Ekimov supports Astana WorldTour licence

Katusha manager believes team should be fined

Katusha team manager Viatcheslav Ekimov believes that it would be wrong of the UCI’ s Licence Commission to strip the Astana team of their WorldTour licence for 2015. The Kazakh outfit must wait until December 10 to find out their fate after a series of doping infractions. If the decision goes against them then it could see them and reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali consigned to fighting for wildcards at major races.

“For me it is not right,” Ekimov told Cyclingnews. “I’ve been thinking whether or not it is the right measure to sanction and suspend the licences for the whole team. If two guys do something on their own and it has been proved that there is no system, no organised programme, I think it isn’t the right decision to take the licence away.”

Ekimov can sympathise with Astana team boss Alexander Vinokourov. In December 2012, the Licence Commission took the decision to deny Katusha entry into the WorldTour on ethical grounds. The team were left with the possibility of losing their top riders, and forced to put in a late request for a Pro Continental licence to allow them to compete at the Tour de San Luis. Katusha did submit a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but the decision didn’t come until mid-February.

“I have been in those shoes and I wouldn’t wish anybody to be in the shoes of Alexander Vinokourov right now,” said Ekimov.

Katusha’s late inclusion meant that 2013 was competed with 19 teams at WorldTour level, rather than the 18 dictated in the regulations. Ekimov is confident that Astana won’t have to follow the same path as his own team but he believes that stripping licences is not the way to go. “I’m convinced that they’re going to be in the WorldTour.”

The former rider added: “The team should pay a huge fine and maybe they should lose their points and their place in the ranking, but never suspend the team. I don’t believe that any team or structure exists that has a doping programme. There could be some individuals taking action but the team has nothing to do with this.”

Europcar are also in doubt for next year’s WorldTour, although their problem is financial rather than ethical. If both were denied licences than it would see the top tier drop to 16 teams, which is the proposed number in the 2017 reforms and would open the door to more wild card entries in the biggest races.

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