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PARIS (Reuters) - The International Cycling Union (UCI) wants the sport's licencing commission to strip the Astana team of their elite status after an investigation into doping, the ruling body said on Friday.
Kazakhstan-based Astana, whose team includes Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, were only granted their World Tour license for 2015 "under probation".
But the UCI released a statement saying it wanted the license withdrawn after finishing a review of an audit on the Astana team which was undertaken by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).
"After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team license be withdrawn," the statement said.
The World Tour license guarantees its holder direct participation in the top races, including the Tour de France, the Paris-Roubaix classic and the Giro d'Italia.
Several Astana riders failed dope tests last season. The UCI agreed to grant the team a license but only on the condition that it underwent an independent audit.
"The UCI considers that the ISSUL audit has, among other things, revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground," the UCI said.
The UCI said that Italian authorities had provided the sections of the Padova investigation which it was authorized to share.
"For the sake of due process, the UCI is not in a position to comment further on the content of the audit report, nor the Padova investigation, until the Licence Commission has assessed the situation and rendered its decision," it said.
"But this decision to refer the matter to the Licence Commission was reached taking all circumstances and potential consequences into consideration."
If Astana lose their world tour license the team would go into the sport's third division and riders would be free to leave.
Riders can be hired by other teams providing they do not end up with more than the maximum permitted, 28, 29 or 30 depending on the number of riders in their first or second years as professionals. It would also mean that Astana's only chance to ride in the Tour de France would be to get an invitation which is highly unlikely in the circumstances.
Reporting by Julian Linden in Singapore; Editing by Ed Osmond