Swiss team Phonak will become part of the ProTour after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld its appeal against its exclusion from the new UCI top professional race series on Tuesday, February 1. Last November, the International Cycling Union (UCI) had excluded Phonak after three Phonak riders failed doping tests in 2004, including Tyler Hamilton.
However, the CAS revoked the UCI's decision on the grounds that two of the implicated riders, Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Perez, were still appealing their cases. Phonak will now be granted a ProTour license for a reduced period of two years instead of the usual four.
"While respecting the will of the UCI to be strict in the fight against doping, the CAS arbitrators have considered that it was not possible, at this stage, to remove the Phonak team from the Pro Tour on the sole basis of doping suspicions concerning the two riders and before knowing the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings regarding them," CAS said in a press release. In the 31 page-thick ruling, CAS said it believed Phonak's rights of a fair hearing had been breached.
"The panel consider that the appellant (Phonak) did not have an unethical behaviour and that its application met all the required conditions to obtain a licence," CAS said. "However, it is indisputable that, for the Phonak team, the year 2004 was marked by blood tests with average high values, a confirmed doping case and two cases of adverse analytical findings."
The decision means Phonak will be able to participate in all of this year's major events including the Tour de France. Licences are normally granted for four years and the UCI's Licences Commission can reduce their validity for a number of reasons, including doping.
Meanwhile, the International Cycling Union has issued a statement where it "has taken note of the CAS decision, and welcomes the Phonak team within the UCI ProTour. This team will be the 20th UCI ProTeam for the 2005 season."
"Of course, this decision makes us incredibly happy," commented Phonak team owner Andy Rihs in yet another press release. "We were always convinced that our team belonged in the ProTour based on its talent. Now the legal hurdles have been removed, and we can demonstrate that athletically we are at the highest level." According to Rihs, the judgment clears the way for a future that everyone at Phonak has always believed in. Phonak team manager John Lelangue, who is currently at the Tour of Qatar, also stressed that the ProTour license is "an enormous motivation for all the riders."