Cookson, Astana, and the Death of Hope

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And the first rule of Twitter is that you should never tweet something you will live to regret. Not many people follow that rule but it is quite a good one, one that Brian Cookson OBE (Oh! Benevolent Entity?) was never taught, quite obviously.

The decision to award Astana a World Tour license for 2015 has elicited widespread anger from the cycling world and is a decision that even the most hardened doping apologists will have trouble defending.

After the Astana organization had five riders return positive tests for banned substances, the majority of cycling commentators believed it would be curtains for the Kazakh team, one that has had several other run-ins with the anti-doping authorities over the years.

Surely, went the thinking, there’s no way that a UCI run by Brian Cookson – the man who knocked Pat MacQuaid off his perch as president of the world governing body, the man who had promised to get tough on cheats – surely there’d be no way he’d allow Astana to keep its license?

Well… yes, actually. There was a way. He just said yes.

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It involved ignoring the anger and general fed-upness of cycling fans and the few outspokenly clean riders out there, it meant that he’d have to face the opprobrium of the social media for a few days, and it would essentially cause anyone who gave a fig about doping to come to the conclusion that the UCI is not to be trusted as the overseer of this beautiful sport, but apparently that’s all in a day’s work for Brian Cookson OBE.

As you know I am no fan of the UCI and I lost faith in them many years ago. I don’t believe that the UCI has the best interests of the fans nor the vast majority of its members at heart. Yet even I was amazed by the news that Astana would not lose its license.

I’m not alone. Amazingly, ProTour riders are speaking out – well one, at least.

Peter Kennaugh of Sky tweeted:

“Riders who were only ‘trained’ by Ferrari I mean come are you really that stupid ? And do you think everyone else is to? What a joke this sport can be! The clean riders of the peloton need to get together and push these cheats out enough is enough.”

Kennaugh’s tweet avoided calling out the UCI and Cookson which may be smart with regards to his job, but there’s no hiding the fact that the decision is what prompted his tweet in the first place.

Cookson for his part has said that Astana will be under probation, which must have Vinokourov quaking in his boots.

Now, it could be that the UCI is fearful of banning Astana after the debacle of last season when they had their decision not to give a WorldTour license to Katusha overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If that’s the case they could at least have made the symbolic gesture. What this move has done is to strip, mangle and burn the last bare shreds of the UCI’s credibility in the eyes of right-thinking fans.

Early rumors that stated that Vinokourov was seen entering the UCI HQ with a carrier bag full of Kazakh bank notes have been quashed, but other rumors that the basement car park has been rigged with high explosives have yet to be either confirmed or denied.

Allegedly.

It could be a combination of things, the Katusha factor, the power and wealth of Astana (they are backed by a national government), and it could be, one online commentator suggested, to do with Vinokourov’s contacts.

In The Telegraph’s online version, one reader wondered if the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling).

Thehamst wrote:

I suspect the head of the MPCC has had a major say so in this. Astana management and Roger Legeay go back a long way; all the way back to doping at Credit Agricole in 2008 actually. The same Roger Legeay banned for doping himself now in charge f the Movement For Credible Cycling – you really couldn’t make it up.

What is intriguing with regards to Astana not being denied a World Tour license is that another team, Europcar, was just denied one for 2015 (despite a fantastic Tour de France) on financial grounds.

“Regarding Team Europcar,” said Cookson, “it is of course regrettable that the team has not been able to secure sufficient financial guarantees to remain in the UCI WorldTour, but I very much hope that they can continue as a Professional Continental Team.”

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So, why not find some ‘financial irreguralities’ with Astana? If you can’t kick them out for bringing the already tarnished image of the sport further into the gutter, then make something up.

Also interesting to note was an interview with Cookson just two days ago in which he stated that cycling was not the only sport with doping trouble, and trotted out the old line about how cycling was doing way more than those ‘other sports’.

“I have always held the view that doping was not a practice solely restricted to the sport of cycling.

“In my view there are two groups of sports: There are those that have a doping problem and are actively trying to do something about it, and I would like to say that we are in a leading position on that.

“And there are those sports that have a doping problem and are still pretty much in denial about it. And sooner or later they are going to have their problems.”

Yawn.

To be honest Brian yes, we know other sports might have doping on a similar systematic scale as we have in cycling, but that argument doesn’t wash. You’re in charge of cycling, not table tennis.

However it is interesting to wonder what FIFA would do if say Barcelona suddenly got busted for a string of massive doping positives.

They’d probably say it was an isolated case, that it didn’t involve the management, was not systematic, that the players were very sorry, and that generally the sport was clean.

Sound familiar?

The truth of the matter, for me, is that the sport these guys at the top do is not the same sport I do. It is also not the same sport that 99.99% of cyclists around the world do.

We don’t cheat. We don’t think about doping ourselves. We don’t accidentally fall on srynges of EPO or drink our own blood by the baggie-full.

What we do do however, is love this thing called cycling.

Against our own better sense, we still tune in for the Tour, the Giro, Roubaix and the World’s. We still love the sight of the peloton coming through the clouds to summit on Ventoux, riders strewn about hither and tither, love seeing the fans – people like us – by the roadside, cheering them on.

We are the guardians of the history of this sport. We are the keepers, the rememberers, the people who make it live and breathe.

We buy the kits, we buy the books and the DVDs. We go to the races. We get up late at night when the family is all sleeping and pay our subscription to get 120 channels even though there’s only one we want to watch.

And yet we are nothing. We are disrespected and barely acknowledged, unless it’s to wring money from our pockets and to thrash the faith from our weary hearts.

This decision and the statements that have followed it from Cookson show that, again, and all too clearly.

Welcome to the world of the UCwedon’tknowf*ckingWhy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “Cookson, Astana, and the Death of Hope

    1. like i said, make something up. has a bureaucratic institution never before fabricated or exaggerated reasons to push through unpopular policy? well do it for a popular one. would the majority have supported them? yes.

      1. I’m with you Lee in feeling exasperated and angry that Astana are coming back in 2015, it really does feel like a big finger to the fans and those clean riders who want fair play and credible performances, but Cookson has to stick by the rules, not change them retrospectively or start making it up as he goes along – we had enough of that PMQ (remember the UCI elections?). I think, and hope, that UCI will be all over Astana next year, and that either there will be more positives and then (please!) real sanctions, or they’ll ride clean (and then disappear from the results?). It’s hard not to think that Vino, the Kazakh Cycling Federation, Astana’s sponsors and all the rest of those involved with this team just don’t care about playing by the rules, but Cookson and the UCI can’t become like them and start bending the rules to get them out.

  1. We can only hope that there is more to come from Astana and that Cookson is playing the long game and wants to secure a removal of their licence in a fashion that would stick. I’ve said myself that they should have pulled it anyway and if CAS give it them back then so be it. At least then the onus shifts to CAS and Cookson can at least say he is doing all he can.

    What I do find disconcerting is that the Kazakh government have not pulled the plug themselves can’t imagine other governments (or SKY) continuing to fund what is now a team with zero credibility.

    If Nibbling wins a grand tour this year I think he will be greeted much the same as Vino was when he won the 2012 Olympic Road race. With disdain and disappointment

    I’ll get my coat

    1. Well, knowing they (the UCI and/or the independent license commission) would lose in CAS, how much is the “symbolism” worth? For the attorneys it would be six figures…Surely there is better use for these funds.

      Change is a process, not an event. While our patience has been stretched, it took decades to get here, it isn’t going to disappear with a swipe of a magic wand.

  2. With the weight of public opinion being stymied by process and procedure I sense there will be renewed focus on bringing vinokourov down. He has certainly left a trail of evidence for anyone to follow up. His removal from the sport we love would surely now be priority number one ….and symbolic like the removal of the repugnant LA.

  3. dare i say that by believing that Cookson will actually take Vino et al out is another instance of us fooling ourselves that, yes, despite the evidence, things will get better? i hope i am wrong. however, what’s happened to Europcar and the the lack of a statement by the UCI to the fans in the face of this mass bewilderment suggests the opposite.

    1. I don’t understand what your objection to the Europcar decision is? Is it only in relation to giving Astana the nod, while denying them? The audit and review of Europcar’s budget showed them to be insolvent for the World Tour, albeit by only 6%. History has shown plenty of teams shafting their riders and staff, with no recourse. The fiscal review is a process the UCI put in place to help protect riders and staff from such circumstances.

      In the end, the decision will probably not effect Europcar too much from a racing perspective. Assuming they get a Pro-Continental license, they will most likely get invites to the TDF, and many other events they prefer. Sure, they will probably be left out of some races (particularly in Italy), but does it really matter to them?

  4. Poor article – refer to The Race Radio on Twitter, Cosmo Catalano on the week in bike or INRNG for some intelligent commentary on this. CAS would 100% have backed Astana.

    Now they have been warned and a framework has been set out for monitoring them they can legally be kicked out later on.

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