Fair Punishment?

What is a fair punishment for a team whose history is littered with doping allegations?  Team Astana is reeling from the news that they are barred from all events put on by the ASO (Amaury Sport Organization).  This has angered a number of fans as they will not get to see Alberto Contador defend his title not only in the Paris-Nice race but the Tour de France as well.  This also removes Levi Leipheimer from the Tour de France, in which he took 3rd.  One other rider to be affected by this is Andreas Kloden, who took 2nd in the 2006 Tour de France (the de facto winner after Floyd Landis had the 1st place spot stripped).

The Astana group (a coalition of Kazakhstan sate-owned companies) first became involved in cycling in 2006 when they replaced Liberty Seguros as the sponsor of their team.  Astana took on the name of the team jointly with Wurth.  Wurth pulled their sponsorship after the team was devastated by Operation Puerto, but Liberty Seguros-Wurth would not sell their liscense.  Team Astana was started in 2007 when the Astana group obtained a 4 year license from the UCI with heavy support from the ASO, taking on the former Liberty Seguros team as their own.

In 2006, the team was not allowed to ride in the Tour de France at all due to over half the squad being implicated in Operation Puerto, and then in 2007 the team withdrew from the Tour de France after the team captain, Alexander Vinokourov.

Now, given their recent past, the question is if they are receiving fair treatment from the ASO.  Personally, I want to see as much done as possible to discourage doping in the sport, and normally I would saying barring a team from ASO events for a year would be the course of action.  The reason I question them doing it to Astana is because Astana is already taking actions on their own.

After a disastrous 2007 season, specifically their withdraw from the Tour de France, the Astana group decided to suspend the rest of their season and look into what changes needed to be made to clean up the team.  This resulted in the dismissal of the majority of the senior management.  Then, they hired on Johan Bruyneel as the team director, who was fresh off of directing Team Discovery Channel and is credited with managing the teams when Lance Armstrong won his 7 Tour de Frances.  Bruyneel brought over Contador and Leipheimer as well as obtaining Trek as the bike supplier for the team.  Most importantly in moving towards Astana having a cleaner team, he introduced the anti-doping system developed by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, head of Information of Anti Doping Danmark, that has been used by Team CSC.

As much as I like to applaud the ASO in promoting a clean sport, I think they could have given Team Astana another year to prove themselves after these changes, especially after their support in getting the Astana group the UCI license.  Astana inherited a number of problems from the previous sponsors, which caused problems for 2007, but they are demonstrating they want to run a clean team and are willing to take the steps necessary to do so.  I hope this does not hurt them in the long run and that they will be back for the 2009 ASO events.  In the meantime, Astana will still compete in the UCI races, and I look forward to their performance in the Tour of California next week.

3 Responses

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Sue.

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