Astana ride on, but under close scrutiny

Team Astana UCI ruling article photo

The Scottish legal system has an unusual alternative verdict to the familiar guilty or not guilty. The alternative is “not proven”, which has been interpreted before now as, “not guilty, but don’t do it again.” All this may or may not have something to do with today’s UCI decision not to remove the World Tour licence from Kazakh team Astana.

There is, of course, nothing odd, nor funny, about a team that was created, allegedly, to re-establish the flawed reputation of Kazakhstan after the demolition job done on the place by Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic creation Borat. Nor is it the slightest bit odd that the cycling team created to do this particular bit of faecal beautification was entrusted to the care of the exemplary Alexander Vinokourov: Olympic Gold Medallist from London 2012 and, ah yes, also quite famous for another London-based experience in the 2007 Tour de France when he, and the Astana team, departed the race under a cloud as a result of a blood doping bust.
Times have of course changed for the boys in kingfisher blue. Big name signings like Alberto Contador have raised their profile – and there is nothing to be said about the choice of steak houses made by this undoubtedly talented rider – I really am not taking sides here! Nibali won the Tour de France for the team from the former Soviet republic last year, and he is a rider we all respect. More worryingly, a succession of Astana riders tested positive for one thing and another during 2014 and the controversial figure of Armstrong’s doctor Michele Ferrari has been reported to have been around the Astana team in December 2014.

The presence in the team of the talented and much admired Vincenzo Nibali complicates the situation. Nibali has been outspoken about his riding clean, and it would be very hard for the UCI to remove at a stroke their Tour de France champion from the professional racing scene. There again, the same could be, and was, said about Armstrong.

The UCI statement looks as if there is going to be a very tight scrutiny of Astana – but wasn’t that supposed to be in place, and for all teams, already? The UCI statement promises more detail and more reasons in due course. Sadly, the spectre of doping is still lurking, and there is still a way to go before the UCI convinces us all that it really does have the situation under control – and it needs to.