Five doping cases in three months is truly an impressive record for doping transgressions. That’s Guinness Book of Records level guilt. Two positives for EPO at the Astana WorldTour team and three from the Astana feeder squad for steroids.
Given that startling run of failures, many critics are calling for the UCI to come down hard on the team and refuse to approve their WorldTour license for 2015. Joe Lindsey stated the case with great eloquence on the Outside Online website.
To quote the summary position from Lindsey: “For the good of cycling, Astana must be sidelined immediately and its top management—who have a long history with doping—permanently banned.”
Sadly, shockingly, depressingly, not going to happen. Cannondale-Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters gave his confident point of view on twitter a few days ago. “Astana won’t lose license. Will be”probation”+warning. After Katusha in CAS,legal precedent already set:formal warning must be issued first,” tweeted Vaughters.
It’s the same assessment from the Inner Ring cycling blog. “We can expect Astana to have a one year license with promises to improve things, maybe power-profiling riders and insisting on more outside anti-doping controls,” wrote Mr. Ring.
Well, that’s good news for Astana kingpin Alexander Vinokourov and Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali but for everyone else, it will be a public failure for a sport that simply can’t get out ahead of the doping issue that continues to plague the sport and scare off sponsors.
A slap on the wrist — no matter how cleverly written to sound more punitive — will be another high profile admission that for all the changes in leadership at the UCI, McQuaid gone, Cookson in, there’s surprisingly little power to discipline teams.
Because, really, Astana has gone far beyond the “warning” stage, given its history and the dirty past of Vinokourov himself. Five positives for the team also linked to Alberto Contador’s positive for clenbuterol and Roman K’s ongoing suspension and court case for irregularities in his biological passport from his time on The Kazakh squad.
Does Astana really deserve yet another warning?
How about warning: pro cycling can’t attract sponsors. Warning: for most people the first word associated with the sport is still “doping.” Warning: clean riders can’t convince people it’s a new era in cycling that doesn’t require micro-doses of EPO or blood transfusions. Warning: the dark clouds created by the USADA Reasoned Decision won’t blow away when the doping cases continue to happen on teams like Astana.
A failure to sanction and send a message to Astana that this behavior is unacceptable is just a reminder that it’s dirty business as usual. Like McQuaid trying to cover up Contador’s failed test, the UCI and Cookson run the same risk. They’d prefer to slap the wrist rather than damage the chances of Vincenzo Nibali defending his Tour crown.
Does the UCI risk losing their case in the Court for Arbitration in Sports — as they did with Katusha? Sure, that’s a distinct possibility. But here is the far bigger and more damaging risk: doing nothing.
A slap on the wrist for Astana is a slap in the face for cycling.