UCI confirms Astana to keep licence with strict monitoring

The UCI today confirmed that its Licence Commission has opted not to revoke the WorldTour licence from the Astana team, but will instead keep its existing registration as long as it complies with "special measures".

The announcement did not include any specifics about what Astana must do, but stated the measures were suggested by the representatives from the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL), the same organisation that carried out the independent audit that precipitated the licence hearing.

"On the initiative of the Licence Commission, ISSUL were asked to propose special measures which the [Astana] Team will be obliged to put in place at specific times over the rest of this season," a press release read. "The team committed to respecting all the measures recommended by ISSUL. At the end of the hearing, the Licence Commission announced the suspension of the proceedings.

"In the meantime, the registration for the 2015 season remains in force. However, the Team’s licence is subject to strict monitoring of the conditions laid down. This monitoring will be carried out on the basis of reports transmitted by ISSUL to the Licence Commission. The Licence Commission shall be able to re-open the proceedings if Astana Pro Team fails to respect one or several of the conditions imposed, or if new elements arise."

The full reasoned decision will be released "in due course".

UCI president Brian Cookson has been vocal in his criticism of the team and open in his opinion that the team should lose its licence.

Cookson told Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this year, “I wasn’t able to hide my disappointment on the day of the designation of the WorldTour licences. For me, it was very frustrating, but we had to work with legal tools and I had to accept that."

While the two doping cases the Astana WorldTour team had in 2014, both EPO positives from brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy, may not have reached the threshold for denying Astana its place in the top tier of professional cycling, Cookson was certain the Italian investigators in Padova had unearthed damning information about the team.

Gazzetta reported in December that investigators photographed banned trainer Michele Ferrari outside the hotel of the Astana team camp in November, 2013. Ferrari himself denied visiting the camp, calling it "media bullshit".

Cookson seemed convinced, however, telling the AFP earlier this week, "Teams have to take their responsibilities very, very seriously in terms of how they monitor riders, how they support riders and coach riders. ... 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.

The documents from the Padova investigation were to be submitted to the Licence Commission, but it is unclear whether they were reviewed or not. The decision of the commission appeared to be based on the ISSUL audit, and not on anti-doping rule violations.

The UCI has kept the details of the ISSUL audit under wraps, but the media have been able to extract some information. The UCI set the team a high bar to meet, foisting upon it the provisional ethical and organisational standards which are being studied for future WorldTour regulations. The recommendations, made by ISSUL, call for team to employ one coach for every eight riders, to carefully plan racing, training and rest programmes for riders and have regular support and assistance by qualified staff. It also recommends that directeurs sportifs and doctors not be involved in coaching riders and that no external, unqualified staff should be part of the team.

These same parameters are being tested by several other teams, including AG2R-La Mondiale, Cannondale-Garmin, Etixx-QuickStep, Giant-Alpecin, FDJ, IAM Cycling, Orica-GreenEdge and the Trek Factory Racing team, but Astana is the only team to be audited for compliance and have such conditions attached to its licence.

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