Cycling: Astana keep licence despite doping shocks

Cycling: Astana keep licence despite doping shocks
Race leader Astana team rider Vincenzo Nibali of Italy

PARIS - Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali is free to defend his title in July after his Astana team was allowed to keep its racing licence despite a series of doping shocks, the UCI governing body announced Thursday.

At the end of February, the UCI had demanded the team be stripped of its World Tour Licence which would have barred them from the main international races, including the Tour de France and Tours of Italy and Spain.

But an independent commission agreed to allow Astana to keep racing following a meeting between representatives of the two sides on Thursday.

"The Licence Commission held a hearing in the presence of representatives of Astana Pro Team, representatives of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and representatives of the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL)," said a UCI statement published on Thursday.

"On the initiative of the Licence Commission, ISSUL were asked to propose special measures which the Team will be obliged to put in place at specific times over the rest of this season.

"The team committed to respecting all the measures recommended by ISSUL." Astana released a brief statement, saying they were happy with the ruling and now just wanted to concentrate on racing.

"Astana Pro Team is grateful to the License Commission for the opportunity to present the team's commitment to observing the UCI's ethical criteria," said the statement.

"Astana Pro Team is committed to respecting all measures recommended by ISSUL, and to collaborate in the implementation of further measures that enhance our procedures above and beyond the UCI's minimum requirements.

"Our focus now returns to racing."

Strict monitoring

Astana are not totally out of the water yet, though, as they will be under scrutiny throughout the season.

"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," continued the UCI statement.

"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."

Astana's place in the peloton had been under threat since five riders with either the professional World Tour squad or the Kazakh team's Continental Tour affiliate failed doping tests last year.

Kazakh brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinsky both tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO while three members of the Continental Tour squad, also all Kazakhs, tested positive for steroids.

Earlier this week, UCI president Brian Cookson told AFP that whatever the outcome of the Licence Commission's findings, Astana would be riding a tightrope.

He said the UCI had sent "a really strong, powerful signal, not just to Astana, but to other teams as well, that this has to stop, we cannot have multiple doping cases from one team in a year".

He said that if multiple doping cases "happened this year that would be very, very serious for Astana or any other team".

"Teams have to take their responsibilities very, very seriously in terms of how they monitor riders, how they support riders and coach riders," added Cookson.

"Doctors as well have to be very, very careful about the processes that they have been involved in." Despite the doping cases, the UCI originally agreed to grant Astana a licence back in December but subsequently Italian media reports claimed the Kazakh outfit had met with banned doping doctor Michele Ferrari.

The UCI had stipulated in December that Astana had to co-operate with ISSUL but following an initial report by the institute, the world governing body asked its Licence Commission to strip the Kazakhs of their right to compete.

For now, that threat has been lifted and Nibali, and Astana, can concentrate on the defence of the Tour de France yellow jersey.

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