Astana: UCI wants World Tour licence revoked

Vincenzo Nibali
Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France

The International Cycling Union has requested that Astana, the team of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, has its World Tour licence withdrawn.

It follows an independent audit and places Nibali's future in limbo.

The audit was ordered by the UCI after a number of anti-doping infringements by Astana and its feeder team.

The UCI said the reality of the team's policies and structures differs from what Astana told the licence commission during a review last December.

"After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the licence commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn," a UCI statementexternal-link said.

BBC Sport's Matt Slater:
"When Astana's licence was granted in December, it looked like UCI boss Brian Cookson had surrendered at the first sign of a fight, and was heavily criticised for failing to live up to the promises made in his 2013 election campaign. But Cookson was playing a longer game and must now be congratulated for setting a clever trap. L'Equipe, the French paper that broke the story, described this as a "giant step in the fight against doping", which will be no consolation to Vincenzo Nibali and the other riders not suspected of cheating, but they should have steered clear of a team as badly tainted as this one."

The World Tour licence guarantees its holder direct participation in the biggest races of the year.

These include the three-week Grand Tours like the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, and one-day classics such as Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo.

There is no suggestion that Nibali has taken any performance-enhancing drugs but five Astana riders have tested positive for banned substances in recent months, all from the team's home country of Kazakhstan.

The Astana Pro Team was founded in 2007 and is backed by a group of state-owned firms from Kazakhstan

The Kazakh team was considering its response to the announcement.

Nibali became the sixth man to win all three Grand Tours - the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana.

The 30-year-old became the first Italian winner of the Tour de France since Marco Pantani in 1998.

Astana said it was aware of the audit results being passed to the commission and that it would "consult with its attorneys to prepare documents and testimony" while reserving the right to appeal any decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

British road and track racing Paralympic champion Dame Sarah Storey told BBC Radio 5 live: "The UCI said at the time, when they were criticised for giving the licence, that it was a probationary period and ultimately they're sticking to their word.

"It may prove difficult to withdraw it but they are taking a firm stance on doping.

"They've obviously found things in their investigation that they don't like and that sends out a very strong message to the rest of the professional teams."