Astana team retains top-tier race status for 2015

AIGLE, Switzerland (AP) The Astana team of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali has been put on probation to retain its top-tier racing status next season after a series of doping cases.

Noting ''heavy and repeated doping cases'' in the Kazakhstan government-backed team, the International Cycling Union's license commission imposed conditions Wednesday to avoid a further review.

Reports in Italy this week that Astana riders have worked with doctor Michele Ferrari - banned for life in the Lance Armstrong case - could also rebound on the team.

''The UCI would call upon the commission if evidence against the team is established,'' said the governing body, which awaits a file from Italian prosecutors investigating a doping network.

The Astana case has been a serious challenge for the UCI presidency of Brian Cookson, the Englishman elected in September 2013 on a platform to change cycling's doping culture.

''In the case of the Astana Pro Team, this remains a very serious situation for our sport given the number of doping cases,'' Cookson said in a statement, insisting that the team ''can be considered very much to be on probation.''

Still, the terms were ignored by Astana in a statement on its website.

''Astana Pro Team is happy and proud to announce that we have received a 2015 World Tour License and will race at the highest level of the sport in the upcoming season,'' the team said.

World Tour status guarantees a place in top races rather than forcing teams to rely on wild-card entries.

The UCI ordered Astana's status reviewed after five Kazakh riders from the top-tier team and its development squad tested positive for EPO or steroids since August.

All five were banned by the Kazakh cycling federation or provisionally suspended by the UCI.

The UCI on Wednesday ordered a Swiss university to audit the team, whose general manager, Alexandre Vinokourov, served a two-year doping ban before winning the 2012 London Olympics road race.

The audit of Astana's ''internal structures, culture and management systems'' will be completed by February, before the European season starts.

A failed audit or another doping case during the 2015 season will send Astana's file back to the license panel for review, the UCI said.

In a separate case, French team Europcar was denied top-tier status on financial grounds.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.