Astana in danger of losing its licence

Astana, Tour de France winner Alberto Contador's cycling team, could lose its licence to compete in the top races over unpaid salaries, according to the head of the International Cycling Union (UCI), Pat McQuaid (picture).


AFP - The cycling future of the Astana team, whose star rider is Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, could be in doubt, UCI chief Pat McQuaid said Saturday.

Astana are currently hoping to impress the UCI Pro Tour licence commission sufficiently to gain a new four-year licence and thus be able to continue racing in the top echelons of the peloton.

However McQuaid said: "Representatives of Astana met the licence's commission earlier this week and from what I can gather from that meeting it does not look overly optimistic.

"There is a possibility the licence could be taken from Astana."

The Kazakh-backed team have had a torrid year prior to Contador's Tour de France triumph in July.

The team had been under UCI pressure because of months of unpaid salaries at the start of the year, leaving a cloud over their Tour de France participation.

After Contador's victory, his teammate Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour champion, promptly quit to join The Shack, which will be managed next year by Astana's former manager Johan Bruyneel.

Contador has also been trying to leave Astana, but faced with losing another top star they insist he has to honour the one year which remains on his contract.

However reports suggest the return of Alexandre Vinokourov into the team, first as a rider and possibly as manager, following his two-year doping ban, is not winning the team many votes among UCI officials.

If Astana fail to impress the licence commission with a bid which takes into account financial guarantees as well as their past record concerning ethics and doping, they could lose out, handing Contador a get-out-of-jail card.

McQuaid added: "We've had discussions with Contador, and from a legal perspective he knows that if the team gets a licence he will still have to race for them through 2010.

"But if they don't, he will be free to move elsewhere."

Despite appearing pessimistic over Astana's chances, the UCI (International Cycling Union) chief said he travelled to Kazakhstan where he met with top officials.

McQuaid said that guarantees were made that a top businessman from the country is ready to step in to guarantee the team's financial longevity.

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