Although the UCI WorldTour calendar is already in full swing, the fate of the Astana team's licence to race in the top tier has yet to be decided. It seems now that the deliberations of the governing body's Licence Commission could wrap up this week, and a final decision be taken on whether to rescind Astana's WorldTour licence. At stake is Vincenzo Nibali's Tour de France defence as well as the futures of 30 riders, management and staff of one of the sport's most powerful teams.
Cookson told the AFP while attending the SportAccord convention in Russia that he hopes the decision will come soon. "I hope for a decision ideally this week. I don't have a final date, but the sooner the better," Cookson said.
The team have been on the defensive since being granted a provisional licence in December, one that required them to abide by special provisions and submit to an independent audit conducted by the ISSUL (Sport Sciences department of the University of Lausanne). When the UCI received the report of the ISSUL audit, Cookson called for the team's licence to be revoked, citing discrepancies between its WorldTour application and what ISSUL found.
Astana's troubles began late last year, when brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO, and three other riders from the squad's Continental affiliate were also found positive for banned substances.
Cookson argued that regardless of the outcome of the team's licence, the whole case sends "a really strong, powerful signal, not just to Astana, but to other teams as well, that this has to stop; we cannot have multiple doping cases from one team in a year".
"Teams have to take their responsibilities very, very seriously in terms of how they monitor riders, how they support riders and coach riders. Doctors as well have to be very, very careful about the processes that they have been involved in," Cookson added.
In addition to the ISSUL findings, the Astana team have been harmed by allegations in the long-running Padova investigation in Italy that banned doctor Michele Ferrari has continued to have dealings with some members of the team.
It is unclear whether the UCI could use any such evidence to punish a team, but Cookson seemed to indicate that the case is a warning shot to the likes of Ferrari, whether or not the allegations are true.
"Others who are allegedly floating around on the sidelines, the people who have been banned, there are rumours that they are still acting as intermediaries, it is a warning to them as well," Cookson said.
If the licence commission decides to revoke Astana's licence, the team would still be allowed to continue racing during any appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The appeals process can take months to complete.