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Fifth Positive Test at Team Astana Raises Questions

Fifth Positive Test at Team Astana Raises Questions

Today we digest the news that a fifth rider linked to Team Astana has tested positive in recent months and the sport has to pick itself up yet again. Twenty year old Artur Fedosseyev tested positive for anabolic steroids and joins brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy, Ilya Davidenok and Viktor Okishev on the list of positive tests. If Alexander Vinokourov’s doping past wasn’t already enough to damage the integrity of Astana, these positive tests will do little to suppress the feeling the sport is moving in the right direction, particularly where Astana is concerned.

These five positive tests mean Astana’s 2015 WorldTour license hangs loosely in the balance. The UCI’s license commission met on 6th November to discuss their inclusion with a result due days from now and it’s unclear if this latest episode will affect that decision.

We have previously been in a very similar situation. In late 2012 Katusha faced a similar review due to doping and illicit practices within the team that resulted in the UCI removing their WorldTour license only to have in reinstated when Katusha appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Katusha argued that they were implementing new measures in 2013 to prevent doping in 2013 and as a result of this their license was granted.

Even if the UCI do revoke Astana’s 2015 license then they are almost certain to go to CAS for a review and hope the UCI’s decision is overturned. Unless the UCI have evidence that the team was responsible for doping it’s riders then it will more likely go to CAS.

So what has changed? Is there systematic doping within teams or are these ‘isolated’ incidents of riders simply doping on their own – we shall never know for certain but it is the norm for teams to cast riders aside and undermine a riders reputation to protect the name and reputation of the team regardless. Until a rider has the courage to step up and speak out about a positive test we shall not know for certain. To us it doesn’t matter if it’s one or five positive tests. Teams pay riders salaries, then wash their hands of any wrong doing when a rider under their care is caught cheating. This does little to help the sport.

An examination of Astana fails to generate a great case for ethical cycling. Names such as Alexander Vinokourov synonymously linked to past doping do little to celebrate the good things about the sport. The name of Astana’s current head doctor, Dr Joost De Maeseneer has emerged on occasions over the last number of years, most notably in Tyler Hamilton’s autobiography. More recently we were notified by a pro rider who wished to remain anonymous that under the guidance of Maeseneer on a previous team, he was allocated false TUE prescriptions and fake injury reports that enabled him to race on banned substances. The UCI are well aware of the doctor in question but it remains to be seen if he, or other team doctors will be summoned before the UCI to explain why former riders have raised their names on numerous occasions.

If one were not already disappointed with the continued hypocrisy within the sport, looking back through a 2008 interview with Dr Joost De Maeseneer on he lamented Vinokourov as a rider who did not deserve a second chance after he was caught doping. Now we see Maeseneer employed by Vinokourov as his head doctor! (original interview on HL.BE here)

Is it time to hit the teams or team staff within those teams with financial penalties? Certainly any omission from the WorldTour would have huge ramifications on those involved. Such an omission would act as a solid deterrent to other teams. Does the sport react solidly to these five positives or will we see the same scenario over and over? It would certainly raise the question – “What DOES a team have to do to be omitted from the sport and receive punishment for persistent doping?”