Astana's WorldTour fate far from certain

The Astana team's fate is not yet decided, despite what sources might have told Dutch paper De Telegraaf. Astana has joined the UCI in stating that the decision on whether or not the team of the defending Tour de France champion, Vincenzo Nibali, will keep its WorldTour licence has not yet been finalized.

De Telegraaf reported early today that a source within the UCI said that Astana's WorldTour licence would be revoked. The UCI countered the suggestion to Cyclingnews, stating, “Following a misleading article published today in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) would like to clarify that no hearing has yet taken place in the Astana case and therefore no decision has been made. The UCI won’t make any further comment until the Licence Commission has rendered its decision."

The team had a deadline of March 20 to provide all of the documentation to support keeping its status in the WorldTour, and will be sending a delegation to meet with the UCI Licence Commission in Switzerland on April 2. According to the team it could take another 10 days to make a decision. The squad would then have the right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), possibly delaying any suspension in racing.

“Astana Pro Team has every reason to believe that our 2 April meeting with the UCI License Commission will be a properly conducted legal hearing which fully observes due process, and is not a foregone conclusion," the team said in a statement this afternoon. "We welcome the UCI’s clarification on this matter this morning."

The team's licence was granted late, after a pair of EPO-positives hit the WorldTour team in 2014, and several separate doping cases afflicted its developmental team. The team was granted its licence provisionally, with an independent audit of the team's activities undertaken by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).

In late February, the UCI received the report from the auditors and requested that the team's WorldTour licence be revoked.

“After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn,” the UCI stated.

“The UCI considers that the ISSUL audit has, among other things, revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground.”

The team said today it plans to show that it has met all of the requirements that the UCI placed upon it during the upcoming meeting. "At this hearing, Astana Pro Team intends to present clear evidence that not only is Astana Pro Team in full compliance with the UCI’s ethical criteria, but we are also taking proactive steps to enhance the role our team plays in the global fight against performance-enhancing drugs in cycling.”

In lieu of convincing the UCI of its merits, the Astana team could appeal any decision to the CAS. The team already consulted with its attorneys over whether or not the UCI rules could support revoking a licence.

The UCI doesn't always get its way when it comes to the CAS. In 2013, the Licence Commission tried to deny the Katusha team a WorldTour licence on ethical grounds, but the team won back its spot through an appeal to CAS.

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