Scarponi
  • Francesco Tizza
  • Giovanni Visconti
  • Ricardo Pichetta
  • Andrea Vaccher
  • Mauricio Ardila
  • Volodymyr Bileka
  • Borut Bozic
  • Maxim Gourov
  • Vladimir Gusev
  • Valentin Iglinskiy
  • Sergei Ivanov
  • Vladimir Karpets
  • Aleksander Kolobnev
  • Dimitri Kozontchuk
  • Roman Kreuziger (I'm innocent!)
  • Denis Menchov
  • Evgeni Petrov
  • Yaroslav Popovych
  • José Joaquin Rojas
  • Ivan Rovny
  • Egor Silin
  • Alexandre Vinokourov.