The UCI’s proceedings with the Astana team over its WorldTour licence have been definitively closed, with no resulting sanctions for the Kazakh team, who have been granted a place in cycling’s top tier for 2016.
A string of doping indiscretions in 2014 triggered an extensive audit of the team by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL), which led the UCI to recommend that the team’s 2015 WorldTour licence be revoked. The Licence Commission decided in late April that Astana would be allowed to retain their status on the condition of strict monitoring over a four-month period. That period came to an end in September, and ISSUL once again reported back to the Licence Commission, who published a reasoned decision with the following conclusion.
“The Commission decides: That the proceedings for the withdrawal of the UCI WorldTeam licence awarded to the Astana UCI WorldTeam are now devoid of purpose and are closed.”
The monitoring period, which began in May, had a broad remit, covering the team’s organisation, culture, and communications, with the hope of establishing a “structure that would allow it to avoid, as far as possible, the doping cases that had affected the team in the 2014 season.”
ISSUL reported back to the Licence Commission on two occasions – firstly on June 19 and then on September 23 – and its findings were largely favourable, pointing to the implementation of communication channels within the team, improved frameworks relating to race management, medical matters, and scheduling, along with the recruitment of more Russian-speaking staff.
“At the end of the probationary period of four months that ISSUL’s mandate has lasted, it can be noted that, on the whole, the situation of the Astana team can be considered as very significantly improved compared with that revealed by the audit report ordered by the Commission in December 2014, in terms of the training plans for riders, the team staff, race management and medical care,” read the Licence Commission’s reasoned decision.
“To this can be added the creation of an information technology platform that has the objective of improving communication between the various components of the team. As the 2015 season has finished, these favourable findings draw the proceedings undertaken before the Commission to a conclusion; these are now devoid of purpose for this season.”
Astana general manager Alexandr Vinokourov welcomed the news with "great satisfaction", according to a statement from the team. "It's a good day for the whole team, which comes at the end of a busy period in which all members of the team – management, riders and staff – have worked hard to improve the structure and organisation," said Vinokourov.
Astana are not completely out of the water, however, and will still be subject to close scrutiny, with the UCI’s ‘cahier des charges’ coming into force for the 2017 season. The new measure sets out additional organisational criteria that must be met by teams hoping to secure a WorldTour licence, and comprises 10 rules relating to the structures in place to properly support riders.
Though ISSUL were satisfied with Astana’s early progress, it is clear that there is some way to go before the steps that have been made are incorporated as part of a stabilised operation.
“On the basis of these findings, it would seem possible that if the Astana team were to manage to breathe life into the structures with which it seems to have equipped itself, it could be in compliance with the organisation specifications for professional teams that will be a condition of their registration from 2017,” read ISSUL’s September report to the Licence Commission.
The Licence Commission itself stated: “It will nevertheless be necessary to monitor the implementation of the measures put in place by the team in respect of all the points subject to analysis by the expert consultants during the 2015 season.”
It is not clear exactly how this monitoring will be formalised, but ISSUL is the body tasked by the UCI with auditing teams as per the cahier des charges.