To date, the UCI, ever since a much-awaited change of leadership but little to show for it, has been viewed as a toothless tiger.
Late last year, when the Licence Commission was reviewing which teams should receive a WorldTour licence for the 2015 season, before granting Astana entry into cycling's Major League, Brian Cookson - despite saying he was "certainly not happy" with the decision - was at pains to state the governing body could not influence the Commission in any way: "It is a very frustrating time for all of us but we have to abide by the procedures that are laid down. I think that the Licence Commission did its work thoroughly and professionally and, I emphasise, independently of the UCI. We are happy and support the decision in that sense but I think that we have to bear in mind that this is an ongoing saga," he said in an interview with Cyclingnews.com.
Financially endowed but morally bankrupt, it appeared Astana was made of Teflon, and would slide through this season undisturbed and therefore unperturbed, insouciant about the wider public's growing ire towards them - including the sport's president. However, the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) report - rather ironically, commissioned by the Licence Commission at the same time they granted Astana a WorldTour licence - "revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December (2014) and the reality on the ground".
Read the statement Friday from the UCI: "The ISSUL was asked to assess the team's internal structures, culture and management systems to understand whether these are adequate to ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld."
Unless you consider a team that hires dopers, grooms dopers, and is run by a doper, to be ethical...
Sections of the long-awaited findings from the Padova investigation have now been brought to bear, and surely, there is more where that came from. Quite clearly, evidence provided by CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, to the UCI was enough to sway Cookson to act post-haste - "as some evidence concerns Astana Pro Team members" - and forward the findings onto the Licence Commission, along with a recommendation to withdraw the WorldTour licence of an outfit run by an unrepentant doper, cheater, and now team manager. "One of the issues is that we have an ongoing problem in our sport with entourage and people inside the team who have a history and back story in doping and problems of an ethical nature," Cookson told Cyclingnews.
"This is something that I have asked the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) to look at and make recommendations. One of the things I want to get out of that is that we find a way of assessing who is a fit and proper person to be involved in our sport. This is something that the new WADA code from 2015 will help us with, this principal of association with undesirable people, if I can put it that way."
From the moment the Commission gave its imprimatur to Astana for a WorldTour licence in 2007, and every year since, it, and by association the UCI, effectively endorsed the team's bad behaviour - from hiring Vinokourov as team leader; to instating Johan Bruyneel as team manager; to the acquisition of Lance Armstrong; to the non-payment of riders and staff; and, upon retirement, elevating Vinokourov to the position of general manager. Concerning the way it is managed and conducts itself, there is little about it that is "fit and proper", and its perennial association with "undesirable people" only makes those who chose to associate themselves with the team look greedy (yes, I'm talking about Vincenzo Nibali and his near four-million Euro/A$5.76M annual salary), desperate (think 35-year-old Michele Scarponi - who else would hire him?), or stupid... Speaking of, are you out of your bloody mind, Fabio Aru?
About the way the sport's generally perceived, in an interview I did with Cannondale-Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters back in November 2010, he told me: "We're saddled with an image we've brought upon ourselves by trying to correct a problem."
When I take a step back and look at the way the sport has been governed, and by consequence, what clean athletes - many frustrated, others exasperated - have had to endure in the years since, not to mention fans like you and me, and, since a change at the helm, what it has taken for the UCI to finally wake up and smell the stench emanating from the dirtied corridors of power at Astana, I think to myself, "We're saddled with an image we've brought upon ourselves by trying to protect a problem."
Keep going, Mister Cookson - your job's not done yet.