Astana licence under examination but can continue to race for now
By Shane Stokes
UCI President Pat McQuaid has described as ‘inaccurate’ media reports that more names are due to be released this week in connection with the Operación Puerto investigation. Speaking to Cyclingnews on Tuesday afternoon, the Irishman said that the UCI had not received any information from the Spanish investigators regarding any extra riders who might be involved.
"We will be informing the teams of riders who we feel are implicated in the affair, and they will take whatever action they need to do," he said, commenting on those who may have been taken off the list by the Spanish investigators but who remain under investigation by the UCI. "But we have been given no new names by the Spanish authorities other than what was in the original list."
McQuaid then clarified the Astana team’s position prior to the start of the Vuelta this weekend. The AIGCP met last week and asked the UCI to consider the possible suspension of the Astana and Phonak squads in the light of recent scandals. McQuaid says that Astana’s position is under examination, but that for now they would be able to race.
"The position is that we will follow the ProTour rules," he stated. "There is no provision in the ProTour rules for the suspension of a team. There is however a provision for the withdrawal of a ProTour licence, and the licence commission met yesterday and discussed the situation as regards Astana. They have asked for a meeting with the Astana personnel, asking those running it to state their case. That is an ongoing process but, for now, they can continue."
McQuaid also commented on rumours that Manolo Saiz is still involved with the team. "I haven’t heard anything concrete on that at all but I have heard a rumour that he has called a meeting of the riders today in Madrid. He claims that he has had a grave injustice done against him. But for me, the best thing would be if he stays quiet and remains in the background at the moment until such time as any allegations against him have been cleared. If there have indeed been any injustices done against him, he needs to get all that resolved before he starts coming into the forefront again."
As regards Phonak, McQuaid plays down talk of a freezing of their ProTour licence. "The situation is that you have a team which is going to fold up at the end of the year. If we were to start a process against Phonak it would be a long time before it is concluded. So it is futile from that point of view. Plus you have the other aspect that you have many riders who are looking for jobs now and they will have to put in performances in races in the rest of the year. They need to find new employers."
Phonak has had many positives but despite that, McQuaid believes that in recent times the new team management made genuine efforts to stop doping. "I think that Andy Rihs and Phonak did try desperately hard to do everything correctly, but they got slapped in the face, basically. They completely changed the management structure of the team at the start of last year, bringing in a completely new and fresh setup that Andy Rihs had faith in that would be completely compliant, transparent and completely against doping. And the current management team have been like that. But it seems that they haven’t unfortunately been able to control the riders 100 percent of the time. They were very serious about what they were doing; I think it is very unfortunate for Andy Rihs that this [the Landis affair and the dissolution of the team] happened to him."
A full Pat McQuaid interview on cycling’s battle against doping will appear soon on Cyclingnews.