Evan Huffman will leave Team Astana at the end of the season having signed a contract with the US domestic SmartStop squad and the American rider has given a measured response to the recent doping situation the his current team finds themselves in with their license under review.
Both Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO, and llya Davidenok, who was part of the Continental Team Astana squad, returned a positive sample for an anabolic androgenic steroid at the Tour de l'Avenir.
The run of positive tests saw the team remove themselves from the Tour of Beijing as part of their adherence to the MPCC rules. In mid-October the UCI confirmed that the independent commission would review the WorldTour team's licence.
"I was pretty disappointed, personally, not to race Beijing as I had put a lot of training and work into that. Since then I've not really cared too much because the season is over and I'm switching teams, and in a way it's not my problem anymore. I don't have anything revelatory to add but I was surprised and disappointed, like a lot of the guys are [with the positive tests ed. ] I didn't expect that to happen, especially with multiple guys and in such quick succession," Huffman told Cyclingnews.
Huffman signed for Astana on a two-year deal after a promising stint at U23 level. In his eyes the team has fought hard to improve its image and the public perception that surrounds them over the issue of doping.
"When I joined the team my perception was that they had a strong stance against doping. Of course I knew that they had a history with Vinokourov having served a ban and now managing the team but I don't think that’s unique at all in the current peloton, if you try and find a team without a rider or a staff member that hasn't in some way been linked or caught up in doping," he said.
"I felt Astana were trying their best to move forward and that's the line we got from day one at the team camp. They wanted a strict anti-doping policy and said that doping wouldn't be tolerated. They joined the MPCC and they looked to work hard at following the rules, as difficult as it has been recently for them. I guess my perception is still the same. I got to know some of the riders on the team really well and I feel confident that the vast majority of the guys are clean and always have been and always will be; the same with the majority of the peloton."
The UCI has yet to announce the findings of the Licence Commission and Huffman admits that the team is in a difficult position and that clean riders could ultimately be punished due to the cheating of others.
When asked what outcome should come from the Commission, Huffman answered, "That's a hard question and I really don't know. Being a rider, and from that perspective it seems really unfair to the guys who are racing clean on the team and that they could be punished but at the same time you do need to put some responsibility on the team management when there are multiple cases. It's up the UCI and the team will have to go along with what they decide."
Despite missing out on a chance to ride the Tour of Beijing and his departure from Astana, Huffman has no regrets over his decision to join the team. He may have missed out on a contract renewal but he appears wiser and more grounded for the two years spent in Europe, with the experience sure to help him in the coming seasons.
"I think it was an interesting learning experience. It wasn't something that I chose for myself but the opportunity came about, and at the time I didn't have any other offers from big teams like that so I couldn't turn it down. I figured I'd give it a shot but in the end it wasn't the best fit and maybe didn't work out as I hoped but I have no regrets about that and I'm a better rider for it now.
"I was always trying to make the most of it because if you don't do that then you're already giving up. A few people close to me have said that maybe I should have started with a smaller domestic team instead of Astana but I couldn't have told you that at the time because it was such a big opportunity."