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Roger Legeay, the president of the MPCC anti-doping organisation, has said that he believes it is unfair to consider as one block the five positive tests this year relating to Astana-backed riders.
Speaking to CyclingTips, Legeay said that it was important to treat the positive tests by Astana WorldTour riders Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy as separate to the three relating to the Astana Continental team, namely those of Ilya Davidenok, Victor Okishev and Artur Fedosseyev.
If this stance is echoed by the UCI’s Licence Commission, which is currently deciding if Astana should retain its WorldTour licence, then it might be enough to ensure the team holds its place in the top echelon of cycling.
“The UCI recognises four Astana teams,” Legeay said. “There is the WorldTour team, there is the Astana Continental team, there is the Vino4Ever team and there is also the Astana women’s team.
“For the UCI it is four teams. It’s the same for the MPCC also, because when teams want to ask to come to the MPCC, they are regarded as separate for us too.”
The news this week that a fifth rider relating to the teams – namely Fedosseyev – had failed a test upped the ante in terms of calls for Astana to lose its WorldTour licence.
Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy both tested positive for EPO in samples taken in August of this year, although the news of those positive cases were not communicated until September 10 and October 1 respectively.
On October 16 the UCI revealed that Kazakhstan’s national champion Davidenok had tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids on August 27. One month and two days later Okishev was revealed to be positive for the same substances, and this category of products was once again involved when the news came through on Wednesday that Fedosseyev had also provided a tainted A sample.
Davidenok had stepped up from the Continental squad in August when he became a stagiaire with the WorldTour team, although his positive A test occurred when he was racing with the national squad that month in the Tour de l’Avenir.
Despite being part of the WorldTour team at that point due to his stagiaire slot, Legeay said that the MPCC had a clear position on riders in that position.
“The situation is that the rider is from the Continental team,” he said. “I think that two riders were positive when they were with the national team [rather than racing for an Astana squad]. But for us, all the stagiaires in 2014 are considered in their Continental teams.
“That is the situation when you see the UCI’s rules. The UCI accepts all the riders in a Continental team for the year 2014 [even if they become stagiaires – ed.].
”The two Astanas are very different”
Legeay said that he feels it is not correct to consider the WorldTour and Continental squads as being of the same team. “It has the same name, but you have a lot of WorldTour teams who have Continental teams or amateur teams, like Europcar, Ag2r, Giant-Shimano, QuickStep.
“Okay, I understand that Astana is the team that won the Tour, and that it also has a very big name with Nibali. People look at it as a result. But in Kazakhstan you only have one sponsor, so all the teams have the same name. Despite that, it is not the same team.
“A lot of WorldTour teams have a second team, but they don’t have the same sponsor and thus it’s not the same name.”
Legeay argues that it is only fair to consider WorldTour and Continental teams as being the same if all teams have two closely related squads, not just some of them.
“Maybe we can change in the future; if the UCI’s cycling reform says that it is necessary for all the WorldTour teams to have a young team, then that is different. But not now – the two Astanas are very different because it is not the same riders, it is not in the same races, it is not the same calendar, it is not the same budget.”
The Licence Commission met Astana on November 6 and is currently weighing up the situation. It is expected that a final decision will be announced in early December.
In the meantime, Astana WorldTour team general manager Alexandre Vinokourov has indefinitely suspended the activities of the Continental team.
Some agree this is a logical action, while others regard it as a cynical measure taken to try to avoid any possible withholding of the WorldTour licence by the UCI.
As La Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out this week, Vinokourov had the power to suspend the smaller team, implying some element of control over it. In addition to that, the Continental team’s manager Dmitri Sedoun is also a directeur sportif of the WorldTour team.
Simply put: the distance between the two entities is not as big as Vinokourov would suggest.
WorldTour team risks missing top events in 2015 and 2016
Even if the team retains its WorldTour licence, Legeay points out that the MPCC’s regulations could prove costly for Astana.
It missed the Tour of Beijing as it had two positive tests within twelve months, namely those of the Iglinskiy brothers.
Under MPCC rules, member teams must agree to forgo the next WorldTour race if they have two positives during that period of time. Legeay states that the team risks missing much bigger events if there are any more doping cases. Depending on timing, it could even end up forgoing the Tour de France.
“The rules are very strict,” he said. “The first Astana positive in 2014 was the first of August 2014. In our rules, if they have a third rider positive before the 31st of July 2016, they stop for one month. That is a very, very strong pressure on the team and the riders not to make mistakes.
“If the date is before a Grand Tour, they don’t ride that Tour. If the third positive arrives just one week before the Vuelta, they don’t ride the Vuelta. If it arrives one week before the Tour de France, they don’t ride the Tour.
“That is very big, and is more than the WADA rules would be.”
Missing the Tour would indeed be a huge matter for the team. In fact so too would a full month out of racing, whenever it might occur. As a result Legeay is correct in saying that the team is under a lot of pressure not to have any more doping cases.
Fourth positive test for Continental team
The same rules also apply to the Continental team, even if it was never going to ride a WorldTour event due to its size. Providing the positive tests of Davidenok, Okishev and Fedosseyev are verified by positive B samples – or if the riders waive the analysis of their second samples – Legeay said they would count as three strikes against the team within the 24 month period.
Had Vinokourov not suspended the team, it would be facing a month off in the 2015 season.
However there is another positive that Legeay appears not to have taken into account. In August of last year Vladislav Gorbunov finished eighth on stage four of the Volta a Portugal and subsequently tested positive for Methylhexaneamine. He received an 18 month ban.
This means that the Astana Continental team has actually had four positive tests in little over a year; enough to be potentially ejected from the MPCC.
Asked what it would take to removed from the list of members, Legeay confirmed that a fourth positive test by any team could put such a course of action into motion.
“As I said, we have the rule that two riders positive in the past year will trigger an auto-suspension, as will three in the last 24 months. If there are four, you have a one month suspension but there is also the possibility for us to say, ‘okay, out of the MPCC.’ That would be the decision of the general assembly.
“It is a possibility, but it is necessary to consider the explanation of the team as to why it happened.”
That possibility gives an extra dimension to Vinokorouv’s decision to suspend the team; did he know that it could end up being ejected from the MPCC, and thus incur additional negative publicity for the squad plus Kazakhstan cycling?
Whatever the reasons for that, Legeay appears content for Astana to remain part of the MPCC at this point in time. He states that the teams have followed the MPCC regulations in relation to their reaction to the positive tests, and that the WorldTour team has voluntarily backed off from racing when those rules dictated it should.
Even if that is the case, the matters of the past two months have left cycling fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. Vinokourov’s past and the two teams’ succession of positive tests have blackened the squads’ names.
Legeay appears to take Astana at face value but if any more positive tests occur, the WorldTour team’s presence in the MPCC will become a real liability for that organisation.
To paraphrase Groucho Marx’s famous quote, other teams may not want to be part of any club that accepts Astana as a member.