Astana Ride On

Vinkourov Astana

Update: Astana do ride on and the UCI will continue to monitor the team for the rest of the year. The reasoned decision of Licence Commission will be published in due course says the UCI.

The Astana team meets the UCI’s Licence Commission again today for a second hearing following the UCI’s very public call to remove strip the team’s World Tour licence. La Gazzetta Dello Sport says no decision is imminent either.

A second round suggests this is not a slam dunk case. If it was then a review of the files and an obligatory hearing would have been enough to remove the team from the sport. What happens next has been a regular question by email in recent weeks but the rules aren’t clear and the outcome is more uncertain. Here’s a look at the case and some potential outcomes…

The Story So Far
As a reminder Astana had two EPO positives with the Iglinskiy brothers and their associated U23 team had a slew of positives too. Last December the team was awarded a World Tour licence for 2015 on the basis that it signed up to a special audit by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).

ISSUL guidelines
The ISSUL practices are set to become a core part of the proposed UCI cycling reforms, compulsory for all teams in a few years and revolve around operational and managerial elements in the way teams work with a view to creating a culture that supports riders rather than leaving them vulnerable to quack doctors and quick fixes from a pharmacy. For example riders are supposed to have a designated coach; team doctors should not be coaching; riders should be given a race programme, training blocks and recovery periods. If you want more, see December’s The ISSUL Performance Criteria and remember this is about practices witnessed in 2015 not the accumulation of bad news last year although the point is that the audit is meant to examine the culture in a team which could lead to riders doping.

UCI Bombshell
Boom went the UCI press release in February after L’Equipe broke the story that the team’s licence was in jeopardy following the ISSUL audit:

“After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn.”

Note this wasn’t about a few issues to address and helpful recommendations but the nuclear option of taking down an entire team – including the Tour de France winner – and going public about this too.

Since then we’ve seen activity on two fronts. First is the procedural with the UCI requesting its Licence Commission reviews the case, convening a hearing and giving the Astana team management due notice. The Licence Commission is independent of the UCI, it doesn’t sit in the same offices and is run by three heavy hitters rather than Aigle pen-pushers. The whole point is to ensure team licences are awarded independent of UCI staff opinion which brings us to the second front, the public relations and political aspect. The independence has been in the spotlight recently with the twin attacks by Renato di Rocco and Igor Makarov on the topic. Both lamented that they weren’t in the loop when it came to the decision to review Astana’s 2015 licence. Makorov has reason to be nervous given the Padova investigation concerns some of his Katusha riders while Italy’s di Rocco rushed to the Kazakh defence days after the Kazakhs inked a deal with the Italian federation for mutual support. But both complaints look confused and self-interested. The whole point of the Licence Commission is its independence and the rules specifically say “UCI administration” can refer a team to the Licence Commission rather than requiring Management Committee approval. Licences are supposed to be awarded without interference from UCI officials representing their home nations and personal interests.


There have been wider PR and prayer attempts to salvage the team’s image. Vincenzo Nibali, via his lawyer, has taken to writing letters about him being a “symbol of cleanliness”. He has had words to say on the topic before which puts him ahead of many in the peloton but is he really the icon, the totem, the face you picture when it comes to sporting saintliness? Actually it doesn’t matter because the licence hearing isn’t about Nibali and how others perceive him, it’s about the team’s management and their policies and procedures. Christophe Bassons was the symbol of anti-doping while riding for Festina.

Why so long?
If the UCI and the ISSUL audit found something so stinky the team has to be stopped then what are they doing in the sport is the frequently asked question? Well there’s due process. Everyone wants this to be cleared up fast including Astana who want to stay in the sport without the damaging coverage and the Damoclean fear of unemployment. However these procedures take time. Hearings require preparation and the all-day session in March wasn’t enough to handle everything so they’ve adjourned for more time and another hearing is due to today. Swift justice is a good idea but it can’t be rushed, if the UCI got too hasty this alone could be grounds for an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports. Still it shows the private assurances given by Brian Cookson to Giro boss Mauro Vegni that this would be settled before the race begins are questionable or at least demonstrate that Cookson doesn’t control the timetable.

The Rules bit
Taking a licence away isn’t obvious. The rules state a licence can be withdrawn if false information is provided to obtain the licence and various clauses reflect this (rule 2.15.040). But crucially when a licence is awarded it is done so on the basis of the information available at the time and there’s no provision to make a licence provisional so Astana could exploit the angle that it was unfair to impose this conditionality on them alone.

If the three member Licence Commission does rule than it’s by majority so two concordant verdicts have to be signed off along with a justification. These hearings are held in private.


So what’s next?
This part could be better served by a flow chart but let’s walk through the options:

  • Astana keeps its licence (1): Given the Licence Commission didn’t recoil in horror at the ISSUL report at the March hearing but instead gave Astana some weeks to prepare for a second hearing there’s a good chance the team rides on, perhaps by explaining away some inconsistencies in the report and demonstrating how it’s since complied with the ISSUL guidelines
  • Astana keeps its licence (2): one way to salvage matters is to eject Alexandr Vinokourov. Whether it’s right or just a sacrificial stunt doesn’t matter, if it helps the team stay afloat then it could be done. “Vino” is big in Kazakhstan but his exit could be managed, say he takes over some national sporting rule while Kazakh cycling chieftain Darkhan Kaletayev picks up the reins at Astana
  • Astana loses its licence (1): it might take time but the Licence Commission is acutely aware of what it did to Katusha and how the Russian team won back its licence at the CAS. If the licence is going to be removed then an exhaustive procedure is required so that the CAS sees every avenue has been exploited and so reducing grounds for an appeal
  • Astana loses its licence (2): once a licence is gone that’s it, a team is not permitted to race. Should this happen during the Tour de Romandie or the Giro then it’s game over for Astana who would have to withdraw. It’s hard to imagine the Licence Commission or UCI offering clemency saying “you have no place in the sport… but carry on racing this week
  • No demotion to Pro Conti status: When Katusha briefly lost their World Tour status in 2013 they came back as a Pro Continental team. However it must be stressed that Katusha were not relegated, instead they were ejected and once outside they made an application to return as a Pro Conti team and presented a revised case to the Licence Commission. The same will hold true with Astana, if they are stripped of their licence they do not slip to the second tier but they’re out
  • No promotion: if Astana are out then no team is called up to take their place. However races organisers would be free to issue an extra wildcard to fill the already booked hotel rooms
  • Call the CAS: Astana would surely appeal. Arbitration is just that, the CAS is not a sports body with its own rules, it simply supplies a hearing where an arbitration panel is tasked with reviewing a case within the framework of the UCI’s own rules with jurisprudence and Swiss civil law as background. Appeals can drag on but the CAS does expedited hearings too. It is also possible to have a hearing that rules Astana back in the World Tour pending a fuller review of the case. This has happened in football when two Turkish teams were excluded by UEFA only for the CAS to rule them back into the Champions League pending a proper CAS hearing… which duly ruled them out
  • Astana applies for a licence: Astana can apply for a UCI Continental licence from the Kazakh federation but this seems pointless. First the team is spending millions to compete internationally and having a local licence which lets them ride a calendar of pro-am events is humiliating. It’s too low a level to permit a wild card invitation for the Tour de France. The only reason to soldier on would be as a means to hold the team together with a view to regaining the top flight in 2016
  • Exodus: any good pro contract will have a break clause in case the team loses its licence. If Astana is ejected then its riders will want to race elsewhere. It’s easy to leave but another thing to find a job on a team. As things stand many teams are full and those with spaces on the roster might not have the budget. The likes of Nibali won’t be unemployed but some less celebrated riders and most of staff will be. Some might say the riders who signed with Astana made their choice and have to live with it. This is harsh, after all it was a UCI approved team and when, say, Lars Boom, inked his deal at the Tour de France none of the doping stories had emerged. Also when Nibali signed Vino was outside the team, back then the squad was directed by Darkhan Kaletayev.

Even if the outcome remains a mystery hopefully this helps as a pointer to explain some of the issues from the audit principles to the various scenarios for appeal, the lack of relegation or what happens to the riders.

As things stand Astana could well continue. If the UCI had a slam dunk dossier then the team would have been stopped already. Perhaps the delay is due to patience and thoroughness as the UCI Licence Commission has been humiliated over the Katusha case: ruling one way and then being reversed at the CAS. It cannot afford – morally or financially – a repeat of this and so will be keen to give Astana every opportunity to exhaust its case before ruling.

As for the UCI its February press release came as a bombshell but it hasn’t blown anyone away since. It has flushed out senior UCI members like Di Rocco and Makarov who appear to be ignorant of the UCI’s own rules as they complained about a lack of consultation yet the very point of the Licence Commission is to keep them out of the loop. Others have suggested the UCI is posturing, that Brian Cookson wanted to look tough and at least try something in public. That seems too far fetched because to take a stance and then get over-ruled would look terrible for him and putting a top team in jeopardy just to look good is no way to run a sport.

We’ll see what emerges in the coming days. The most likely scenario is that the saga rumbles on at the CAS, the end point of so many UCI rulings in recent years.

154 thoughts on “Astana Ride On”

  1. You asked on Twitter if a governing body had expelled a team mid-season before. It’s pretty uncommon in most team sports, because removing one team affects the fixtures of all the other teams who were due to play them. But the English Football League did expel Leeds City during the 1919-20 season, apparently for financial irregularities and a refusal to co-operate with an investigation into those irregularities. Another team was promoted to take over their fixtures (and inherited their results to that point), and the player contracts were auctioned off to other teams. Not sure the UCI would go that far!

    More recently, Neuchatel Xamax were expelled from the top Swiss league in 2011-12 (again for financial irregularities), Excelsior Mouscron from the top Belgian league in 2008-09 (for going bankrupt and failing to fulfill their fixtures), and Chester City from the 5th tier of English football (which is still professional, though clearly they weren’t) in 2009-10.

  2. Nibali’s been photoshopped into that first picture. I’d bet his agent wishes he could do the reverse and photoshop him out of his contract and into another team!

        • Because he wanted to swap from his road position to “remember” how the TT bike handles.

          Amusing amount of conspiracy theories surrounding a mere photo of Nibali going for a ride on a rest day.

      • The TT bike and jersey are easily explainable (TT training and a the TT skinsuit being a slightly different design to the normal jersey). However the thing that makes it look shopped is the light. Nibali’s face and upper body looks like it was shot in a totally different light to the rest of the scene.

        I’ll bow to the guy who knows the photographer thought. 🙂

        The point still stands though, Nibali can’t be that happy with where he is right now, it will seriously hamper his earning potential and if the team does get ejected he may get a new ride but the team won’t have been built with winning the TDF in mind as all those teams have leaders already. Although Sky could snap him up since Froome still can’t seem to stay on his bike for a full race.

          • Indeed. It’s also interesting to note that Nibali is assumed clean in all of this, that is, removed from the actions of his team. Hence comments along the lines of: “Nibali can go somewhere else if Astana loses its license,” “this negative publicity isn’t good for Nibali,” “Nibali can get away from Vino,” etc… I’m not saying he’s doping, just noting the differential treatment between other successful riders whose teammates are found to have doped.

          • @anon-2
            We should count – and maybe weight – the cases.
            I can’t remember Ag2R (who’s got its fine share of doping case in the last five years) top riders being directly accused, if anything they appeared worried to receive a sort of fallout, just like Nibali. Same goes for BMC, Katusha etc.

            That said, it’s quite clear that Nibali has been building himself the image of a clean rider, suing and winning when he received false accusations and so on. He’s got his own work group within Astana, even if he must obey the master’s call about official visits and races.
            Anyway, I’m never optimist about a TdF winner. Maybe a change has really been happening in cycling, but we’ll only know in several years. All the same, that’s not a good motive to spend time accusing this or that rider being doped without any specific fact relative to him (something which is especially lacking in Astana’s case, where few elements give room, until now, to think about generalised and/or organised team doping: they may be perfectly practising it, obviously, we just don’t have much to be so sure about that).

            Personally, I find more worrying those situations in which borderline yet legal (at least in some countries…) behaviours are tolerated, normalised or even promoted.

        • The halo effect around Nibali is an artifact of post-production. I’ve used automatic dynamic range adjusting scripts that produced the same effect. In this case, you’ll notice the background is very bright and the foreground is covered in shade, so to make the features all come out requires extra manipulation.

  3. I think you mean ‘role’ not ‘rule’ in “…over some national sporting rule while Kazakh cycling chieftain Darkhan Kaletayev…”?

    Great stuff, as ever, though. While it’s frustrating for those who like to jump to conclusions, it’s nice to see due process being followed. The UCI also clearly wants to improve the due processes ready for the future so that, in time, the right decisions can be made at the right time.

    • I agree Ben. There has been much discussion and people pointing fingers at Cookson for not just banning Astana. I think this is being done in the right way, proper hearings etc. It’s the only way when people’s livelihoods are at stake. The likes of Vino and Nibali have money but there are plenty who don’t like the mechanics and support staff, not to mention some of the lower-ranked riders.

      I just hope that the right decision is made, and actually would hope that whatever the decision the rationale is released so that everyone is clear with the facts of the case.

  4. ‘Still it shows the private assurances given by Brian Cookson to Giro boss Mauro Vegni that this would be settled before the race begins are questionable or at least demonstrate that Cookson doesn’t control the timetable.’

    The quotes apparently attributed to Cookson by Vegni come from one half of those two people – Vegni. RCS are far from above…er…putting things out there that are not exactly from Planet Truth or Planet Accuracy (ditto their paper Gazzetta dello Sport, for that matter), if it suits their purpose.

    To settle qualms amongst sponsors etc re factors affecting their showpiece event, for example.

    • If it’ isn’t true, I’d have expected Cookson to deny that.
      I share your position about Gazzetta, and they’re still playing dirty to get Nibali in the Giro.
      Still, they’re a public source besides one of the top “stakeholders” :-S in cycling, and if RCS boss goes public in *their* newspaper (the most read daily newspaper in one of the top three countries of the sport, in terms of public) saying something like that, which ultimately isn’t true, the UCI President should say something on the matter! He just can’t ignore that a large part of the public of his sport will take for granted that he said that (and quite logically so).

      • Gabriele, Cookson has all kinds of people kicking off all the time – Nibz, Vino, Tinkov, Kreuziger, Makarov, di Rocco, Fat Pat, Verbruggen. Sweet Jesus and the baby orphans, its basically a full time job responding to every instance of someone kicking off in the media.

        Fundamentally, I’d just like the guy who heads up the sport we all follow to be able to get on with his job without inferences being drawn any time he doesn’t come out with an official response to someone saying he said something.

        You have a different view – that’s cool.

      • gabriele, your faith in the ability of newspapers to tell the truth is both touching and completely at odds with your often-expressed scepticism over so many other things.

        And your desire for the UCI President to reassure you in the case of every little piece of spin in the Big, Wide World of Cycling is … quaint.

        If you want to ‘take for granted’ something which someone didn’t say and nobody has said that he said, and then call such nonsense logical, then you need to look in the mirror and take some responsibility for your alleged ‘logic’.

        • I don’t believe in media, quite obviously, but most people do, and the UCI President should take it into account.
          What is more, these are “media rules”: if a top player formally says that YOU SAID something, and that’s false, you’d better point it out. Quite obviously. As we see daily in the press. And I don’t think that all the world is much less busy than Cookson.
          Press offices usually take care about that, and I’d say that probably in the case of a “UCI president” he could even take care of (a bit of) that personally; I don’t think Cookson is all busy sorting out the future of cycling alone, sitting at his desk day and night. Being a President implies a big part of “representing” your institution, which, among other things, means taking care of spreading correct information about your positions.
          The problem is here is that Gazzetta reported what Vegni said taht Cookson said, so “someone said that someone else said something”, indeed (to reply to what an Anonymous someone is saying 😉 ).
          On a newspaper. No private letter, no personal opinion, no tweets, no race radio, no “voices” (as are the supposed leaks about the result of the Astana audience by the Commission).
          If Cookson doesn’t consider the average Italian cycling fan (who’s well far from a critical view about what appears in the news) one of his beloved “stakeholders” who deserves a correct information about what he, the head of cycling, may have said (or not) to another top stakeholder – I just think he’s got a responsibility problem.
          And, no, again I can’t see the UCI getting on with a great deal of job, these days (months?).

          • Cookson: “Marco Pantani was not murdered.”

            Cookson: “Where is this alleged photograph from the Padova investigation of Ferrari turning up at an Astana training camp?”

            Cookson: “What ‘s the latest partial, agenda-riddled garbage printed in Gazzetta that the tifosi demand I instantly rebut?”

            Not happening, is it?

          • You’re looking in the mirror, gabriele, right?

            I get that Cookson didn’t give private assurances to anyone about anything.
            I get that Vegni didn’t say that Cookson gave him private assurances about the timescale of the Astana licence decision.
            I get that Cookson couldn’t have given any private assurances about that timescale – beyond saying that he would do the best he could, which is what he did say – because he doesn’t control the timescale and because he knows he doesn’t control the timescale.
            I get that Vegni is a charlatan and a busker.
            I get that Gazzetta is a rag of a newspaper that pushes its own agenda constantly.
            I get that some Italians, and some others, see this as an evil Cookson vs. St.Vincenzo thing.
            I get that some Italians, and some others, want to use this as a stick with which to beat Cookson.
            I get that some tifosi think that when they say ‘jump’ the only appropriate response of the President of the UCI is to ask ‘how high?’
            I get that you are one of these people.

            What is it that I don’t get?

      • If quote/position/policy P is attributed to public person, S, but P is falsely attributed to S, then it is certain/highly likely/probable that S will say in public that P is falsely attributed to him. .

        I’ve seen too many cases where this principle is not followed by public people. It’s not a good inference rule.

        • I don’t. I’m quite used to see the contrary, if anything, public persons denying having said what they declared on tape, or even on video 😉
          In this case, the declaration about the supposed conversation comes from a top player and it’s on a widespread media, not just the usual troll on some forum or the “anonymous voices from the UCI” like what happened with the Telegraaf leaks.
          Moreover, that kind of quote in the press (direct interview, inverted commas and so) implies heavy legal consequences in case of misbehaviour, in Italy at least. The newspapers can’t take much of a risk when they use that format: even if they aren’t generally trustworthy, when you see someone quoted like that (Vegni), it’s pretty much a fact.
          I don’t know if there’s some kind of cultural difference at work here, or even a different legal frame for the press, but I suspect that what was reported was quite true, and if it wasn’t a quick press release to clarify things would have been opportune. If you lead an International Union, you’d better get acquainted with the way things work in your main reference countries (but I guess Cookson and his staff do: he had no qualms about promptly rectifying Di Rocco’s grumbles).

    • Indeed. But it goes further than that. Here’s the CN article written by Stephen Farrand back in March –

      Nowhere there does Vegni say he has assurances from Cookson. He even says “while not speaking specifically of this case” (ie. Astana) in the discussion around the Giro, suspended decisions, Contador, etc.

      It’s Farrand that uses the phrase “receiving assurances from UCI Brian Cookson.”

      A month later and the received wisdom is that Cookson has given ‘private’ assurances to Vegni that the Astana case will be done and dusted by May 9th.

      It was bollocks then. It’s bollocks now. It’s a myth that needs to die.

      • Oh, please…

        MV: “Sull’eventuale ricorso al Tas (il tribunale arbitrale dello sport), io ho incontrato una decina di giorni fa il presidente dell’Uci, Brian Cookson. Non ho chiesto nulla del caso, ho fatto solo una richiesta: non partire al Giro con una condizione sospensiva come nel caso Contador, questo non posso accettarlo più. Su questo, Cookson è stato d’accordo, in modo che prima della partenza del Giro il caso venga chiarito completamente. L’impegno dell’Uci è di non arrivare a situazioni non accettabili come per Contador al Giro 2011. E Cookson mi ha detto che si adopererà con il Tas in modo che una decisione sia presa prima del Giro” (GDS, 03/17/15).

        Why, why, why did CN close their comments section? :’-(

        • If that direct quote is correct – presser or private interview? – then it’s possible that Farrand in CN was doing Vegni a favour and trying to save his ass.

          Because the direct quote shows up Vegni for the charlatan that he is. He can’t say that he didn’t speak specifically about a particular case and in the next breath say that he has been given a commitment from the UCI regarding that case.

          And the commitment is simply to work with CAS anyway. That is not a private assurance to settle anything before any date at any time.

          • Anon, you really need to improve your reading skills in Italian. If you had a kinder attitude I could explain it for you, but it’s quite useless now. UCI’s (or Cookson’s) commitment has been fulfilled.

          • Gabriele:
            “quaint” is the word anon used, which is, of course, what our divisive-minded one is doing hiding behind the anon label. I think most understand your point, and appreciate the tone of your explanation/reasoning when responding. I see this blog at times veering to close to the trolling lines of others we read. Keep on the high road. 🙂

        • yep – seems like “they” have come over to this brilliant site – a shame – since both rings’ post and the comments usually are a great source of information..

          • Yep, all those “almost the entire peloton is at least micro-dosing!” style comments have the fetid stench of Cyclingnews comments/forums about them.

          • Yes, people stating as absolute facts wild, wholesale claims that they have no evidence for. And then fail to back them up when pressed – as the ‘microdosing’ person didn’t.

          • Facts are important. But, given that we are all mostly passive observes and are not a part of the cycling apparatus (media, riders, teams, sponsers, organizers – all with their own angles) then it means we have to discern. It is fair to claim that “facts”, which cannot be collected by us in person, support an argument. It is also fair to claim that the “fact” that cycling has always been a sport riddled with cheating (as any pro sport) can support an argument – until demonstrated otherwise. We have long memories – it’s a virtue. To say that history and “common sense” have no place in an argument is a bit dis-ingenuous. I’d imagine that the image of cycling that we see, and to some degree have been exposed to by countless investigations into cycling by all sorts of authorities, demonstrates some basic “facts”; There is a PED problem in all professional sports. Cycling is a wonderful example of this problem. And I have no issue with this. It creates an added drama. Unfortunately that drama is full of hypocrites and deniers.

  5. Still would LOVE to know what is going on in the last photo you used. Have seen it before, but who is that gal? She looks far more like a moral booster/party girl than a soigneur…

    Man, it would blow up the fucking peloton if Astana was booted, would be awesome! Maybe a Russian oilgarch would then start an EPO/cortisone peloton and we could have one doped, one clean…

  6. I know that Vino practically “is” Kazakh cycling, but perhaps in the wake of Nibali’s TDF win the power balance has shifted away from him somewhat? I know also that Vino is supported by the team’s corporate backers, but one still has to wonder if even they aren’t thinking their brand is being further tarnished by hanging on to Vino and his, let’s say, “old school” attitudes?

    As the transition from the dope-ridden T-Mobile team to Highroad has shown even squads with very troublesome history can thrive, and given Astana’s birth and tarnished history up until this point, if the whole team isn’t to be scuttled, perhaps it’s time to throw one man overboard?

  7. Augie, exactly my thoughts, thanks.
    Apart from the doping past- and this is not to diminish it or suggest that I believe in the “we all did it, level playing-field” argument- but the alleged buying of a race win is no small matter. And again, not that this does not happen, just a very sad fact that stands in direct opposition to the (sometimes) truly great racing that we love about our chosen sport.

    I would imagine that the Astana team have been having these discussions for some time and have various action plans in place depending upon the decision. (Apart from CAS appeal, as Inrng adroitly points out).

      • The point of competing professionally, and trying to win, is $$. Do you think that the pro peloton as a whole is doing it to win, or doing it for a paycheck?

        It is only in the amateur ranks, when you take all monetary reward out of the equation, that you have people competing (and cheating) solely for bragging rights.

          • I didn’t say “everyone’s doing it, so it’s fine”, I said “They’ve been doing it since the beginning of the sport, since before you could ride a bike, and it’s awesome”. There are legends and myths about selling races; riders supporting countrymen on other teams, teams collaborating, etc. It’s one of the beautiful and unique facets of the sport.

            If you want to follow a clean sport, watch basketball. Or, the NFL.

          • You’re not really paying attention.

            I do care who wins and the competition is certainly genuine over a whole season.. But, I care more about How they win, and all the nuance that entails.

  8. Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL)

    Prior to the task of examining Astana’s management, was an athletic performance research group. How does human performance research get them chosen to evaluate management practices? The UCI’s dear friend Martial Saugy is involved in the management of this academic group. Vrijman report 3.0.
    Lots of IOC “inside baseball” going on here.

  9. ‘These hearings are held in private.’ – that’s part of the problem.
    ‘The full reasoned decision will be published in due course.’- how ‘full’ do you think that’ll be?
    As for riders who signed for Astana, I know Astana’s history and I’m sure they did when they signed. The mechanics, soigneurs, etc. I would feel sorry for.
    But none of them have anything to worry about: the UCI continues to fail to stop cheating. How many of their riders have to be caught doping/hanging out with Ferrari, etc.?

  10. Bearing in mind that I am new to INRNG, and somewhat tangentially, I reckon it’s time to critically and objectively examine a couple of the sport’s true villains. The Astana Licence imbroglio has all the hallmarks of a vendetta against Vinokourov. Fair enough too. It was appalling to see the men’s road race at the London Olympics stolen by an unrepentant ‘former’ blood doper. More recently, why do Valverde’s multiple victories and podium finishes not attract more critical analysis. I’m not suggesting that you conduct a potentially libellous analysis, just present the facts. As far as I’m concerned these two, and others, are a stain on the sport.

    • My two cents, Vinokourov is an unrepentant former doper who is running a team of riders who are getting caught doping, that is far worse, in my opinion, than a former doper who served his ban and has resumed riding. Valverde is unrepentant, which is unappealing, but it wasn’t a “lifetime” ban.

  11. Is the tweet by Greg Henderson about Fabio Aru being ‘sick’ when it’s because he has a Bio passport flag getting any wider press? Would be catastrophic for Astana if so

  12. Just because some arsehole from the peloton posts a cynical tweet doesn’t mean it’s true. What’s with all the negativity today? Lighten up and have a sip of Red Bull!

    • I really do hope that when UCI gets the whistleblower system in place, the people in the know use it instead of just dropping these kind of statements, or they’re going to come across as a) gossiping (at best) or b) using their inside info to aggrandise themselves without having the moxie to actually help clean the sport up….

  13. Astana isn’t going to win shit this year cause they re being watched…. Unless they take a risk and then they’ll get caught:)

  14. When the correct procedures are followed by our governing body, and an outcome reached that is probably acceptable to most fair minded people, it is unfortunate to read some of the personal comments directed towards Brian Cookson. Give the man credit. He has taken the correct course of action, and this course will result in long term changes to the assessment of all WT teams regarding the ethical side. An important element which has for far too long been ignored.

    That Inrngs blog is becoming increasingly popular is of little surprise. That it is attracting generally uninformed conspiracy theorists and personality assassins in ever larger numbers is to be much regretted. Like many, I come here for the balanced and well informed views of our host and most contributors.

    Please, those with personal prejudices to air, character assassination or uninformed comment to add, there is section within another place called ‘The Dark Side’, where I am sure these contributions will be more than welcome.

    • I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is not debate it with them.
      Hopefully, if their comments are ignored, they’ll go away.

    • I’ve seen a handfuls of comments lamenting the immigration of “the poors” from comments threads. Poor of logic, and facts I’d assume. Somehow “the wait and see” or “where is the proof” lines of arguing never seem to go stale. Sure, facts are facts. But, the conclusion of most if not all of these comments are opinions. We have no primary access to these facts, and most are encapsulated in the small pro cycling community. I’d agree that a level of dialogue above slander etc. is the order of the day. However, I think it is ridiculous to continue to ask any commentor (like ourselves here) to PROVE that many of these players that keep popping up aren’t protecting interests and obfuscating. Who are the players in the cycling drama that really do command our respect, at least in regards to purveyors of truth? I think it is useless to demand that we keep our dialogue TOO respectful of a sports culture that consistently insults our intelligence.

  15. Big tempest in teapot here since (as I type this) nothing much has actually happened. As to the “you suck!” “NO, you suck!” comments making their way over here (sadly) I can suggest cyclingtips still seems to post any sort of lame-brained comment. I scroll right past any here from Anonymous and his friends so it makes things easier. From what I can tell here in Italy this is being shaped as a Cookson vs Nibali issue. Italians want to believe in Nibali but see him being torn down by the villainous Cookson. I’m leaning in favor of “We’re not going to put up with this s__t anymore!” even if it means Nibali and Co. get screwed over in the mess. They all they knew who they were climbing in bed with at the start after all, a team that could have as easily (and perhaps more accurately?) been named DODGY instead of the name they chose. I have no illusions about them being the only ones but sometimes examples have to be made to change behavior. If they slide by under some flimsy pretext it’ll seem pretty much “business as usual” for the sport. They then can go back to hand-wringing about why nobody wants to put any money into sponsoring a sport with a lot of rules nobody pays much attention to.

    • Anonymous says…xxxx

      Anonymous replies….xxx

      And so on. Tedious.

      Interesting what you say on how its being positioned in Italy, Larry.

      (and I love the ‘Network’ reference!)

    • Although it’s endearing and understandable, it’s not “Cookie against the Nibbler”, it’s about money and control. Who wants it? I’d look at gambling.

      Examples do not work when there’s money to be made. Ankle bracelets for the competitors and accounting for every penny invested, spent and earned. Public examples are just an education on what not to do to not get caught.

      What might clean cycling look like? A neutered version of Vaughter’s Garmin. What does Garmin look like to most pros? Death to their career..

  16. What I don’t undertand, and correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the key in getting, and keeping, your UCI licence, not to be involved in doping or at least have a strong programme against it that would stop a team wide program in doping?

    Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems pretty clear from the ISSUL findings that Astana do not have this in place, so why do they get to keep their licence?

    • That’s the problem with this – and it was the same with the Katusha situation – it’s all kept secret, so no-one has any idea what the UCI knows/doesn’t know.
      Let’s hope the UCI actually does give us it’s reasoned decision – but I very much suspect we’ll be kept in the dark.

        • Oops – just googled this. And your review of it was what came up first – and was excellent, as ever. Seems, as with this case, that there’s a lot of evidence of shady goings on, but no hard evidence.
          (Turns out I was out of the country and had no internet when that came out… mea culpa.)

        • What happened with the required follow up? Wasn’t Katusha supposed to submit a detailed accounting to explain where all their money was going?

    • We don’t know yet but La Gazzetta seems to have some elements of the dossier, it says management are not in contact often enough with some riders, that there are language barriers preventing some communications and some managers are “not sufficiently qualified to prevent doping”. If this is true it’s all soft, operational aspects and probably applicable to many teams.

      • But more significant here if those aspects are preventing Astana from complying with all the undertakings they gave about good practice when they got their licence. But if they are such soft, operational aspects, you can see why the Licence Commission reached the compromise it did.

  17. I’m surprised Dave Brailsford’s idea of having some sort of enforcer embedded within each team hasn’t got more traction. The idea is simply to have someone from WADA, say, travel with the team, with permission to rummage around where/when they like. It would be difficult to hide a doping programme of any kind with that going on. Seems like a really good idea for suspicious teams like Astana at least.

    • Riders don’t spend much time with their teams, they’re often at home or travelling, many even do private training camps, paying their own money to stay in mountain hotel etc. You could stick someone onto a team during a grand tour but monitoring all the staff is not easy, especially for a team or an employee dedicated to cheating, especially if a rider is working with a private doctor not on the squad. For this end the UCI has been recruiting a criminologist and is looking at hiring private dectectives (I’m not kidding BTW).

      • That’s a good point. Private detectives are an excellent idea actually – especially if they catch one or two people, the deterrent would be huge.

        • And, rather than an easy, inexpensive, all encompassing solution that would scrutinize everyone equally, private dicks could be loosed on your enemies and your enemy’s employees in a more biased fashion.

  18. Plenty of people claimed nothing would change despite sweeping Mr. Mars and the Mad Hatter out of the UCI clubhouse. I reserved judgement on that until the license issue of Astana was settled. Now that it’s settled I can agree with those who said nothing would change. All the “from now on things will be different” claims are as phony as the stuff spewed by the previous crooks-in-charge. They are certainly laughing their a__es off about now. I wonder how long Cookson’s tenure as captain of the pro cycling ship will last before he walks the plank? Maybe VELON’s not such a bad idea after all? They make little noise about sport and lots about spectacle so maybe a WWE-type “entertainment product” would at least be honest about its dishonesty? Just when you think the sport can’t sink any lower…they manage to pull it off.

  19. Thank you. But, you do yourself a disservice packaging HV and PMcQ together. They are Very different Presidents in every way; not only personality wise, but also because of managment style and how they addressed the changing times. And, if you go back and listen to Tyler Hamilton interviews, he alluded to this. He admits that his only argument for getting rid of McQ was to set an example. It is always a ridiculous solution to get rid of the captain just because the crew or the navigator have taken the ship off course.

    It’s only my opinion, but I am amazed that anyone can watch and listen to 15 minutes of Cookson video and come away with any conclusion except that the guy is a buffoon.

  20. Not a fan of Astana, they are just an attempt at a legitimate front for a few unsavoury types who ‘acquired’ former Soviet assets in dark and mysterious circumstances when the USSR fell apart. That an unrepentent doper is the face of the team is just the cherry on top. I’m dissapointed in Nibali for joining them, but cash talks I suppose.

    • It’s a strange team, created to counter the Borat imagery it’s not exactly showering glory on Kazakhstan. The again a lot of the negative headlines are read by people who visit cycling blogs while the wider public just hears Astana rhyming with yellow jersey and other triumphs.

      • Echo chamber effect I think, INRNG. I think whilst the outside world maybe primarily sees it as an Italian rider winning the Tour, Giro etc, the puff about it being a Kazakh team winning – propelling him to glory – the further Glorification of the national hero Vino (more medals!), plays to the audience inside Kazakhstan.

  21. Kudos to Cookson for following due procedure. It was one of his predecessors (many) bad habits to make bombastic media statements which later proved to be hot air.

    However, at one point team mangagement must be made responsible, in stead of shirking responsibility by blaming individual riders.

  22. I do wonder if any of those criticising the current UCI President have ever sat through a meeting chaired by him when he was with British Cycling or seen him in action during his time at that organisation or at the UCI.
    Many of the activities are mind-numbingly tedious in such meetings and procedures but are absolutely essential to good governance, much as they are in many businesses of all sizes.
    It seems to me that however good or bad the UCI rulebook is, it is now being adhered to far more than under any of the recent UCI incumbents and for that many should be grateful, even if it supportssome theories and contradicts others.

    I have an abhorrence of people posting as “Anonymous”, could that be amended INRNG so that such a post is never added to your blog. It might then force some posters to moderate some of their nonsense.
    Great article to shine some light on the machinations of the last few months.

    • I have an abhorrence of ignorance and hypocrisy, Dai Bank. But, I still read your comments. “It seems to you..” is the same thing as saying “in my limited understanding”, which is all anyone is doing here. Even the host of this wonderful blog surmises and theorizes based on their knowledge at the moment.

      You are anonymous. Would you like to post up your real name, address, marital status and mobile #?
      I didn’t think so. Is it wrong that INRNG is anonymous? I argue that it adds to the quality of the content in ways that you might not understand. Your, and your closed minded cohorts, displeasure of comments that you don’t agree with posted by a common name on this blog is a bit rich, isn’t it? The whole conversation of people posting complaint comments anonymously about comments by posters that can’t be bothered to think up some clever moniker or avatar is ridiculous.

      My opinion, limited by my time and laziness, is that the UCI is modifying the rules to suit themselves. Bio Passport to be used to ban a cyclist? On the eve of the most important GT of the year? A new hand picked tribunal? Etc., etc.

      Did you ever sit through one of those meetings?

      • I think we are all entitled to our own views, whatever they are and however crazy they may seem to others. It is also people’s right to also post that anonymously.

        However I do believe that the good thing about having a name or avatar is that at least others can associate comments to one person. There are whole chains above that are all between anonymous. How can anybody follow that.

        Obviously Bilmo isn’t my name and I’m not about to give out my address and phone number. But at least, if you were so inclined, you can look back and see what else I have commented on previously. To paraphrase the film critic mark Kermode, context is the key to good criticism. We read this blog because of what INRNG has written before, therefore we trust him/her.

        The list of regular characters in these comments are one of the things I really enjoy. I value the opinion of people such as Larry T, gabriele, Tovarishch etc nearly as much as INRNG. I may not agree with them all the time but it adds depth to the blog. Long may it continue.

  23. Thanks SM, Bilmo and JE.
    Bilmo put it better than me, it helps to establish an association across many threads when an avatar/name is offered. Like Bilmo and INRNG himself/herself I shall not be posting my name etc. but will continue to post my opinion from time to time, hopefully in a reasoned tone that will add to the debate.

  24. On a sidenote (sorry if it looked OT), following some kind of free association prompted by Henderson’s tweet, I’d like to ask to inrgn and the readers if someone knows anything about how BP works when altitude tents are concerned.
    That is, in the countries where they’re legal, do riders have to keep some log or what? You could justify pretty much any jump in your haematic profile saying that you were virtually sleeping 8 hours a night at 12,000-15,000 ft. or such (what is more, you could put any needed number there).
    Altitude training could generally be seen, in my opinion, not only as an effective way to boost performances through the effect of physiological adaptation – which it is -, but also as a grey zone when BP is concerned, since an altitude stay can be used to explain a good range of variations (whereas it’s far from mathematical that high-altitude periods will *always* produce the desired/expected haematic results: it has been observed a good deal of variations among different individuals and even for the same person in different occasions).
    All the same, with altitude training you at least have some more or less exact references about time spent in altitude and height above sea level (with a good number of material evidences), which reduces a bit the room for manipulation. Altitude tents, however, would introduce an even “greyer” area, with potentially unmanageable variables to be taken into account.
    Any hint on the subject?

    • I’m interested in this as well. More on a general question on BP and the variables we aren’t quite sure about and the definitive result (ban for the rider)

      The JTL Case (not pursued by Sky, probably due to the association and easier to get rid, where JTL still claims innocence and apparently had supporting evidence from experts, but remains untested in court) to Kreuziger, with two sides of experts willing to make claims one way or other.

      My main concern is that we have very little baselines to work with. The Elite cyclist is a special beast physiologically, with extreme events like grand tours, altitude training, long seasons, etc. To get a consistent baseline you need historical data. I think it is clear that Historical data might be a little tainted for an elite cyclist. Do we know enough about these tiny percentages of people to support BP to a level that we can ruin a rider’s career because he had a massive drinking sessions (not saying one way or other if this is the reason for JTL) or the altitude reasons for Henao etc.

      I worry that in 2 years time the basis for the current BP decisions gets debunked as we start to learn more from a largely clean (er) peloton.

      At least with Astana they made it easy by testing positive the old fashioned way.

      • “At least with Astana, they made it easy…” with just two positives by siblings with, seemingly, a very low I.Q.?

        Doesn’t it stand to reason, that the team of the reigning TdF champ, managed by an Olympic gold medalist and Vuelta champion and convicted blood doper, would have a much more clever program presently? The Iglinskys tested positive, not Astana. This whole Astana thing is political, regardless of whether Aru or Nibali are clean or not.

  25. Anon. I don’t often take the trouble to reply to the people who choose to remain anonymous – for you I make an exception.

    Please, please do a little research into the history and characters associated with Astana – I could, but can’t be bothered to inform you. Teams in general no longer have a ‘team programme’, it is simply too difficult to implement. Once you have complied the list of riders, support staff and outside medical support, you might start to understand the concerns surrounding this team. These concerns have NOTHING to do with politics.

    • I guess you hold right the same attitude towards the good ol’ Team Highroad with the likes of Brian Holm and Rolf Aldag – who haven’t retired at all, by the way -! Or that *tainted* Team Sky (under their own criteria, I’d add) which won “the first Tour de France with a Britishman”, or, presently, towards Orica because of Matt White (the-man-whose-doping-problems-are-never-cited-by-CN-when-they-interview-him-as-a-guru), Madiot’s FDJ, Biondi’s Ag2R, Sciandri’s BMC, not to name the quite impressive Katusha, Tinkoff, Garmin, Etixx… and including more or less all the rest in a general “etc.”

      (When we were debating to which team could have gone Nibali, I think that only Lotto and Giant could more or less bear a scrutiny based on team staff; still, I’m quite worried when in a team a rider recurs to borderline methods like Kittel did or Debusschere is now doing, just as when – as it happened in various other teams – opiates are prescribed, and so on… if we are accusing teams because of the “culture” or the “mentality” which are still possibly present in their structure, well, there also other symptoms of significant “mentality” troubles, beyond the relative legality of some practises).

      Besides, I can’t see how and why a team program would be now harder to implement. I think that for richer teams it’s as easy as always and probably way more effective, in competitive terms, precisely because of the complications which “artisan doping” may meet under tighter control. Apart this conjecture, mine is a wild guess, about this subject, but I’d like to know what lead you to your position (no more team programs), instead.

      • PS This is not a “everyone’s doing it then fine” post. It’s more of a “it’s politics because something widespread and normally not even addressed becomes so relevant just in this case, if it was a sincere concern about the specific matter, it should have been tackled in a more comprehensive way”.

    • Please, please, be careful whom you chose to insult..

      If there was ever a team that will evidence the refute to your convictions, it’s your beloved SKY.

      • I dislike Sky – as I despise anything associated with Rupert Murdoch.
        Having said that, do you have any evidence to back what you say (only JTL as actual riders, as opposed to others with a dodgy past – and that’s the same at virtually every team)?
        On the other hand, Astana:
        Vino, Kashechkin, Armstrong, Bruyneel, LBL Kolobnev payment, Contador, Kreuziger, three team members recently (one was a stagiare), two members of their junior team.
        Many more here:

  26. Dodge2000 – the key point of the BP is it’s unique to that individual.
    It’s used to establish the long term trend for them, which allows anti doping bodies to spot changes that hint at some form of artificial manipulation.
    Testing can then be targeted to confirm suspected doping.
    This is one reason why suspension based solely on the BP is mainly down to opinion rather than test results.
    If there’s no believable way for a change in blood values to occur without doping then you either suspend and force the rider to prove its not, or test more often until you catch ’em red handed.

    • Steven, have you got any hint about how an altitude tent would be integrated in a BP profile? If any anomalous change is detected, can a rider justify himself putting forward an appropriate “altitude tent height / period”?
      And if that is not considered as a valid explication, how is the BP program dealing with the changes that (hopefully) the same BP should be detecting in the profile of riders who, in fact, are openly using an altitude tent?

  27. Gabriele. Too wordy and even then with several important omissions ! I was in fact replying to the specific point raised about Astana, and the proven guilt of so many of it’s riders, management and support staff, to make the point that this was not a political decision with a capital P. I wasn’t attempting to give a general review of past or current doping infractions over the current WT teams !

    I think you have probably failed to grasp the wider implications of the ‘Astana case’. It is probable that the review procedure used to highlight the problems at Astana, will more than likely be implemented across the board. In other words, members and relationships within all WT teams will be open to far greater scrutiny.

    The ‘no more team programmes’ is not just my position. It is generally accepted by those who know about such matters, that this is indeed the case. Not because it can’t be done, but because for a team to be caught implementing such a programme, the consequences would far outweigh any potential gain – a gain which because of the BP is now much reduced.

    • …”proven guilt of riders /management / support staff” vs. “doping infractions over WT teams”… uhmmm… what’s the difference? You’re hinting at something different from “doping infractions” when you say “proven guilt”?
      And I guess you’re including as “Astana” at least three different team structures, just sharing sponsorship and brand name, in that “so many”.
      I have only named cases of teams with “proven guilt” among their management, no difference with Astana from that point of view, and I’m wondering if you feel the same about all them. I don’t have even started to list cases of riders or medical staff.

      I acknowledge your point about ISSUL procedures, about which I’ve expressed a very favourable opinion before (I’m slightly rethinking that after discovering Saugy’s presence there, but I still hope it’s some kind of irrelevant coincidence… trying to be desperately optimistic).
      That doesn’t change anything with reference to “political decisions”. Good tools can be used to manage political fights in the sport (and not just there: for example, Russia and Kazakhstan became friends again after some energetical dispute, meeting in Astana around the 20th of March 😉 maybe it was that which provisionally saved the team… just joking – I hope).
      I won’t say that the EPO test is in itself bad, even if we now know that it was used in a political way.
      BP, which I appreciate a lot (at least conceptually), and whose introduction I’ve long defended, is even more prone to that, as some former scientific members of the program have observed, even if we can’t still be sure of any actual malpractice.
      Is the same pressure applied to all riders and all teams, when there are comparable motives?
      We’ll know more when we’ll read the details of the Commission’s decision and we’ll be able to weight the meaning of Cookson’s hard words some time ago, as well as the supposed declarations of some “UCI member” to the Telegraaf.

    • PS Can you say who are “those who know about such matters”, or what is their role in the sport (spectators, riders, journalists, managers…)?
      I’m not “rhetorically” asking you to name them, just asking if you are entitled to that or not, and quote them if the answer is “yes”. ‘Cause I know a couple of “those who know” who’d say something else from what yours “those who know” have generally accepted, but they wouldn’t ever do it in public, hence I can’t argue too much about the subject.

  28. Gabriele. You will just have to take my word for anything I have posted. I don’t want to get into a ‘I know more than you’ kind of discussion It’s not too difficult to ask around the scene and come to a general conclusion about the present situation. It is even easier for the armchair fan to observe significant developments on the road over recent years.

    Of course there will always be other points of view, and riders acting outside the general trend, but the general consensus by those who are closely associated with the sport, is that progress is being made and the sport is moving in the right direction.

    • Excuse my ignorance, are you involved with professional cycling then, BC? The World Tour? I’d be far more interested in the thoughts of someone who is actually ‘on the ground’, as it were. The rest of us – and the sensible ones admit this – are largely pontificating.

  29. Gabriele – the earlier “Steven” post was me, iPad autocorrect which I didn’t spot
    The altitude tent question is interesting. In order to find out I suspect you’d need to recruit an athlete who uses one and is happy to be sampled more often than normal just to establish what the effect is.
    The problem you still have is that system gives results just for that athlete. It’s then just a single patient clinical trial, which doesn’t help you much. As everyone is so different physiologically it’s hard to generalise that to others. That’s a particular problem with elite athletes as they’re so different from the wider population.
    If you could recruit multiple riders and gather similar data for all that would be more use.
    Don’t forget about the other stuff testers look at – ratio of mature to immature red cells etc., a measure of how active / stimulated the bone marrow is, a marker of EPO or similar.

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