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Friday's announcement by the International Cycling Union that Manolo Saiz and his Active Bay company can keep their ProTour licence despite his heavy involvement in the Puerto case has caused consternation throughout the sport, and even within the UCI itself. The UCI's licensing commission announced that, legally at least, there is no reason for them to strip Active Bay of the licence that was widely expected to be handed to a revamped Astana team under the management of Marc Biver.
In a statement on their website, the UCI said it "regrets the circumstances which have obliged the commission to take this decision, which is undoubtedly correct in legal terms, but which is most likely due to the lack of information from the Spanish authorities and the extremely confusing state of affairs with operation Puerto. The UCI is extremely concerned by this situation and will take all the measures that it deems necessary to protect the interests of cycling as a whole, in particular as regards disciplinary procedures against the individuals concerned."
Speaking to L'Equipe over the weekend, a bemused Biver described the decision as "surreal", and said he had "the impression that there are people in the UCI who are protecting Saiz". Biver also explained that it was the UCI itself that had advised him not to buy the ProTour licence held by Active Bay as he sought to secure the Astana team's place among cycling's elite. Biver has since signed 27 riders and 26 other staff for the Astana team. "Now we find that Saiz is still in the game, it's surreal," he stated.
To add to the bizarreness of the situation, Biver also revealed that Saiz had called Astana team leaders Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin to remind them they still had contracts with him running to the end of 2008. Vinokourov has made it clear that he will not ride again for Saiz because the Kazakh knows the Spaniard will not be able to enter a team at the Tour de France following his involvement in the Puerto case, which led to the loss of Liberty Seguros as his main sponsor and his temporary stepping down from team management as Astana filled that sponsorship gap.
Saiz has himself been talking about the Puerto case for the first time since he was arrested in May. The controversial co-owner of the Active Bay company said the news that investigations into riders implicated in the Puerto case had been dropped at the end of last week was "good news, but also bad news because a lot of people have been badly treated for five months".
He refused to give precise details on what he will be doing next, saying his main priority now is "to move forwards and do no more than that".
Consternation over ProTour verdict on SaizClose
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