The UCI is asking its Licence Commission to revoke Astana's 2015 ProTeam licence is revoked. Cycling's world governing body made the announcement today having seen the results of the audit done on the team by the the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).
Should the Licencing Commission comply with the UCI's request Astana will lose its WorldTour place and in all probability its spot in most of cycling's most prestigious races including the Tour de France - which Astana rider Vincenzo Nibali won last year.
The news not only casts huge doubt over the future of Nibali, but also riders such as up and coming Italian star Fabrizio Aru, and former Tour of Britain winner Lars Boom, winner of the cobbled stage of the Tour de France last year.
The governing body's action also acts as a response to critics of UCI president Brian Cookson, who stood accused of failing to tackle doping within the sport when Astana was belatedly granted its licence to participate in this year's WorldTour last December.
At the time, Cookson made clear that Astana was, in effect, "on probation" and that any repeat of the doping issues that led to the Licence Commission reviewing its licence in the first place would lead to the issue being looked at again.
With any decision not to grant a licence to Astana almost certain to see the Kazakh outfit, managed by Alexander Vinokourov, appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Cookson also underlined in December that the Licence Comission's actions needed to have a solid legal basis.
He said: “I am determined that we do deal with this situation under the UCI rules, under the WADA code and under the legal constraints that would see us have to defend the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport or anywhere else."
The decision to grant Astana a licence was also provisional on the outcome of the ISSUL's audit of the team, which has found "a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground."
Further damning evidence was provided by the Italian authorities who gave the UCI access to information gained by the Padova investigation into organised, systematic doping in professional cycling.
The decision to review Astana's application for a 2015 WorldTour licence came after two of its riders, the bothers Maxim and Valnetin Iglinskiy, tested positive for EPO last August.
The team insisted that they were acting on their own, but the situation escalated after it emerged that three members of its UCI Continental development squad had also tested positive for banned substances.
The spectre of doping has never been far from Astana, which was founded in 2007.That year, Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion during the Tour de France, and the entire squad was thrown off the race.
Alberto Contador joined Astana for the following season, but was unable to defend the Tour de France title he won in 2007 due to Astana being excluded from the race.
In 2009, Lance Armstrong chose to make his comeback with Astana, reuniting him with former US Postal manager Johan Bruyneel.
In its Reasoned Decision following the handing of a lifetime ban to the seven-time Tour de France winner, the United States Anti Doping Agency insisted he had been doping while at the Kazakh team and stripped him of his third place in the 2009 Tour de France.
That edition was won by his team mate Contador, who was still with Astana when he defended his title the following year and retained the yellow jersey, only to have it taken off him in early 2012 following a protracted legal battle as a result of his testing positive for clenbuterol late in the race.
Meanwhile, an appeal by the UCI against the decision of the Czech anti-doping agency not to sanction Tinkoff-Saxo rider Roman Kreuziguer for alleged irregularities in his biological passport during his time with Astana is still ongoing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The UCI has not given a timeframe for the Licence Commission's decision, and has said it will make no further comment until it has been made.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) today confirms that it has now reviewed the audit produced by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) (1) on Astana Pro Team and its anti-doping culture, policies, structures and management systems. The audit was one of the conditions attached to the registration of the team in the 2015 UCI WorldTour.
After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission (2) and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn.
The UCI considers that the ISSUL audit has, among other things, revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground.
In addition, the Italian authorities have provided the UCI with the sections of the Padova investigation which it has been authorized to share. As some evidence concerns Astana Pro Team members, the file has been passed to the Licence Commission as part of this referral. .
For the sake of due process, the UCI is not in a position to comment further on the content of the audit report, nor the Padova investigation, until the Licence Commission has assessed the situation and rendered its decision. But this decision to refer the matter to the Licence Commission was reached taking all circumstances and potential consequences into consideration.
The UCI will not make any further comment until the Licence Commission has rendered its decision.
Background to the ISSUL audit
The ISSUL audit was one of the conditions attached to the registration of Astana Pro Team in 2015. It was commissioned by the Licence Commission in December 2014 to look into the circumstances of doping cases in Astana Pro Team last year. The ISSUL audit has sought to determine whether and to what extent the Astana Pro Team and/or its management was responsible in doping cases concerning its riders, Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy (EPO), and Ilya Davidenok (anabolic steroids), a trainee with the Astana Pro Team since August 1st, 2014.
The ISSUL was asked to 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.
(1) The Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL), attached to the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences is a centre of excellence in training and research. The ISSUL produces numerous works, published in journals and publishers of reference, dealing with different aspects of sport practice (sociology, physiology, biomechanics etc). The institute often carries out assignments on behalf of national and international organisations.
(2) The Licence Commission is the competent body for issuing, reviewing, withdrawing and attaching conditions to UCI WorldTour licences and ensuring that licence-holders continuously comply with the terms of the licence. It is made up of 4 professionals who work independently of the UCI and its President is Mr. Pierre Zappelli, a former Swiss Court Supreme Judge.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.