ONCE cycling team, also known as Liberty Seguros, Liberty Seguros-Würth and in succession in its final year, Astana-Würth and Astana was a Spanish cycling team. They competed in the UCI ProTour circuit.
On May 25, 2006, Liberty Mutual ("Seguros" in Spanish) pulled out of primary sponsorship due to an extensive doping scandal involving the team's directeur sportif, Manolo Saiz. On 2 June 2006, the team announced that they have acquired a new primary sponsor named Astana, after the capital of Kazakhstan. Up to 3 July 2006, Würth acted as co-sponsor. However, by the end of the 2006 Tour de France, in which Team Astana didn't compete, Würth announced it would withdraw sponsorship At the end of the season, Astana also claimed to have withdrawn its support due to the team’s non-participation in the Tour de France. On 16 December 2006, the UCI licence commission withdrew the ProTour licence of Saiz's company Active Bay
The ONCE team was most known for its association with French rider Laurent Jalabert and Swiss rider Alex Zülle in the 1990s, with both dominating the spring classic cycle races such as Paris-Nice, La Flèche Wallonne and the Tour de Romandie, as well as the Vuelta a España. The team won the Vuelta a España in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The team dominated the 1995 Veulta with Jalabert first in the the three major classifications - the overall title, the points competition and the Mountains. The team also won the teams in that year's Vuelta and Johan Bruyneel finished third. Bruyneel went on to become one of the most successful directeur sportif in the sport as he helped guide Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France wins. The ONCE team was also active in the Tour de France with stage wins from Jalabert and domination in the team time trial when it was re-introduced to the Tour.
Alex Zülle won two consecutive Vuelta a España in 1996 and 1997 but left the team in 1998. The team signed the 1998 Vuelta a España winner and individual time trial specialist Abraham Olano who challenged well in the 1999 Vuelta but never won a second Grand Tour. Joseba Beloki became the leader and challenged Armstrong in the 2002 and 2003 Tour de France until he crashed out of the 2003 Tour de France.
ONCE's sponsorship was so successful that brand penetration was 100% in Spain, meaning every Spaniard surveyed knew what ONCE was and what they did. At the end of the 2003 season ONCE decided to cease sponsorship. In the 2003 Vuelta a España ONCE had the leader's amarillo jersey for most of the race on the shoulders of the rising star Isidro Nozal until a well placed attack and mountain time trial by US Postal rider Roberto Heras took the jersey on the penultimate day. After the Vuelta, Saiz obtained a new sponsor looking to expand its brand in Spain, Liberty Mutual. Most of the ONCE riders stayed on, including Isidro Nozal, and veteran Igor González de Galdeano. In order to strengthen the team again in the Grand Tour Saiz poached the USPS rider Roberto Heras out of his contract to join the team. Heras did not perform well at the 2004 Tour de France but won the 2004 Vuelta after a close battle with Santiago Pérez.
The team announced that Kazakhstani cycling star Alexandre Vinokourov would be joining the team starting in 2006 for the next three seasons, intending to challenge for the top finish in the Tour de France. Fellow Kazakhstan riders Andrei Kashechkin, formerly of Crédit Agricole, and Sergei Yakovlev also committed to joining the team.
On November 25, 2005, Roberto Heras was fired by the team after a urine sample from the 2005 Vuelta a España, which he had won, tested positive for the banned "blood-boosting" drug EPO. Heras was also stripped of what would have been a record-breaking fourth win, and banned for two years.
In response to the arrest of Saiz and other incidents such as the Heras case, Liberty Mutual retracted their sponosorship of the team on 25th May 2006, promising only to finance current obligations.
On June 2nd, 2006, the team has announced that they have acquired a new primary sponsor; named Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The new sponsorship is headed by a consortium of 5 Kazakh companies. This deal provides that the Astana group will be the primary sponsor for at least the next three years, with an option to extend to six years
On June 30th, 2006, Astana-Würth was excluded from the 2006 Tour de France after five of its riders were implicated in a doping scandal, leaving one of the Tour favorites, Alexandre Vinokourov, with three remaining teammates, which fell below the required minimum six riders for a team to start the Tour. As a consequence of this suspension, co-sponsor Würth stopped its commitment with immediate effect on July 3rd, 2006.
However, on July 26th, 2006, the five riders excluded from the Tour were cleared by Spanish officials of any wrongdoing. , and the team returned to competition at the Tour of Germany in August 2006, with Assan Bazayev winning the first stage for the team.
At the end of the 2006 season, Saiz listed Astana as his team's financial backer. However, Astana also claimed to have withdrawn its support due to the team’s non-participation in the Tour de France On December 16th, 2006, the UCI Licence Commission withdrew the ProTour licence of Saiz's company Active Bay At the present time, the team has no financial backer and no licence to race.