Miguel Ángel López has announced that he has taken his former team Astana Qazaqstan to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, claiming unfair dismissal after he was fired over alleged links to a doctor at the heart of of a doping investigation.
López was sacked by Astana in December for ‘breach of internal rules’ and what was termed a ‘probable connection’ with Marcos Maynar, the doctor who was arrested in the Spanish police’s Operación Ilex investigation.
López, a podium finisher at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, pleaded his innocence at the time and has now confirmed that he has commenced legal action against his old team.
“The Colombian counts on a team of lawyers specialised in sports law, who are bringing a case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, on the basis that no motives existed for the recession of his contract with the Kazakh team,” read a statement published by López on Thursday.
López reiterated the fact he has not failed a doping test and has a valid UCI racing licence, before making the point that he is not a party being investigated in Operación Ilex.
“Who is being investigated,” the statement pointedly claims, “is Vicente Belda García,” referring to the Astana soigneur, son of the former Kelme team director, whose name was linked to Ilex and who has also left the team. Belda, according to López’s statement is “the supposed receiver of drugs from Dr Maynar”.
The statement also claimed that the UCI had ‘blocked’ Astana’s bank guarantee, to the tune of €1.7m, in order to cover possible missed salary payments and damages relating to the contract termination. The bank guarantee – a pre-requisite for all applicants for a WorldTour licence each year – is by nature designed to deal with such eventualities, although López appeared to use it as an omen of success in the courts.
“The Colombian climber’s cleanliness and transparency in doping controls, and the UCI’s response, point to the prompt clarification of the facts and a return for Miguel Ángel in the near future.
Cyclingnews has contacted the UCI to ascertain whether or not the governing body has taken any action to access Astana’s bank guarantee.
López went on to reiterate his desire to return to the top level of the sport, hoping that a successful appeal to the CAS will clear his name and clear the path back to the WorldTour.
The 29-year-old Colombian had raced for Astana his whole career, with the exception of an ill-fated 2021 spent at Movistar, but for 2023 finds himself back in the Continental scene in his home country. Racing for Medellin-EPM, he has had a flying start to the season, including overall victory at the Vuelta a San Juan against top-level international opposition.
“His value is not doubted among the big teams, but the dismissal from the Kazakh team has made it difficult for him to join another WorldTour team,” read the statement.
“For the time being, Miguel Ángel López remains motivated without lowering his guard, and is preparing for his next races – the PanAmerican Games, Tour of Turkey, and Tour of Greece – showing that he has the top sporting level and attitude.”