By Shane Stokes
Manolo Saiz appears to have a very tough fight ahead if he is to retain his ProTour licence, due to the news that he has lodged the Astana backers as the proposed sponsors for his 2007 team. The conglomerate of Kazakh companies has its own ProTour licence application underway and while it lost out this week, the team is planning to appeal the decision to the UCI.
General manager Marc Biver spoke to Cyclingnews about the situation today, and reiterated earlier statements that Astana will not back Saiz. Manolo has said that Astana is the backer for his team in his application. However Astana cancelled the contract with Manolo because of the doping problem, because of [what happened at] the Tour, he stated. It was because he was involved in the scandal and that Astana said that they don't want to work with this gentleman. In early August, Astana resigned from the contract with Manolo, but still left him with money that they had paid.
Saiz has insisted that the contract is still valid, but with Biver's opinion and insistence that the team will not work with the Spaniard, Saiz could have a tough court battle on his hands. The former Tour de Suisse organiser doesnt appear worried about the situation. First of all, Manolo has not been able to show that he has a sponsor, he stated. Certainly I don't believe that he was able to deliver a bank guarantee for 30% of the salaries [as required by the UCI]. I don't see any issue from Manolo. But if there is, then for sure it will end up in the courts.
Indeed, Biver is of the opinion that Saiz should step away from the sport. The thing is, if Manolo doesn't get punished for what he has done, I really wonder what you need to do in the cycling world to be punished. For me, it is nonsense. What else need you do to be banned from the sport?
Even if Astana are unsuccessful in their appeal to secure a ProTour licence, the possibility of them teaming up with Saiz to use his slot seems very remote. Biver told Cyclingnews that some members of the team would be happy to compete as a Continental Professional outfit in 2007, due to the fact that they can pick and choose the races on their programme rather than being held to a full ProTour schedule.
Saiz has been under a cloud since his arrest in the Operación Puerto sweep back in May. He was allegedly found in possession of doping substances and a large sum of money, but denies he did anything wrong. He is currently taking legal action against the investigators, claiming falsification of documents.
The UCI earlier stated its reluctance in allowing him to keep his license, stating in October that it "regrets the circumstances which have obliged the commission to take this decision, which is undoubtedly correct in legal terms, but which is most likely due to the lack of information from the Spanish authorities and the extremely confusing state of affairs with Operaciòn Puerto.
"The UCI is extremely concerned by this situation and will take all the measures that it deems necessary to protect the interests of cycling as a whole, in particular as regards disciplinary procedures against the individuals concerned.
Cyclingnews understands that Saiz will appear before the licensing commission on December 7th with regards to his application. If he loses his ProTour license, that would theoretically open up a second slot for the teams chasing a place in cyclings top division. Barloworld and Unibet.com are currently under consideration with regards their applications, while Bivers Swiss Astana team are hoping that their appeal will be successful and that they too will be back in the hunt.