Astana fails to secure ProTour license

By Hedwig Kröner

The Swiss manager of the Kazakhstani-funded Astana team, Marc Biver, has been informed on Wednesday evening by the UCI that the newly-founded squad will not be granted a ProTour license for the next season, according to French sports newspaper L'Equipe. Because of a non-reglementary bank guarantee, the ProTour license commission has apparently rejected the team's candidacy.

Biver, who has until December 7 to contest the decision, was angry over the turn of events. "I get the impression that they don't treat us the same way than the other teams, because at first everything seemed clear with Ernst&Young, the auditors in charge if studying our dossier," the Swiss manager said. "We even completed the guarantee by November 20, as they asked us to. But all of this was in vain, because I have the feeling that our candidacy is disturbing from the start. Lately, the prime minister [of Kazakhstan, Danial Akhmetov, who played an important role in the team's formation - ed.] has even been outraged by the UCI's attitude in this matter."

The Swiss Astana venture has been reported to have already presented its rider roster to the UCI, including such famous names as Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Klöden, Paolo Savoldelli and Andrei Kashechkin, as well as other riders who wore the colours of Liberty Seguros this season - but this was before the Spanish doping scandal known as Operación Puerto put an end to this sponsorship of the team, then directed by Manolo Saiz. When the continuation of the team was threatened in summer, Vinokourov found a new backer, a Kazakhstani conglomerate named Astana after the country's capital, which stepped in to ensure the 2006 season of the team managed by Saiz' company Active Bay would be completed.

However, as the doping scandal unfolded, Saiz became persona non grata in the cycling world, and with a view to the next season, the Kazakhstani sponsors tried to buy him out of his company - but Saiz refused. As a consequence, it was decided to create a new management company for the future team, based out of Switzerland. But today, Active Bay still holds its ProTour license, and claims that some riders who have apparently committed to the 'Swiss' Astana team, are still under contract with Saiz through 2007, or even 2008.

What's more, a sponsorship contract may still exist between the two parties. Jörg Jaksche, the German cyclist who rode for Liberty Seguros and was also implicated in the Operación Puerto affair, recently told Cyclingnews that "Active Bay still has a contract with Astana through 2008." Because of this ongoing litigation between Biver and Saiz, Paolo Savoldelli has already been reported to reconsider his commitment with the team, and may join the team run by Davide Boifava instead.

According to the latest developments, Biver's Astana team who has recently contracted Mario Kummer as sports director may thus become a Continental Pro team in 2007, but first its contractual situation needs to be cleared.

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