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IAM Cycling Gets World Tour License; Astana In Purgatory

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The UCI announced its World Tour licensing initial decisions, elevating Swiss continental squad IAM Cycling to the top level, while leaving Astana in licensing limbo over its ethical problems (and Europcar, who require an additional 5% worth of financial assurances to gain approval). All remaining 16 teams met the criteria and will hold World Tour licenses, with IAM Cycling essentially replacing Cannondale for the final spot.

The signal from today's decision could not be clearer. Approving IAM Cycling -- a member of the movement for a credible cycling -- stands in direct opposition to the deferral of approving Astana, a team suddenly riddled with doping problems. Astana saw the Iglinsky brothers dinged along with three riders from its development program, raising serious questions about the management of the team, further complicated by the overarching presence of convicted doper Alexandr Vinokourov. Vino was a popular and fun professional, but was also a Dr. Ferrari client who was eventually busted for blood doping. The sins of the father may not be assumed to the son, but then again, nobody is all that surprised when the son goes bad anyway.

And so it goes with Astana, a team whose reputation may be beyond rescue at this point. Their roots lie with the Liberty Seguros squad, which imploded in the wake of Operacion Puerto. They came to the rescue of the squad for the sake of Vino, but once he was suspended the team took over the remains of the US Postal squad, importing the now-thoroughly-disgraced Johan Bruyneel as well as Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer. They also brought Alberto Contador with them, though Armstrong eventually forced Contador out. Before then, however, the team was barred from the 2008 Tour, notwithstanding the presence of reigning champ Contador, for its myriad Puerto connections. The doping charges continued: Vlad Gusev, Contador, Roman Kreuziger and others have joined the Astana hall of shame prior to this season (though Kreuziger's case occurred after he left).

If I had to guess, I would say that the UCI will let them into the World Tour regardless, dependent on some changes in management or some other assurance/political cover that makes things appear to be on the upswing. To bar them completely would lead to litigation and a messy start to the season, and after failing to block Katusha's license renewal a few years ago, the UCI probably doesn't want to invite a fight unless it is sure it can win.

Anyway, on the positive side, IAM Cycling's promotion will help the sport's reputation (low bar). The team has been on the fringes of World Tour level while competing at the continental step, finishing 19th this past year in both points and victories. To the squad led by Mathias Brandle and Sylvain Chavanel they have added Stef Clement, Jerome Coppel and young climbers Clement Chevrier, Jarlinson Pantano and Larry Warbasse. They aren't likely to ascend to the top of the rankings in 2015, but a slow rise in quality would be a reasonable goal, as well as increased power to sign riders for 2016 and beyond.