Vincenzo Nibali has said he believes the UCI decision to request the withdrawal of the Astana WorldTour licence is a question of politics.
Speaking before the start of the Strade Bianche race, the 2014 Tour de France winner was confident that the Astana team would obtain wild card invitations to races even if the UCI Licence commission decided to revoke the team’s status from the WorldTour.
The UCI requested the withdrawal of the team’s WorldTour licence after an audit conducted by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL). The UCI concluded that it had "compelling grounds" to request the withdrawal, with UCI President Brian Cookson telling Cyclingnews in December that the team "was drinking in the last chance saloon."
Astana team manager Alexandre Vinkourov reportedly has until March 20 to submit the team's defence before the decisive hearing with the UCI Licence Commission.
"My opinion is that it's all about politics. It's not anything to do with the riders," Nibali said after initially saying he did not want to comment.
"We've done a lot as riders and explained a lot. We'll see what happens in the next few weeks. I'm not worried but if our licence is suspended we'll have to go and ask for invitations to races. My professionalism isn't under discussion."
Nibali insisted he is confident that he would be able to defend his Tour de France victory in July even if Astana looses it's WorldTour licence and is forced to accept a Professional Continental licence. He hinted that the Astana team has the support of race organisers.
"I think the race organisers know how dedicated we are in training and how many sacrifices we make at the races," he said. “I think their opinion will counts a lot. If we lost our licence we can only hope to be invited to the races by the different organisers. But that’s the worst case scenario.
"This is my first race since Oman and we'll have to see how my recovery is going and how my form is. I haven't been at altitude as in the past but I've done the training."