A report published by the French anti-doping agency has claimed that Astana enjoyed favouritism from drug testers during the Tour de France. The AFLD has issued a 10-page document detailing how they feel Tour winner Albert Contador and his team-mates received preferential treatment by the International Cyclist Union (UCI) testers.
Among the accusations is the claim that inspectors intervened to allow team riders an extra 45 minutes before testing, as well as the UCI not allowing AFLD doctors to be present at tests to witness the procedure.
"The Astana team benefited from a privileged treatment from the UCI officials," read an extract published in Le Monde.
The report added: "Such a tolerance accorded without real justification does not allow, in the absence of escorts, the perfect regularity of the procedure to be assured, notably that no manipulation was carried out."
The report also accuses the UCI of wrongly labelling some samples as 'out of competition tests' adding that "this error is of course full of serious consequences" given that the list of substances banned 'in competition' is much more comprehensive.
The AFLD has sent the report to the UCI, the world anti-doping agency, the French ministers for health and sport and the Tour's organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).
This year's Tour was supposed to mark a new era in the relationship between the UCI and ASO after a particularly stormy period caused by the UCI's unsuccessful attempt to use the Pro Tour to gain control of the sport's leading races - many of which, including it's crown jewel the Tour de France, are controlled by ASO.
Things reached a nadir between the UCI and ASO at the 2008 Tour which was held under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation rather than the UCI with the AFLD being responsible for testing rather than the UCI, the 2008 Tour like the previous year's for which the AFLD also took responsibility. The then ASO managment vowed not to tolerate cheats at their race and proved equally implacable in their attitudes to the UCI.
However, a change at the top later that year heralded a rapprochement between the two organisations with a definite signal that ASO's new bosses felt all the scandals were damaging their most valuable property. The UCI's critics have long held that it's anti-doping efforts are more to do with limiting damage to the sport's image rather than rooting out doping and that initiatives such as the biological passport are needlessly complex while also being relatively easy to evade. Eyebrows were raised when UCI president Pat McQuaid announced that this year's Tour had been drug free particularly when Mikel Astarloza was revealed to have failed a pre-Tour out of competition test for EPO – Astarloza won a stage at this year's race.
Whether the storm clouds gather again between the ASO and UCI will depend on how the former reacts to the AFLD report, one straw in the wind could be the spat between Tour de France competitions director Jean-Francois Pescheux and Astana over a cup of coffee right at the start of the Tour when the Astana team arrived late to sign on for a stage apparently because Lance Armstrong was having a coffee with the film star Ben Stiller.
Pescheux's call for the UCI to get tough with Astana over their disregard for the rules was given short shrift by McQuaid who said: "I am surprised Jean-Francois Pescheux is asking for it now, why he did not do it before since he is part of the world commission that set the rules."
Given that the AFLD is France's official anti-doping organisation, ASO itself is French and it moved to involve the AFLD in testing at the Tour in the first place a certain amount of both credibility and political capital will be at stake if ASO bosses move to distance themselves from this report, either way any hopes they may have had of a quiet life planning the route for next year's race look to have been dashed.
This one could run all the way until next July.