UCI President Pat McQuaid cast fresh doubt on the future of the Astana team on Saturday. Speaking at the World Championship road race in Mendrisio, Switzerland, McQuaid said, "There is still every possibility the [ProTour] licence could be taken from Astana."
McQuaid revealed that he had travelled to Kazakhstan three weeks ago and received assurances from the Kazakh government that the team will continue. But a meeting at the UCI's headquarters in Aigle on Thursday afternoon proved to be less positive.
"Representatives of the team met the UCI on Thursday, and the UCI will make a report to the licence commission on that," said McQuaid, who was not at the meeting. "From what I can gather, it doesn't sound very positive, or very convincing, that they have a structure together that would be satisfactory for a UCI ProTour team.
"We started a process [against Astana] in May or June and then suspended it when payments came through," said McQuaid. "That process is still suspended and can be reactivated. The file is still there, and it, plus new elements that might come in about the administration of team, would go to the [UCI licence] commission [for review].
"We have given them deadlines to come up with information for us and we have to allow time for that to pass."
Of his visit to Kazakhstan, McQuaid said, "I went there about three weeks ago, and met the minister for tourism and sport. We discussed the Astana team, and I explained that it is a very delicate situation and the [ProTour] licence could be withdrawn.
"He assured me it is a project of the president of the country, Mr [Nursultan] Nazarbayev. Mr Nazarbayev has appointed a very eminent, senior businessman in Kazakhstan to oversee and secure the future of the team. In the coming days, I hope to make contact with some of these people to explain to them that at this moment in time, if what I hear from the meeting on Thursday is correct, we are not confident [about] what we're hearing [about the new structure of the team]."
With Johan Bruyneel and many of the management team and riders leaving Astana for Team RadioShack, the continuing uncertainty places two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador in a perilous position. Contador has said that he wishes to leave, though his contract with Astana runs to the end of 2010.
McQuaid said that the UCI has been in regular contact with the Spaniard in recent weeks, with Contador also travelling to the UCI headquarters to discuss the situation. If Astana retains its ProTour status then according to McQuaid, "Contador is under contract for 2010."
However, if the licence is revoked then Contador - who is being courted by QuickStep, Garmin-Slipstream and Caisse d'Epargne - could leave. "If they lose their ProTour licence then everything [regarding Contador] changes," said McQuaid.
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.