Astana – A History: 2006

Astana have recently begun celebrating their tenth anniversary, which is an interesting exercise in nostalgia. Given that ten years ago they weren’t allowed to start the Tour de France because half their team was suspended due to doping allegations, meaning the team didn’t have enough riders (and this was after they’d appealed to CAS to be allowed in in the first place), it is arguable they should be perhaps looking forward rather than back.

Looking forward however means trying to fit the ambitions of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru into the same team, so whichever way they look, it’s going to be explosive.

Still, that’s why we love, or should love, Astana. In a sport growing increasingly corporate and homogenous (see Jonathan Vaughters’ managing to amalgamate yet another team into his Slipstream set up), Astana are a beacon of entertaining controversy and excitement, for both sporting and nefarious reasons. So lets entertain their sense of history, and cast an eye back on their formative year, albeit including a necessary portion of 2005. Look forward to more years in coming months…

July 16th 2005

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On the 14th stage of the 2005 Tour de France to Ax 3 Domaines, Alexander Vinokourov, the the 31 year old Kazakh on the T-Mobile team, is dropped, only to claw his way back to the group of favourites, led by six time Tour winner Lance Armstrong and Vinokourov’s own teammates, Germans Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden. He then unleashes his characteristic attacking style, but is chased down by his own team mates, leading to criticism of just what T-Mobile are up to with their tactics.

July 26th 2005

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Alexander Vinokourov, announces he is leaving the T-Mobile team he had been with since 2000, to join the Liberty Seguros-Wurth team.He tells L’Equipe “My goal is clear, I want to win the Tour de France, so I chose the team with the best arguments – It’s the most organised and the most experienced team.” Vinokourov had previously finished 3rd in the 2003 Tour, but has decided to leave T-Mobile after the team, which supposedly had three leaders with Vinokourov, Andreas Kloden and Jan Ullrich, had chased down his attacks. Vinokourov had however won on the Champs Elysees amid confusion over the number of laps that remained in the rain, snatching bonus seconds to take 5th overall. Team manager Manolo Saiz says “As well as being a great leader he will be a great role model for the younger riders over the next three years.” Vinokourov is expected to work with the Spaniard Roberto Heras, who had won the Vuelta a Espana three times.

September 18th 2005

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Roberto Heras rides into Madrid as the winner of the Vuelta for the 4th time, breaking the record of overall victories. He wins by just under 5 minutes from Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre.

November 8th 2005

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Heras denies that he tested positive for EPO during the Vuelta’s time trial stage, claiming that it must be a mistake. The B-sample is requested.

November 25th 2005

Heras’s B-sample is announced as positive by the team, but they do not act, claiming that Heras had presented allegations over the procedure.

December 8th 2005

The three Grand Tour organisers, ASO,RCS and Unipublic, vote to remove themselves and their races from the ProTour after a meeting in Paris. They propose a “Grand Tour Trophy” with a two million Euro prize fund and a league of 14 teams, allowing the organisers to have control over the smaller domestic teams and invite up to eight wildcards – this is their main reason for wanting to leave the ProTour. The UCI however claim that no such event can be created without their approval, kicking off the long battle of the race organisers vs the UCI.

February 8th 2006

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Roberto Heras is banned for two years and stripped of his Vuelta win by the Spanish Cycling Federation. He is promptly fired by the Liberty Seguros team, with Manol Saiz commenting “I’ve got a clear conscience…there is no need to seek out anyone guilty. What is happening is the fruit of the acceleration of the sport is experiencing in terms of giving more spectacle and its clash with the world of science.”

February 18th 2006

The Liberty Seguros-Wurth team is presented in Madrid with Alexandre Vinokourov as the focal star. The team comprises of 28 riders, of which 20 had been carried over from the previous year. These were:

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Dariusz Baranowski, Carlos Barredo, Joseba Beloki, Giampaolo Caruso, Alberto Contador, Allan Davis, Koen De Kort, David Extebarria, Jorg Jaksche, Daniel Navarro, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulinho, Javier Ramirez, Jose Antonio Redondo, Luis Leon Sanchez, Ivan Santos, Michele Scarponi, Marcos Serrano and Angel Viscioso. Joining the team were Carlos Abellan, Andrey Kashechkin, Aitor and Unai Osa Eizagirre, JJ Rojas, Eladi Sanchez, Alexandre Vinokourov and Sergui Yakolev.

May 23rd 2006

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Saiz, the team manager of Liberty Seguros-Wurth, the team previously known as ONCE, is arrested along with doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, José Luis Merino, Alberto León, and José Ignacio Labarta, all of whom are accused of doping charges in what would become known as Operacion Puerto. Veteran Spaniard Saiz had overseen the teams growth to a supposed 100% penetration is Spain, meaning that every Spaniard knew what ONCE, the Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, (a fund for the blind), was.

May 25th 2006

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The Liberty Seguros insurance company announce that they are terminating their sponsorship of their titular cycling team due to the teams targeting in the Operacion Puerto doping investigation. Liberty Seguros had weathered the storm of Roberto Heras’s scandal, and had supposedly written strong anti-doping regulations into their $10.2 million dollar contract. However, announcing that “We have canceled our agreement with the owners of the team and will respect outstanding financial obligations” the company left the team with a position to find a new sponsor. The team continued to display the Liberty logo during the Giro on their kit. This leaves Wurth, a German hardware manufacturer, as their lone sponsor.

May 31st 2006
Rumours begin to circulate that ASO, the Tour de France organisors, are withdrawing their invitation to the now “Wurth” team to the Tour de France, after John Marie Leblanc, who is being replaced by Christophe Prudhomme, declares that “vigorous measures” will to taken against teams involved in Operacion Puerto. Communidad Valencia are also reportedly to be excluded, although the legality of the ASO’s ability to remove Wurth is questioned given the ProTour rules require the teams to take part. The UCI decide to make a ruling on whether the team can still be part of the ProTour.

June 1st 2006

Wurth deny that a sponsorship agreement has been done with Kazajan Oil, although they do admit that negotiations are happening.

June 3rd 2006

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Astana first arrive in cycling as the title sponsor of Manolo Saiz’s team, previously Liberty Seguros. The team’s management company, Active Bay, announces a three year deal that will see a consortium of five Kazakh companies, under the umbrella name of Astana, the Kazahk capital, take over the team sponsorship, and that the deal may well extend up until 2012. The influx of Kazakh support is due to the placement of three Kazakh riders on the team: Serguei Yakovlev, Andrei Kasheckhin and most of all, Alexandre Vinokourov, who was hoping to challenge for overall victory at the Tour that year. It later transpires that Manolo Saiz was instrumental in the confirmation of this deal, after Vinokourov has been initially contacted by the Kazakh consortium.

June 5th 2006

Vinokourov voices his support for his arrested team manager, stating “he has assured me that he has nothing to do with the affair and I believe him. I’ve always believed him, from the moment that I started riding with him. He admitted that his visit to Fuentes was unfortunate, but has not given up the fight. I believe Saiz.” Vinokourov also states that he has had no contact with Dr Fuentes, the man at the centre of the case.

June 7th 2006

Bougues Telecom rider Thomas Voeckler is quoted as calling Astana “Ils sont gonflés”, with the final word having a double meaning of either “pumped up” or “arrogant.” Voeckler expresses concerns about the colours of the Astana team being similar to his own team, whilst Vinokourov questions why the UCI, who have begun investigating the validity of the team’s ProTour license in wake of the Saiz allegations, need to do such a thing.

June 9th 2006

Manolo Saiz voluntarily removes himself from the Astana-Wurth structure, doing so to “safeguard the continuity of the team to the maximum, and for the good of cycling in general” according to a statement released by the team. However, Saiz still owns the ProTour license of the team, given he owns 51% of Active Bay, the overall holding company of the team. Pablo Anton takes over the management for the time being.

June 10th 2006

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The team compete in the Tour de Suisse in kits that now lack the Liberty Seguros logo. German Jorg Jaksche will eventually come third for the team at the event, with stage wins for Angel Viscioso and a 22 year old climber named Alberto Contador, who had already won a Tour of Romandie stage earlier in the year.

June 14th 2006

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A mixed day for Astana-Wurth. They win another stage of the Tour de Suisse, through Angel Vicisio, who beats the sprinters and dedicates his triumph to recently left manager Manolo Saiz. “Everybody in our team is going through a difficult time but this win is a boost to our morale and shows we’re determined to stay focused and do well” he says, although perhaps he’s less happy to find that he isn’t on the team’s Tour de France longlist, which consists of Carlos Barredo, Assan Bazayev, Joseba Beloki, Alberto Contador, Allan Davis, Jorge Jaksche, Andrey Kashechkin, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulinho, Aitor Osa, Luis León Sánchez and Alexander Vinokourov.  However, the day is blighted by the news that ASO are waiting for the UCI License committee to rule on Astana-Wurth’s ProTour license, with a decision to revoke the license being grounds for the Tour organisers to bar Astana from the Tour.

June 22nd 2006

The  UCI announces that Astana-Wurth is still allowed in the ProTour, although on shaky foundations. The License commission that informs the UCI that it can intervene if any new information comes to light, but for the moment, it can do nothing about Astana-Wurth as it has passed UCI  Accountant Ernest and Youngs’ financial tests. The name “Astana-Wurth” is also approved. “There’s no reason why we shouldnt be at the depart of the Tour” says Vinokourov, who continues “I would never have left this team. This team believes in me and I feel a little responsible for all this team, all these 60 people. I found the sponsor, a Kazakh one at that, so I am proud of that.” Procycling Magazine comments that whilst “Saiz and his Active Bay partner, Pablo Anton, [retain] ownership of the team…the heart and soul is all Vino.”

June 26th 2006

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Spanish paper El Pais publishes explosive revelations about Operacion Puerto. It is alleged that Fuentes and Saiz were heads of an international blood doping ring which employed EPO, growth hormone and steroids amongts other concoctions. The ring supposedly featured 58 cyclists, with 15 of those, a whopping 25.8%, supposedly having come from the once Liberty Seguros team. Leaked testimony from Saiz’s court appearances appears to show him admitting that the team had worked with Dr Fuentes from March 2004 at the insistence of the now fired Roberto Heras, but also that the team stopped the relationship after the 2005 Dauphine after Isidro Nozal failed the UCI’s 50% haematocrit test.

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Account books and details of nicknames used by riders to avoid detection (albeit not very well) begin to emerge, such as “Hijo Rudicio”, ie “Son of Rudy”, taken to be a reference to Jan Ullrich and Rudy Pevenage. Further nicknames, such as “Birillo” appear to reference the names of rider’s pet dogs, in this case, that of Ivan Basso. Tyler Hamilton, the suspended American Olympic Time Trial champion (albeit with a hefty asterisk due to the incorrect freezing of his B-sample, although a positive EPO test at the Vuelta earlier in the year hardly looked good), is also heavily linked, with a doping schedule showing how he took blood transfusions before key dates being published.

Astana-Wurth are sent a letter by the ASO informing them that they are not welcome at the Tour de France. Manager Pablo Anton claims he intends to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Spanish team Communidad Valencia, also heavily linked with Operacion Puerto, are already excluded. The team are to be excluded on the basis of UCI regulation article 2.6.036, which states that a “licence holder or a team may be excluded from a race if he/it seriously blemishes the image of cycling or of the race.”

The Spanish Road championships are abandoned as riders protest against the leaked information.

June 27th 2006

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CAS confirm that they will rule on whether Astana-Wurth can be excluded before July 1st, which is when the Tour de France would begin. The UCI admit that they require more concrete proof then what is written in a newspaper, and express their frustration that the Spanish authorities have not released evidence or names of riders involved.

June 28th 2006

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Astana-Wurth send out its team vehicles towards Strasbourg, where the Tour is due to start, whilst the team prepare to fly in from Madrid. The team are refused entry to the Tour’s team presentation by ASO, with the CAS arbitration process still in motion. There is confusion over its team selection, with Eurosport claiming the team is Alexander Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Alberto Contador, Luis Leon Sanchez, Carlos Barredo, Isidro Nozal, Joseba Beloki, Allan Davis and Sergio Paulinho. However, Jörg Jaksche and Assan Bazayev had previously been listed to ride. Kashechkin infers that Kazakhstan could look unfavorably on French state investments from the country if the team are not allowed to race.

June 29th 2006

Alexandre Vinokourov, Assan Bazayev, Andrey Kashechkin, Carlos Barredo, Joseba Beloki, Alberto Contador, Isidro Nozal, Aitor Osa, Luis Leon Sanchez, Allan Davis, Jörg Jaksche and Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho arrive in Strasbourg in a new Astana Wurth kit, which features the baby blue of the Kazahk flag. Vinokourov claims it is not normal that the team are to be excluded, claiming their is no evidence of doping on the team.”The press might as well decide on general classification” he claims.

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However, El Pais releases the names of riders said to be involved in Operacion Puerto, such as Jan Ullrich, Roberto Heras, Oscar Sevilla, Joseba Beloki, Santiago Botero, Santi Pérez, Tyler Hamilton, Quique Gutierrez and Angel Edo. At the same time, the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules that “CAS has rejected the request of ASO to stop the team Astana-Würth from starting the Tour de France”, with Belgian judge Guido de Croock claiming his sentence is based on the fact that no official information on the team’s links to the doping network had yet been shown. The team are thus allowed to attend the river based presentation ceremony for the teams that evening.

June 30th 2006

Operacion Puerto explodes. Early in the morning, the T-Mobile team of pre race favourite and 1997 Tour winner (and five time runner up) Jan Ullrich suspends “Der Kaiser”, fellow rider Oscar Sevilla and manager Rudy Pevenage, all of whom had been named in the Puerto files. The riders are not to be replaced.

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Meanwhile, radio station Cadena SER names more riders linked to Puerto, including eight on Astana-Wurth: Michele Scarponi, Marcos Serrano, David Etxebarria, Joseba Beloki, Angel Vicioso, Isidro Nozal, Unai Osa, Jörg Jaksche. Former rider Roberto Heras is also implicated. ASO essentially reject the CAS decisison they had claimed to be waiting for, claiming they have the right to exercise their responsibilities, and that thus Astana-Wurth are not welcome at the Tour.

More riders begin to be ejected from the race by their teams, the most notable being Ivan Basso, runner up to Lance Armstrong the year before and CSC’s stalwart, and Francisco Mancebo, the 4th placed finisher from 2006, who subsequently retires [not for very long, given he is still riding in 2016…] from the sport. There removal ensures that none of the top 4 of the 2005 Tour are present, leaving Vinokourov as the highest placed rider from 2005 still in the race. This is short lived however – the UCI, now having seen the Operacion Puerto details, announces the addition of four more names from Astana-Wurth that are alleged to be involved in the Puerto case – Sergio Paulinho, Isidro Nozal, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador. With Joseba Beloki already on the list, this means five Astana-Wurth riders are implicated, and they are refused the right to start the Tour de France the next morning. This seems to confirm Astana-Wurth’s fate, as with riders not being replaced, the team would only have four riders on the squad – not enough to begin the race, and so ASO would surely get its wish that the team did not start.

Italy's Ivan Basso (CSC/Den) sits in a c

In the evening, Astana-Wurth release a statement: “In view of the content of the dossier sent to Spanish authorities, Active Bay has decided, in accordance with the Ethical Code signed between the UCI ProTour’s teams, to withdraw from the Tour de France those riders that appear in the above-mentioned dossier.

“This decision is adopted without prejudice of the respect to the right to the presumption of innocence of these riders and of that Active Bay will exercise the actions for the defence of its rights and those of its workers. This measure does not concern the team’s riders of the Tour de France that are not included in the dossier: Alexander Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Carlos Barredo and Luis León Sanchez. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of the riders that appear in the above-mentioned dossier implies that the Tour of France team will not have the minimum number of riders demanded by the UCI rules, which means the team will not be able to take the start tomorrow morning in the Tour de France.”

Astana-Wurth are thus out of the 2006 Tour de France before it had even began.

July 1st 2006

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Cycling Australia claim they will question Astana-Wurth rider Allan Davis, after the sprinters name is listed in the documents.

July 3rd 2006

With the Tour underway, Vinokourov reveals he has plans to turn Astana into his own Kazakh squad. He predicts that “two years from now, [he] will probably be directeur sportif of the team” and bemoans that he has lost “perhaps my last chance to win the Tour”, claiming it has been “stolen” from him, although he is upbeat enough to say that “I still think that I might have a chance on a Tour win next year. I’ll be back, that’s for sure.”

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Meanwhile, young teammate Alberto Contador releases an open letter thanking fans for their support and claiming to have always practiced clean cycling.

July 4th 2006

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Wurth withdraw their sponsorship of the team with immediate effect, citing “a reaction to the suspension of individual riders and the related pulling out of the team from the 2006 Tour de France.”

July 6th 2006

It is reported that Astana have bought out Manolo Saiz of his remaining shares, thus completing their takeover of the squad. Tony Rominger, the Swiss Giro and Vuelta winner, is rumoured to be the new manager after being present at the deal, with Kazakh Alexander Shefer as a DS. On the same day, Saiz is questioned by the Puerto lead judge about the alleged doping on his squad.

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It is also announced that Athens Olympic Silver Medalist Sergio Paulinho will be leaving the team for Johan Bruyneel’s Discovery Channel team, with the Belgian DS saying that the Portuguese rider “has a certificate from the Portuguese federation which clearly states that he has been linked wrongly to [Operacion Puerto]”

July 23rd 2006

Floyd Landis wins the Tour de France in Paris, 57 seconds clear of Spaniard Oscar Pereiro in second and a further 32 seconds ahead of German Andreas Kloden, following two dramatic days where the American had first hemorrhaged 10 minutes 4 seconds to stage winner Michael Rasmussen on La Toussuire, losing his 10 second lead built on Alpe d’Hue over to Oscar Pereiro, who assumed the malliot jaune. The net day however, Landis tore off from the gun, slingshotted into action by his Phonak team, to take 7 minutes 8 seconds back out of Pereiro and most of the field to propel himself back into contention.The previous year, Astana’s Vinokourov had beaten Landis by a 1’44 to take 5th place against Landis in 9th.

July 26th 2006

The UCI innocuously releases a statement claiming that  there has been “one adverse analytical finding following an anti-doping test carried out at the Tour de France 2006.” The rider, team, and relevant anti-doping federations are all informed.

July 27th 2006

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It is announced that Floyd Landis, the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, is the positive case. Meanwhile, Astana rider Allan Davis reveals that he and four other riders on the team, Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulinho and Alberto Contador, have received certified letters from the Puerto judge declaring they are not involved in the case. However, Davis is still prevented from racing UCI sanctioned events, and appeals to the UCI to stop this sanction, pledging to give his DNA if necessary.

July 28th 2006

The UCI confirms it has asked for the ProTour license of Astanto be reviewed once again, releasing a statement saying

“The President of the UCI ProTour (CUPT) has concluded that the information obtained by the Spanish authorities indicates that there was one sole team in the ProTour, managed by the financial entity Active Bay (previously sponsored by Liberty-Würth and currently by Astana), a system of organised doping involving many of the riders.

“In view of the above, the CUPT President has decided to refer the case to the Licences’ Commission, and has asked for its judgement as soon possible. In the meantime, in agreement with the AIGCP, it has been decided that the team Astana may continue its activities but only with the riders and other staff members that have not been involved in operation Puerto.”

July 31st 2006

It is claimed that Manolo Saiz is still to sell his share in Active Bay to Astana, and that the UCI is only clearing them to race under that license on the basis that none of the riders or staff implicated in the scandal take part in racing.

August 4th 2006

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Whilst at the Tour of Germany, Vinokourov reveals his plans for the rest of the season, with Clasica San Sebastian, the Vuelta a España and the World Championships in his plans. “I will go to the Vuelta without pressure, but if I see that I am okay, I’ll go for the final general classification,” he says “If not, I will prepare for the World’s.” He again claims that 2007 will be his last opportunity to win the Tour de France.

August 5th 2006

Astana ask for a four year ProTour license, in response to constant pointing out that they are still running off one owned by Manolo Saiz. This will supposedly be funded and owned by the Kazakh sponsors/government. New team manager Walter Godefroot insists that “Astana will have a 100% Kazakh license and have nothing to do with Manolo Saiz’s former team.” However, Active Pay partner Pablo Anton claims he will take the team to court if they try to take the ProTour license away. “We’re not going to hand over our license to anyone. Before we do we’ll burn the team’s bikes, cars and trucks in Plaza de Castilla” he rather dramatically says. Manolo Saiz,more diplomatically, says “Astana signed a sponsorship deal with us until December 2008, as have some riders, such as Alexandre Vinokourov. We are going to try and ensure those deals are adhered to.”

August 17th 2006

Astana press officer Jacinto Vidarte confirms that Alberto Contador and Sergio Paulinho have been cleared by the Spanish Courts of any involvement in the Puerto case. However, whilst UCI President Pat McQuaid acknowledges that Allan Davis, Joseba Beloki and Benjamin Nozal also received letters from the Spanish Judge clearing them of involvement; “All he [the Spanish judge] told them is that he’s not going to be pressing charges against them – but that doesn’t mean the UCI won’t be opening up a disciplinary file against any one of them.” The three riders are thus still unable to race.

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On the same day, the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP), which is made up of all 20 ProTour teams (AG2R, Astana, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Credit Agricole, Davitamon-Lotto, Discovery Channel, Euskatel Euskadi, Francais deus Jeux, Gerolsteiner, Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears, Lampre-Fondital, Liquigas, Phonak, Quick Step-Innergetic, Rabobank, Saunier Duval Prodir, T-Mobile, Team CSC and Team Milram ) votes unanimously to exclude the Phonak and Astana teams from the ProTour series with immediate effect. Ag2R, Phonak and Astana are not present at the ceremony.

August 22nd 2006

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23 year old Swiss rider Steve Morbiato reveals he is leaving the disbanding Phonak squad to join Astana. Morbiato had earlier won a stage of the Tour de Suisse.

August 25th 2006

The Astana team arrive in Malaga for the start of the 2006 Vuelta a Espana the next day. Team leader Alexandre Vinokourov claims that “I am in good shape and also I want to be good in the race. My first intention is to reach the ideal condition for the World’s and, if I get over the mountains, I will go for the general classification…In the Vuelta what I want is to demonstrate to myself that I’m motivated and that I can do a good three week race.”

The team consists of Vinokourov, Carlos Barredo, Assan Bazayev, Jose Antonio Redondo, Andrey Kashechkin, Aaron Kemps, Sergio Paulinho, Luis Leon Sanchez and Sergei Yakolev.

August 26th 2006

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The Vuelta starts in Malaga with a 7,2km Team Time trial.Team CSC win, putting Carlos Sastre in the gold leaders jersey, whilst Astana manage 6th, 12 seconds behind.

August 27th 2006

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Astana confirm a transfer coup in the capture of 31 year old German Andreas Kloden, who had just finished third in the Tour de France having previously had a 2nd place finish in 2004. The Olympic silver medalist from Sydney is joined by Matthias Kessler, who like Kloden comes from T-Mobile, and Phonak’s Gregory Rast.

September 1st 2006

Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d’Epargne draws first blood in the mountains, winning the first summit finish of the Vuelta as Vinokourov manages 6th, 12 seconds behind. He still trails Kazahk teammate Kashechkin by nearly two minutes, and is 2’28 behind leader Jani Brajkovic of Discovery Channel after losing two minutes on the fifth stage, where Kashechkin came third, and sits in 10th place overall with two weeks to go.

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However, Astana announce that 2002 and 2005 Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli will be joining the team from Discovery Channel in 2007.

September 2nd 2006

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Vinokourov surges away from the pack on the uphill jump to the finish to win the stage by a second, reducing his defecit to the leader to 2’08 thanks to time bonuses. When asked whether it will be possible to recover the remainder of his defecit, Vinokourov says “The Vuelta lasts another two weeks and I don’t think two minutes is such a big gap. Of course, I think it is a pity, but tomorrow will be a hard stage. I recovered well from yesterday and I am very motivated.”

September 3rd 2006

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On the tough slopes of the Alto de La Cobertoria, Alexandre Vinokourov again takes the win, after winning a duel with home favourite Alejandro Valverde, who takes the consolation prize of the leaders gold jersey after Brajkovic loses 2’14. Vinokourov puts 16 seconds into Valverde,whilst Kashechkin again surprises by coming home third just 21 seconds behind his leader. This leaves Vinokourov 1’38 behind Valverde in 5th, with Kashechkin 2nd at 27 seconds.

September 5th 2006

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Astana’s golden run continues as Sergio Paulinho wins their third stage on the trot, having infiltrated the break the day after the rest day to win solo a couple of seconds ahead of Davide Rebellin.

September 9th 2006

Vinokourov comes 3rd in the 33km time trial, but only puts 8 seconds into Valverde, remaining at 1’38 due to an earlier time bonus Valverde had picked up.

September 10th 2006

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Vinokourov and Kashechkin miss a doping control on the morning of the 15th stage, having already left in the team bus to go to the start of the stage in Motilla del Palancar fifty miles away from the team’s hotel.Their Astana teammates were still at the hotel, and it is claimed that the Kazakh’s left in order to travel to the start in the team bus, which would be more comfortable than the team car.

September 12th 2006

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Vinokourov loses a further 6 seconds to Valverde after he cannot beat the Spaniard in a sprint for second place, losing the bonus seconds as a result. He now sits 1’42 behind with 5 stages to go.

September 13th 2006

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After a barrage of attacks from Kashechkin, Vinokourov and Discovery’s hope for the future Tom Danielson (who is 28, the same age as Floyd Landis) get away from the rest of the field and succeed in putting 1’10 into third placed man Samuel Sanchez and a whopping 1’39 into Valverde and Kashechkin. Whilst Danielson gets the stage, Vinokourov takes the Gold jersey from Valverde by 9 seconds,

September 14th 2006

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The Kazakh twoesome of Vinokourov and Kashechkin rumble their way to the front of the field again to take the first two places overall, with 26 year old Kashechkin being given the victory by Vinokourov. Valverde falls back by another 32 seconds, leaving him stranded 53 seconds behind Vinokourov, with Kashechkin at 2’06.

September 15th 2006

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29 year old Austrian Rene Haselbacher becomes the latest man to join Astana, this time from Gerolsteiner.

September 16th 2006

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In the final 28km TT, Alexandre Vinokourov wins to cement his victory overall by 1’12 over Valverde with his third stage win of the race. Kashechkin hangs on by 23 seconds to his podium spot over Carlos Sastre.

September 17th 2006

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Alexandre Vinokourov wins the Vuelta in Madrid. It is a dream result for the new sponsors Astana, who have put two of their sponsors country man on the podium of a Grand Tour and won five stages along the way.

September 26th 2006

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Vinokourov signs young Frenchman Julien Mazet from Auber 93 to Astana for 2007. Mazet had recently finished 5th in the “Tour of the Future”, the Tour l’Avenir.

October 3rd 2006

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Astana DS Walter Godefroot denies rumours that Jan Ullrich could join the team if he was cleared of involvement in the Puerto case, but coyly claims that either Vinokourov or Kloden could be the leader for the team at the Tour de France in 2007. “Whether it will be the first Kazakh Tour win or the second German victory, I can’t say right now” he says.

October 6th 2006

Aitor Osa, Unai Osa, David Etxebarría, Giampaolo Caruso, Isidro Nozal, Joseba Beloki, Javier Ramirez, Allan Davis and Jörg Jaksche, all Astana riders, accuse the Spanish Cycling Federation of spreading incorrect information about them and thus violating their personal rights to data protection.

October 26th 2006

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The 2007 Tour de France route is announced in Paris, starting in London and including finishes at Tignes, Plateau de Beille and the summit of the Col de Aubisque. Alexander Vinokourov states that “I’ve got over [not starting in 2006] now, even though I think I would have been capable of winning the Tour. I’ll be 33 in 2007. It’ll be a case of now or never.” Vinokourov is cited by various media sources as the favourite for the race, although it is noted that Astana’s position is still up in the air, something Vino addresses. “Manolo Saiz doesnt seem to me to be in the best position to allow me to [win the Tour]”

October 28th 2006

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Astana announce an ambitious anti-doping scheme to be implemented by the team, as part of a Ten Point Plan, which manager Marc Biver claims will eliminate  doping on the team.The system includes the use of blood tests to be performed on each rider before races as well as unannounced tests to establish baseline values and various other physiological tests to establish data from which possible doping could be spotted from. Whilst the scheme would seem to be a way to try and appease the UCI license committee, given Astana are applying for a four year license, Marc Biver claims it wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t receive such a license, claiming the ProTour is only about “prestige” and that his contacts with ASO would easily mean the team would get invitations to the races it wanted.

October 30th 2006

Allan Davis is cleared to race in Australia again, although the file on his alleged involvement in the Puero case is left open. Manolo Saiz comments for the first time on the Puerto case, making vague statements about how he is “calm” and welcoming the Spanish Cycling Federation (SPF)’s decision to stop proceedings against Spanish cyclists.

November 26th 2006

Jesus Manzano, the former Kelme rider who had exposed his teams doping practices in 2004, accuses Carlos Bueren, the attorney of Manolo Saiz, of trying to buy his silence on the case for 150-180,000 Euro.

December 1st 2006

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Astana are denied a ProTour license by the commission, with Pat McQuaid claiming that their application was late. Marc Biver complains that Astana are being given odd treatment however, saying the UCI made an 11th hour request for a full bank guarentee for rider salaries, rather than the usual 30%. Astana thus need to provide 12 million euros, and feel they are being punished for the actions of Manolo Saiz, who they claim no longer has anything to do with the squad.

December 2nd 2006

It is revealed that Astana are in the odd posiiton of having two ProTour applications – one from the Marc Biver set up, which is backed by the Kazakhstan Prime Minister Daniel Akhmetov and the Kazakh cycling federation, and one from Manolo Saiz, who is doggedly hoping to cling onto a team for 2007. Both have oddly nominated Astana as their principal funder.

December 16th 2006

The UCI License commission announce that Unibet.com will receive the ProTour spot vacated by Phonak, who are disbanding in the light of the Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton cases, among others. Astana are given until the 20th of December to sort out their application, as the Active Bay license is refused, meaning the team technically need to apply for a new license. The team would thus technically become a new structure run by the previous Tour de Suisse owner Marc Biver, It turns out Manolo Saiz is still attached to the team through finances and the license, and that riders, including Vinokourov, are still under contract with Saiz, leaving open a possible situation where riders could be forced to ride for a structure under Saiz if the Spaniard was cleared given Active Bay have a contract with Astana through till 2008. Whatever happens, Astana make it clear they are unwilling to work with Saiz, hence the desperation to separate their structure from him.

December 18th 2006

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Allan Davis’ Puerto case is officially closed, allowing the Australian to resume racing.

December 20th 2006

Astana are granted a 4 year ProTour license by the UCI, who say “The required documents having been produced within the given deadline, the UCI Licence Commission has awarded the Astana Team (Zeus Sàrl) a UCI ProTour Licence for a four years period, from January the 1st 2007 to December the 31st 2010.”

December 31st 2006

The team ends the year with 18 wins, although 6 of these came from Vinokourov, mainly from his splurge at the Vuelta at the end of the year. The team is more interested in looking to the future however, and to competing in the Tour de France in 2007.

2006 Wins (As Astana, or not as Liberty Seguros)

1. Angel Viscioso – Tour de Suisse, Stage 4, 13/6/2008
1
2. Andrey Kashechkin – Kazakhstan National Road Race, 14/6/2006
3. Alberto Contador – Tour de Suisse, Stage 8, 17/6/2006
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4. Assan Bazayev – Deutchland Tour, Stage 1, 2/8/2006
4
5. Aaron Kemps – Vuelta a Burgos, Stage 1, 6/8/2006
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6. Alexandre Vinokourov – Vuelta a Espana, Stage 8, 2/9/2006
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7. Alexandre Vinokourov – Vuelta a Espana, Stage 9, 3/9/2006
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8. Sergio Paulinho – Vuelta a Espana, Stage 10, 5/9/2006
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9. Andrey Kashechkin – Vuelta a Espana, Stage 18, 14/9/2006
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10. Alexandre Vinokourov – Vuelta a Espana, Stage 20, 16/9/2006
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11. Alexandre Vinokourov – Vuelta a Espana Overall, 17/9/2006
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