Astana Pro Team has been awarded a WorldTour licence for 2015 following extended deliberation by the UCI’s Licence Commission.
"Astana Pro Team is happy and proud to announce that we have received a 2015 World Tour License and will race at the highest level of the sport in the upcoming season," a statement on the team's website read. "Thanks to riders, staff, family, sponsors, friends and fans for your support."
While the Licence Commission has ratified Astana’s registration for 2015, it will be subjected to an independent audit and forced to adhere to stricter operational requirements for the coming season.
UCI president Brian Cookson stated, “The case of the Astana Pro Team ... remains a very serious situation for our sport given the number of doping cases. We shall be following the situation very closely and are awaiting to review the results of the audit. Meanwhile, the team will have to comply with the two requirements imposed by the Licence Commission. The combined effect of this is that the Astana Pro Team can be considered very much to be on probation. "
Cookson said earlier that the report from the UCI Licence Commission came before it received the new allegations by an Italian investigation which accused the team of systematic doping. The statement by the commission confirmed this. “For the time being, the elements of this procedure are unknown to the UCI and the Licence Commission and no consequence can be drawn in this case at hand. The UCI would call upon the Commission if evidence against the Team is established.”
Should the team incur any more doping positives, if the audit reveals any "deficiencies or in case of faulty implementation of the internal operational requirements", or if the UCI confirms the offences brought in the Padova case, it "would prompt a referral to the Licence Commission to envisage, if necessary, the withdrawal of the licence."
The Licence Commission was asked to review Astana's WorldTour status after the two EPO positives of brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy, and the steroid positive of trainee Ilya Davidenok this year.
Of the doping cases, the commission stated that Astana's current system of fighting doping has "defaulted", but indicated it agreed to change aspects of the team to strengthen its anti-doping efforts.
"[The team] has initiated a reorganisation of all the support personnel of its riders in order to strengthen its fight against doping within the team to ensure greater prevention and repression," the commission wrote. “In view of the heavy and repeated doping cases, which occurred within the Team, it is therefore essential to monitor the implementation of such measures on the ground.”
Astana agreed to be audited by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne, which will "determine whether and to what extent the team and or/its management is responsible of the recent events". The Astana-funded audit will assess the team's internal structures, culture and management systems.
The team has also been volunteered to adhere to the strict standards proposed for the 2017 WorldTour, joining eight other teams in testing out the operational requirements.
Today, a new report was made public by Gazzetta dello Sport which lists 38 riders linked to Ferrari, only three of which were on the 2014 Astana team. 10 of the riders had past links to the team.
Team manager Alexandre Vinokourov, who himself served a ban for illegal blood transfusions detected during the 2007 Tour de France, was accused of working with banned doping doctor Michele Ferrari, and referring riders to the Italian in 2010. Astana have implicated in a number of other scandals in their eight years.
Italian website Tuttobiciweb got reaction from Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli, who is with the team in Calpe.
“We've been through some really difficult moments and the last few days haven't been easy because there was obviously a lot of tension amongst the guys. Now finally the expected news has arrived. And now we can finally concentrate on getting ready for a great season. That's the only thing that matters,” he said. “And now, if you don’t mind, I have to leave you: my boys are waiting for me…”