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Astana gets WorldTour licence with anti-doping strings attached

Europcar refused top-level licence, Yellow Fluo Pro Conti licence also conditional

The UCI has decided to grant a WorldTour licence to the Astana team, subject to conditions relating to its implementation of anti-doping measures, with president Brian Cookson making it clear the Kazakh outfit is “on probation.” The world governing body of cycling also issued a Pro Continental licence to the Yellow Fluo team but declined to grant a WorldTour licence to Europcar.

Official confirmation that Astana had been given WorldTour licence for 2015 came in a statement, the full text of which appears at the end of this article, released late yesterday evening by the UCI.

But the team had already taken to Twitter earlier in the evening to break the news, which was greeted with dismay and outrage by many on the social network, some accusing UCI president Brian Cookson of failing to follow through on his pledge to clean up the sport.

Cookson said the Astana case “remains a very serious situation for our sport given the number of doping cases,” and that the team “can be considered very much to be on probation.”

In a statement published in Russian on its website Astana said it was “pleased and proud to announce that we have received confirmation of our licence to participate in the World Tour in 2015 and take part in all the most prestigious races of the upcoming season.”

It added that it wanted to thank "riders, team staff, families, sponsors, friends and our fans for all your support."

Due to the Licence Commission’s decision to give Astana the go-ahead to compete in WorldTour races next season the UCI side-steps what would have been an expensive visit to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, as happened when Katusha was refused a licence two years ago.

The conditions imposed by the Licence Commission that made the decision mean Astana’s Licence could be taken away if another rider is found guilty of a doping offence in the coming months, or it fails to comply with the conditions imposed on it.

The Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne will examine the recent doping cases involving Astana riders and will also audit the team to assess whether its “internal structures, culture and management systems … are adequate to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld.”

The team has also been ordered to implement in the coming season internal operational requirements that will be compulsory for all top-tier teams from 2017 and which eight teams have agreed to trial on a voluntary basis.

Astana was warned, however, that “In the event that the audit would lead to reveal deficiencies or in case of faulty implementation of the internal operational requirements or if another doping case would occur within the Team during the 2015 season, the UCI would refer the matter to the Licence Commission for a determination on an eventual withdrawal of the licence.”

The Licence Commission added that the UCI was still waiting for the file regarding the Padua investigation in Italy in which a number of past and present Astana riders are implicated, adding: “For the time being, the elements of this procedure are unknown to the UCI and the Licence Commission and no consequence can be drawn in this case at hand. The UCI would call upon the Commission if evidence against the Team is established.”

Europcar’s failure to secure a WorldTour licence, leaving the top tier of the sport with 17 teams next year, was on financial grounds. The car hire business that currently acts as headline sponsor has already indicated it will be pulling out at the end of next season.

Meanwhile Yellow Fluo, which has seen three riders fail anti-doping controls in the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia, has been granted a Professional Continental licence but again subject to conditions related to its ethical policies.

Full UCI statement

Concerning Astana Pro Team, last October, the UCI asked the Licence Commission to undertake a full review of the management and anti-doping policies of the Astana Pro Team. This request followed positive tests on two of its riders, Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy (EPO), and on Ilya Davidenok (anabolic steroids), a trainee with the UCI ProTeam Astana since August 1st this year.

In accordance with the UCI Regulations, the team appeared before the Licence Commission in Geneva on November 6th. After an in-depth examination of the situation, the Licence Commission reached the following findings:

  • “The organisation of the fight against doping and the support personnel of the riders in place until now by the team has defaulted”;
  • “[The team] has initiated a reorganisation of all the support personnel of its riders in order to strengthen its fight against doping within the team to ensure greater prevention and repression”;
  • “In view of the heavy and repeated doping cases, which occurred within the Team, it is therefore essential to monitor the implementation of such measures on the ground”.

In light of the above, the Licence Commission has subordinated the 2015 registration team to the two following conditions:

  • That the Astana Pro Team is audited by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) (2), an independent body recognised for its expertise in this field. The ISSUL will look into the circumstances of the doping cases at stake to determine whether and to what extent the team and or/its management is responsible of the recent events. Furthermore, it will assess the team’s internal structures, culture and management systems to understand whether these are adequate to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld. It will release its report early February 2015. The audit will be paid for by the Team.
  • That the Astana Pro Team adheres from 2015 to the internal operational requirements (3), which will be compulsory for all UCI World Teams from 2017 as part of the reform of men’s professional road cycling. Astana Pro Team will join a group of eight teams that have volunteered to implement.

The Licence Commission however warned that: “In the event that the audit would lead to reveal deficiencies or in case of faulty implementation of the internal operational requirements or if another doping case would occur within the Team during the 2015 season, the UCI would refer the matter to the Licence Commission for a determination on an eventual withdrawal of the licence.”

The Licence Commission also noted with respect to the recent allegations regarding the Padova investigation that as UCI is still waiting for the file: “For the time being, the elements of this procedure are unknown to the UCI and the Licence Commission and no consequence can be drawn in this case at hand. The UCI would call upon the Commission if evidence against the Team is established.”

Therefore, the occurrence of any the aforementioned grounds, amongst others, would prompt a referral to the Licence Commission to envisage, if necessary, the withdrawal of the licence.

Concerning Europcar, the Licence Commission has decided to reject the team’s request for registration for the 2015 season. The Licence Commission estimates that the team does not fulfil the financial criteria. The UCI will be able to evaluate the possibility of registering the team as a UCI Professional Continental Team. In accordance with the UCI Regulations, the registration refusal leads to the withdrawal of the UCI WorldTour Licence.

With regards to Yellow Fluo, the Licence Commission has decided to register the team as a UCI Professional Continental Team for the 2015 season upon the condition that team undergoes stringent controls by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation and the UCI to verify the team’s implementation of its announced anti-doping measures.

Concerning Cult Energy, the Licence Commission has granted the team until December 15th to submit a new registration file.

Welcoming the decisions, UCI President Brian Cookson said “I would like to thank the Licence Commission, who has carried out its work thoroughly, professionally and independently of the UCI.

“In the case of the Astana Pro Team, this remains a very serious situation for our sport given the number of doping cases. We shall be following the situation very closely and are awaiting to review the results of the audit. Meanwhile, the team will have to comply with the two requirements imposed by the Licence Commission. The combined effect of this is that the Astana Pro Team can be considered very much to be on probation.

“Regarding Team Europcar, it is of course regrettable that the team has not been able to secure sufficient financial guarantees to remain in the UCI WorldTour, but I very much hope that they can continue as a Professional Continental Team.

“In the case of Yellow Fluo, it is vital that they comply with the conditions outlined. Concerning Cult Energy, I hope that they are able to make the deadline for the provision of a new file, as requested by the Commission.”

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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