Alberto Contador said yesterday that he is hoping for a swift decision regarding Astana's 2010 ProTour status. However, the winner of the Tour de France could face a wait of several weeks before the International Cycling Union (UCI) decides if Astana's ProTour licence is renewed.
The Kazakh-sponsored team currently holds a licence valid until the end of next year, but this has been under review due to financial shortcomings during the 2009 season. While the financial side of things appear to have been resolved, there are other issues that need to be assessed and verified by the UCI before the team is certain of remaining part of cycling's top league.
"Some weeks ago we sent the Kazakh federation a series of deadlines that they have to meet in order to retain the ProTour licence," UCI president Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews. "The first deadline was at the beginning of September when they had to pay the registration fee, which has been done.
Johan Bruyneel ran the team for the past two seasons, but he is leaving at the end of the season and will manage Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team. He took over from Marc Biver, who helped set up the team but who left following a series of positive tests in 2007.
Once cause for concern are rumours that Alexander Vinokourov, who recently returned to racing following a two year ban for blood doping, might retire and take over the running of the team. The UCI is concerned enough to request details of who exactly will be in charge.
"When I hear rumours of Vinokourov being the manager of the team, then it is certainly not going to be the case that they would keep the licence," said McQuaid.
"The UCI is very concerned by one rumour [of Vinokourov managing the team]," said UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf. "We have asked them confirm what will be the composition of the team for next year, who will run it, whether it will meet all the required ProTour standards, including ethics."
The UCI currently lacks specific rules barring those who have served suspensions from running teams, according to Rumpf. However, he said the broad guidelines about the ethical requirements for a licence would cover this scenario.
Series of requirements
McQuaid points to Astana's past as the reason why it needs a proper structure. "We won't accept any old management team," he said. "This is a team that has had difficulties over years, so it is one that needs tight and strict control."
The UCI provided a list of requirements for the licence holders to fulfil before it gives the final green light for 2010. All teams holding a ProTour licence are required to show compliance on an annual basis.
Astana's financial shortfalls earlier this year and the uncertainty about who is in control will bring the team under extra scrutiny.
Contador said yesterday that he needs to be sure that things are rock solid and that he won't miss out on any important races as a result. "I missed the 2008 Tour de France with this team and that is something that I don't want repeated.
"We don't know who is leading Astana, that's why I have some doubts. That's my main problem."
While the Spaniard wants a quick resolution, it appears that he is going to have to be patient while the UCI goes through the verification steps with Astana. "If they miss some of the deadlines in the interim, then immediately we will start to process a procedure to remove the licence," said McQuaid.
Contador's dilemma, Wiggins' wait
The difficulty for Contador, just over three months before the start of a new year, he is unsure about where he will ride in 2010. His brother and agent Francisco confirmed to Cyclingnews that many teams have shown an interest, including Caisse d'Epargne, Garmin-Slipstream and Quick Step. However, he still has a year left under his Astana contract and, aware that his presence is a likely ticket for entry to major races, Astana are unwilling to let him go.
Contador lacks a buy-out clause in his contract and it locks him into the team. While not speaking specifically about Contador, the McQuaid said that such agreements are binding.
"We will allow a contract to be dissolved provided that the old team and the new team can come to an agreement on the transfer of the rider. In that case we will accept it," said McQuaid. "But if a rider breaks a contract and then thinks he can go to a new team, we won't allow that."
The same principle would also apply to Bradley Wiggins, who media links with the new Sky team despite another year in his contract with Garmin-Slipstream. Some British media reported yesterday that the transfer was a done deal, but his Garmin-Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughters has denied it.
As the Briton is currently the team's top classification rider, it is obvious that Garmin-Slipstream will do what it can to keep him. That could change if Contador decided to move to the US ProTour squad.
McQuaid told Cyclingnews yesterday that if Astana loses its ProTour licence, it is likely that the team would stop. In theory, this could facilitate Contador's move. But, under the current time scale discussed by the UCI, it could be several weeks before that ProTour licence is either confirmed or withdrawn.
In the meantime Contador will have to watch and wait before he knows exactly where he will be racing in 2010.