Unibet in, Saiz out, ProTour place still possible for Astana

By Shane Stokes

The UCI Licence Commission has announced their decision pertaining to the awarding of the ProTour licences for next season and beyond and, as was predicted by some, the Unibet team has been awarded the slot left vacant by the now-defunct Phonak team.

In a press release issued late on Friday evening, the commission clarified the position of the licence up for grabs, saying that one slot had been allocated while another may yet be filled. "A UCI ProTour licence of four years was allotted to the team Unibet (Cycle A.B.). The request of the team Barloworld (Graybell Ltd Management) was not retained by the Commission of the Licences."

"Concerning the team Astana (Zeus Sàrl), the decision is outstanding: the Licence Commission has granted the applicant additional time until December 20, due to technical difficulties in the production of the required documents."

The latter slot has come about due to the refusal of the licence previously held by Manolo Saiz’s Active Bay. According to the release, "…the Licence Commission has accepted the request for withdrawal of the licence of the company Active Bay, as presented by the President of the Council of the UCI ProTour, Mr. Vittorio Adorni. The licence in question thus is automatically withdrawn."

Despite Saiz’s implication in the Operación Puerto affair, the UCI stated somewhat reluctantly earlier this year that Active Bay would able to retain its licence, providing it could furnish the necessary financial guarantees.

However it is understood that Saiz named the Astana conglomerate of Kazakh companies as his financial backer, despite the fact that it said it had withdrawn its support due to the team’s non-participation in the Tour de France. In addition, Astana had stated that it was going to back a new team managed by former Tour de Suisse organiser Marc Biver.

Speaking to Cyclingnews two weeks ago, Biver said that Astana was not willing to work with Saiz and would fight this in the courts if necessary.

"Manolo has said that Astana is the backer for his team in his application. However Astana cancelled the contract with Manolo because of the doping problem, because of [what happened at] the Tour," he stated. "It was because he was involved in the scandal and that Astana said that they don't want to work with this gentleman. In early August, Astana resigned from the contract with Manolo, but still left him with money that they had paid."

Indeed he stated that it was his view that the Spaniard should be no longer part of the sport. "The thing is, if Manolo doesn't get punished for what he has done, I really wonder what you need to do in the cycling world to be punished. For me, it is nonsense. What else need you do to be banned from the sport?"

It appears that others within cycling are also unhappy with Saiz’ continued presence. Last Friday the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT) voted to exclude Active Bay, echoing earlier indications from the UCI that it too was unhappy with his continued presence in the ProTour. It remains to be seen if Saiz will appeal the decision to CAS, apply instead for a Continental Professional licence or, indeed, succeed in clearing his name in the ongoing Operación Puerto judicial case.

Interestingly, Astana’s top rider Alexandre Vinokourov and several others have existing contracts with Saiz. The days and weeks ahead will reveal if the Spaniard will attempt to enforce these agreements, or if the riders will instead be free to race with Astana in 2007 and beyond.

In addition to these decisions, the Licence Commission announced today that the applications lodged by Caisse d’Epargne (Abarca Sport) and T-mobile (High Road Sport) were accepted, with the two teams securing licences until 2010.

Three other licences not actually up for renewal at this time were also extended, following requests from those concerned. Milram (Ciclosport srl) is now guaranteed a place until 2009 while Saunier Duval - Prodir (GM Bikes SA) and Gerolsteiner (Holczer Radsport-Marketing GMBH) are both in until 2010.

Finally, the UCI concluded the release by reaffirming the standing and regulations of the ProTour, and rejecting the announcement made earlier this week by the Grand Tour organisers that they have the right to amend the selection process as they see fit.

"On this occasion, the UCI formally reminds that all the teams benefiting from a ProTour have the right and the obligation to take part in the 27 rounds of the UCI ProTour calendar in 2007. In this sense, the recent declarations of ASO, RCS and Unipublic must be regarded as completely unfounded from the regulatory point of view."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009
- Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

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