By Michael Pavitt

UCI President Brian Cookson has responded to criticsm of his handling of Astanas World Tour Licence case ©Getty ImagesInternational Cycling Union (UCI) President Brian Cookson has been forced to defend himself against accusations he acted unconstitutionally over his handling of the Astana Pro Team's World Tour Licence.

Cookson has written to Italian Cycling Federation President Renato Di Rocco to deny claims he failed to consult the UCI Management Committee prior to a request for the withdrawal of Astana's licence last month following three positive drugs tests involving members of the team. 

It followed an independent audit carried out by the Institute of Sports Sciences at the University of Lausanne into the team's anti-doping methods.

Di Rocco had accused Cookson of influencing the decision of the Licence Commission, claiming it had not acted independently. 

But, in a letter responding to Di Rocco, of which insidethegames has obtained a copy, Cookson claimed that, following the audit, "I discussed the matter with the three Vice Presidents, i.e. the Executive Committee."

He added: "It was agreed that the matter with the should be referred back to the Licence Commission with a request for the team's licence to be withdrawn, as there was a clear difference between the results of the study and the original submission made to the Licence Commission by the team.

"At that point, I advised the Management Committee of the decision, endorsed by the Executive Committee, to refer the matter back to the Licence Commission.

"I believe, therefore, that all the necessary procedures for matters of urgency have been complied with correctly, under the Constitution."

The future of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali hangs in the balance ahead of the Licence Commission hearing ©AFP/Getty ImagesThe future of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali hangs in the balance ahead of the Licence Commission hearing ©AFP/Getty Images

But Di Rocco's criticism reflects discontent within the sport of the UCI's handling of the Astana case just a few days before a Licence Commission hearing on Thursday (April 2) where the future of 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali's team lay in the hands of the four-member panel.

The case has attracted extra attention following the release earlier this month of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report into doping.

Trevor Watkins, head of Pinsent Masons Sport Legal Practice has warned that the Licence Commission should be left to make a decision stating that the case potentially has "huge ramifications for the sport."

Watkins told insidethegames: "The UCI's very strongly worded communique at the end of February when the report was done, was probably unwise under the circumstances.

"Simply because it has led to many people suggesting that the outcome of the Licence Commission has been prejudged, and the sport cannot deal with a kangaroo court or what could be seen as attempts to predetermine an issue.

"The UCI have come out and said this is not the case, albeit this is a body that is linked to the UCI, with the four members appointed on a four-year term but they will effectively make that decision knowing that the body that set them up is very strongly in favour of the licence being withdrawn.

"That to a degree could be seen as Astana fighting with one hand behind its back."

The UCI attempted to withdraw Katusha's licence in 2013, but suffered a costly defeat at the Court of Arbitration for Sport ©Getty ImagesThe UCI attempted to withdraw Katusha's licence in 2013, but suffered a costly defeat at the Court of Arbitration for Sport ©Getty Images

Astana have already indicated that in the event their World Tour Licence is withdrawn by the Licence Commission they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

It would bring about echoes of the Katusha case in 2013, the last occasion the UCI attempted to withhold a team's licence when Pat McQuaid was President. 

Then the UCI were forced to pay compensation after CAS ruled in favour of the Russian team, stating "the decision to deny the registration for 2013 appears to be grossly disproportionate".

If the Astana case follows the same route, Watkins claimed it could have major financial implications for the UCI. 

"First port of call is that Astana have a licence, the second port of call is that they get their costs," Watkins said.

"The next areas would be whether they have any other claims of damage that then arise, which would have to be linked to the way that they UCI have conducted themselves."

A spokesman for the UCI told insidethegames: "The UCI won't make any further comment until the Licence Commission has rendered its decision."

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