Continuing on from where we left off in 2006, the ever up and down tale of everyone’s favourite Kazakhstani cycling team continues…
January 11th 2007
Riders who had previously had contracts with Astana complain about the situation. The problem is that the previous Astana structure had essentially been dissolved in December 2006, and the license transferred away from Active Bay. However, many riders are still under contract with Active Bay, but they are no longer getting paid because Astana are no longer paying Active Bay, given they are no longer connected. Riders such as Luis Leon Sanchez, Eladio Sánchez and Carlos Abellán are thus cut adrift, unable to find teams and not being paid.
January 13th 2007
Unibet.com, a team recently inducted into the ProTour, are not invited to Paris-Nice by organiser ASO, in an escalation of the war of words between organisers and the UCI over the ProTour and their participation within it. The race organisers want to be able to have their own selection criteria for races rather than have the imposition that all ProTeams (such as Unibet) are invited to all ProTour races automatically, so the removal of Unibet, which has riders such as Baden Cooke, Jimmy Casper and young men like Laurens Ten Dam and Rigoberto Uran on its roster, is a big step for the organisers.
January 14th 2007
The new Astana team meet the media during their early season training camp in Mallorca, where it is revealed that the team has made various equipment changes. Gone are the BH bikes of 2006, replaced by Swiss manufacturer BMC. Campagnolo is still in however. Vinokourov denies ever having met Dr Fuentes, and backs up Marc Bivers earlier comments that the team would have two leaders, himself and Kloden, at the 2007 Tour de France.
The team are now also able to name their 2007 line up, which is drastically different from the 2006 one, given that only eight riders remain. The eight survivors are Assan Bazayev, Koen de Kort, Andrey Kashechkin, Aaron Kemps, Daniel Navarro, Jose Antonio Redondo, Alexandre Vinokourov and Serguei Yakovlev. The 21 riders joining the squad include six further Kazakh’s and are: Igor Abakoumov, Antonio Colom, Thomas Frei, Macim Gourov, Rene Haselbacher, Maxim Iglinsky, Serguei Ivanov, Benoit Joachim, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Kloden, Alexsey Kolessov, Julien Mazet, Eddy Mazzoleni, Guennadi Mikhailov, Andrey Mizourov, Steve Morabito, Dmitry Muravyev, Gregory Rast, Paolo Salvodelli, Michael Schar and Evgeniy Sladkov.
March 13th 2007
The Operacion Puerto case is dismissed by the Spanish courts, who claim that “at the time of the investigation Spanish law could not pursue anyone criminally for doping or practices linked to doping.” Dr Fuentes et all are thus cleared of any criminal activity, to the dismany of the cycling world.
March 31st 2007
Vinokourov once more emphasises the last chance saloon scenario he sees for for himself at the Tour. “There’s only one race I want to win this year, it’s the Tour de France,” he sighs “I’ve already won everything else I wanted – except from the World Championship. It’s this year or never…”
April 25th 2007
Matthias Kessler comes 4th at Fleche Wallone, 8 seconds behind Davide Rebellin.
May 9th 2007
Former Liberty Seguros rider Michele Scarponi admits that he is Zapatero in the Operacion Puerto files, thus admitting his guilt in the use of the doping scheme.
June 2nd 2007
Paolo Savoldeli wins the Giro d’Italia’s final time trial into Verona for Astana, but the real surprise is Eddy Mazzoleni’s second place, which elevates him onto the third step of the podium with only a ceremonial stage to go. Mazzoleni has never excelled at time trials previously, but defeats men such as David Zabriske to take the second place.
June 3rd 2007
Mazzoleni finishes the Giro in third, giving Astana its third podium place in two Grand Tours. Danilo Di Luca wins the race, with young Luxembourgish rider Andy Schleck, just 22, taking second place in Milan.
June 12th 2007
Astana releases its preliminary Tour de France team, comprised of Alexander Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden as co leaders, supported by two third placed Grand Tour riders in Andrey Kashechkin (2006 Vuelta) and Eddy Mazzoleni (2007 Giro). Giro time trial winner Paolo Savoldeli is also guarenteed a place with Matthias Kessler, leaving Antonio Colom, Gregory Rast, Maxim Iglinsky, Serguei Ivanov, Guennadi Mikhailov and Benoît Joachim to battle for the remaining three places.
June 13th 2007
The Kazakh terrible twosome, Vinokourov and Kasheckin, take the first two places in the Dauphine Libere’s 40km time trial, taking the first two places on GC as a result. Vinokourov, who had already come third in Tirreno-Adriattico earlier in the year, beats probable Tour rivals such as Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov by 39 and 40 seconds respectively, and is installed as the favourite for the Tour de France.
Away from racing, Vinokourov is asked about his relationship with Doctor Lothar Heinrich, who had been the team medic at T-Mobile when the Kazakh was on the team. Heinrich had recently admitted to doping the team under its Telekom incarnation, but Vinokourov says “Our relationship is over, I’m gone. Now I’m alone. I don’t regret this collaboration in the past. Heinrich is a good person. But you can never know what people do in life.”
June 15th 2007
Antonio Colom wins ahead of Vino to take another stage of the Dauphine for Astana, whilst Andrey Kashechkin keeps the lead he had taken the day before on Mount Ventoux, after Vinokourov claims he is “taking it easy” and loses 7’20.
June 16th 2007
A third stage for Astana as this time Maxim Iglinsky wins into Valloire, although Kashechkin loses his lead to Christophe Moreau.
June 17th 2007
Vinokourov wins the final stage of the Dauphine, taking the teams 4th win of the 8 stage race and their third in a row, winning the points jersey in the process. Kashechkin finishes in third overall. Despite finishing 20th, Vinokourov is now the red hot favourite for the Tour de France.
Andreas Kloden gives an interview to Procycling, where he says “Vino has always done his own thing somewhat. Whether it’s Vino or me who wins in the end it doesnt matter. We’ll just have to wait and see…” He denies that he and Vinokourov have an agreement that Kloden will help the Kazakh win the 2007 Tour, then Vinokourov will help Kloden triumph at the 2008 edition. When asked about any possible undue Kazakh influence, Kloden points out that the team is headquatered in Neuchatel,Switzerland, and is technically competing under a Swiss license.
June 21st 2007
The UCI claim to be tracking six or seven “men in black” on suspision that they are enagaging in doping practices. They are so named because of their supposed practise of wearing neutral, non-team clothing when out training so that they cannot be tracked by the authorities. Anne Gripper, the UCI’s head of anti-doping, says “We have picked out six or seven riders who are considered high-risk cases because of their suspect behaviour and subsequent good performances in the Tour de France,” This leads to speculation that some of the riders targeted may be from Astana.
June 22nd 2007
Astana officially deny that they are involved in the “men in black” case, stating “Since the UCI announced that it is following in particular six to seven riders, likely to have recourse to illicit products, certain media busied themselves with the sowing of doubt within the teams.The Astana Cycling Team does not wish to enter this game and wants to clarify the following: If during the present season, it was tolerated very occasionally that certain riders train in an anonymous way, this is so that the professionals of Astana are not continuously disturbed by the many cyclotourists – in particular on the Côte d’Azur – and not in wishing to hide something.”
This doesnt exactly bring much comfort to anyone, and the team reveal that Andreas Kloden has been tested 5 times in a week, albeit adding that they have no problem with this, insisting they have nothing to hide.
June 25th 2007
Corriere Dello Sport reports that Astana’s Eddy Mazzoleni, amongst others including overall winner Danilo Di Luca, had “abnormally low hormone levels” following the May 30th Giro d’Italia stage to Monte Zoncolan. Such levels, characterised as “extremely bizarre”, can be a red flag to the possible use of masking agents.
June 28th 2007
Just a week after the UCI’s “men in black” announcement, it is announced that Matthias Kessler has returned a positive A-sample for testosterone, from a surprise test on the 24th of April that took place before Fleche Wallone, where Kessler finished 4th. Kessler tells the team “This result is for me inexplicable and I will immediately require a second assessment,” It is not confirmed if the test is positive for synthetic testosterone or not, but Kessler is suspended by Astana pending the results of the B-Sample.
June 29th 2007
Astana release their nine man selection for the Tour de France, albeit with two men mysteriously ommitted. Matthias Kessler was originally on the long list, but because of his suspension is no longer, whilst Eddy Mazzoleni is also missing, presumably due to the fact that the “Oil for Drugs” case is being heard by the Italian anti-doping federation, CONI. Thus, the nine men in the squad are Alexander Vinokourov, fellow Kazakhs Maxim Iglinsky and Andrey Kashechkin, German Andreas Klöden, Russian Serguei Ivanov, Spaniards Antonio Colom and Daniel Navarro, Swiss Gregory Rast and Italian Paolo Savoldelli.Russian Guennadi Mikhailov and Spaniard José Antonio Redondo are named as reserves.
June 30th 2007
Two days after Kessler’s positive test, Astana reveal that they are suspending Italian Eddy Mazzoleni, who had recently captured third place at the Giro for the team, as a result of new revelations about the 2004 Oil for Drugs scandal. It is alleged that Mazzoleni sent messages to doctor Carlo Santuccione mentioning Danilo Di Luca, who is also heavily implicated in the scandal, and hormone use. Oil for Drugs was a scandal surrounding Dr. Santuccione that was begun after a unnamed cyclist died in 2002, that was followed by unsuccessful raids at the 2004 Giro. Quite where the “Oil” bit of the case is uncertain, but the evidence was enough for Astana to suspend Mazzoleni.
In Germany, former Liberty Seguros rider Jörg Jaksche, who had left the team at the end of 2006 and joined the Tinkoff team on the 14th of March, is rumoured to be about to tell all about doping practices on the squad under Manolo Saiz, having previously denied that he was involved with any such schemes. Jaksche had admitted to contact with Dr Fuentes, but refuted that it was for anything illegal.
July 1st 2007
Jaksche does indeed reveal that he took banned substances and practised blood doping, although he claims that he “never overdid it – I never took artificial hemoglobin or stuff like that where you can get an allergic shock.” Jaksche claims he began doping with Dr Fuentes in 2005, and that his code name for the blood bags was “Bella.” He claims that such was the level of disguise in the practise that teammates who were using the same doctor were unsure over whether their own teammates were also doing so, although he does not name any names. He also accuses Walter Godefroot of preventing “inept doping”, rather than doping itself, when both were at T-Mobile: Godefroot is now the technical manager at Astana. Alexandre Vinokourov claims that Jaksche’s “revelations” are motivated by the money given to him for the story by the magazine Der Spiegel. “You always find a good story to justify the sum” he says.
Vinokourov also brings up hislinks to controversial doctor Michele Ferrari, infamous for his connections to Lance Armstrong and having been convicted for sporting frauf in 2004, although that conviction had been overturned in 2006. Vinokourov claims he carried out physical tests with Ferrari in the end of 2005, having been encouraged to consult the doctor by Mario Cipollini. He denies Ferrari ever gave him any medicines.
July 3rd 2007
Walter Godefroot claims he will stand down from his role at Astana due to health problems, and denies any knowledge of the allegations made by Jorge Jaksche. He says his role was always intended to be short term and designed to get the team up and running smoothly. Mario Kummer becomes the teams new manager.
July 5th 2007
Astana talk themselves up for the Tour, claiming that “we think our riders will keep improving before the beginning of the Tour” despite being “quite fit” as evidenced by their domination, albeit without winning the overall, at the Dauphine. The final nine riders for the race are confirmed as Antonio Colom, Maxim Iglinsky, Serguei Ivanov, Andrey Kashechkin, Andreas Kloden, Daniel Navarro, Gregory Rast, Paolo Savoldelli and Alexandre Vinokourov.
July 6th 2007
Vinokourov is again quizzed on doping at the pre-Tour press conference, mainly on his connections to Michele Ferrari. “I search for the best – A lot have talked well of him. Look at the facts. The seven victories of Lance Armstrong at the Tour are a result of his collaboration. Armstrong was super, also Ferrari” he says, adding “Ferrari does not do doping”, and stresses that Ferrari is his trainer, not his doctor, emphasising the differece in these roles. He also comments on Jorg Jaksche, saying “Who is he, in exchange for 100 thousand euro, you would not only make confessions but inventions.” Finally though, Vinokourov again bemoans the lost opportunity of 2006 due to Operacion Puerto. ” This season I lived for the Tour de France. And I am ready.”
Paul Kimmage isn’t ready for a Vino win however, telling the Kazakh “I’d be disgusted if you won the Tour” in response to Vinokourov’s revelation of having met Ferrari.
July 7th 2007
The 2007 Tour de France kicks off in London with a 7.9km prologue, with one of the more open lists of favourites in years. Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden are listed as the top favourites, with their Astana teammates Paolo Savodelli and Andrey Kashechkin also seen as darkhorses if their leaders fail. Elsewhere, the next batch of favourites are Alejandro Valverde, who had yet to complete a Tour, Australian Cadel Evans, who had finished 5th in 2006 and CSC’s Carlos Sastre, who had come 4th (although both were likely to gain a place given Floyd Landis’ case.) T-Mobile, who had previously had three leaders in 2005, were now down to Michael Rogers, whilst Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador were expected to return Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team to the big time after a lacklustre 2006. The token French hope was Dauphine winner Christophe Moreau.
Andreas Kloden records the teams best result of the prologue, coming in second behind Swiss World Champion Fabian Cancellara, albeit a massive 13 seconds down. Vinokourov is seventh, 30 seconds down, but ahead of rivals such as Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and Alejandro Valverde.
July 11th 2007
The Tour de France’s Sporting Safety and Condition Commission blood tests 53 riders before the start of the third stage, including Alexandre Vinokourov. Meanwhile, Andreas Kloden attacks Jorg Kaksche “It irritates me that some riders only come forward to confess to doping when they are offered a lot of money to do so, and self proclaim themselves as the rescuer of the cycling world, when they lied and deceived us all for many years” he says. Jaksche’s popularity amongst the cycling community is further decreased when he accepts the invitation of German TV channel ARD to come and commentate on the Tour, where he talks about doping.
July 12th 2007
Whilst Fillipo Pozzato wins the stage, the biggest news at the Tour is the crash of Alexandre Vinokourov with around 25 miles to go, where he falls alongside team mate Serguei Ivanov in a high speed crash that leaves his bleeding and torn in the gutter of the road, stumbling to gingerly pick up his bicycle. A phalanx of Astana team mates, indeed, all men except Kloden and Kasheckin, fall back to try and pace Vinokourov through the lumpy finale of the stafge. However Vinokourov seems to strong for them and before long is pounding on the front of the group himself, trying to haul back time as the merciless peloton speeds away. there is some minor controversy over whether the peloton deliberately attacked the crash to distance Vinokourov, but Astana point out they realise the race was already on. Vino ultimately loses 1’20, and falls to 81st on GC, 2’10 behind Cancellara in yellow. “It is a very bad day for me” mumbles Vinokourov.
Vinokourov claims that he would have made the junction to the front group if it hadn’t been for a barrage of race veichles that were formed from the team cars of dropped riders, and reveals the reason for his crash was a skipping chain that caused him to lose his balance. His injury list is impressive: deep contusions to his knees and elbow plus abrasions on his hip and buttocks. Depending on who you believe, Vinokourov has either 15 or 30 stiches in his knees, which have been left loose to allow him to pedal. However, Vino states “I must continue, I havent broken anything. I’ll be back.”
To increase Astana’s bad day, Matthias Kessler’s B-sample is announced to be positive, apparently with a similarly “exorbitantly high value” (an 85:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, where 4;1 is normal) as his A-sample. Kessler offers the somewhat vague excuse that he had been taking alternative food supplements and had eaten something “with Chinese writing on them.” Unfortunately for him atheletes are responsible for what they put into their bodies, and so Astana’s first positive test under their new sponsor structure is officially confirmed.
July 13th 2007
To comfound Astana’s misfortunes even more, it is revealed that second placed Andreas Kloden, 33 seconds off the lead, had also crashed on stage 5, touching a wheel during the slowing of the peloton and falling into a ditch. Whilst unlike Vinokourov, he was able to rejoin the field (there were 75km to go), X-rays revel he had broken his coccyx, as well as badly bruising his thigh and hip. Astana are thus in the situation of going into the mountains of the Tour with their two leaders badly wounded.
A pained and mesh-wrapped Vinokourov completes the flat 6th stage, won by Tom Boonen, who wins despite Mark Cavendish destroying his derailleur when they touch wheels in the finale. When a camera finds Vino in the pack, he gives a slit throat gesture to it, inferring he is finished.
July 14th 2007
Vinokourov defeats expectations by finishing towards the back of the favourites group along with Kloden and Kashechkin as a 24 year old Linus Gerdemann wins the stage and the yellow jersey. Astana had been careful to control the pace to try and tenderly lead their wounded leaders to the finish, knowing recovery time is crucial given the first mountain finish tomorow. Alejandro Valverde reveals that he is keen to remove Vinokourov from the Tour equation by dropping him on the road to Tignes the next day, as he is concerned that Vinokourov could come back from his injuries towards the end of the Tour. Vinokourov hopes that he can simply “limit the losses and after that we’ll see.”
Matthias Kessler is fired from Astana as a result of his positive test. He continues to assert his innocence. Michele Scarponi is also banned for 18 months, reduced from two years due to his cooperation and signing of a ten page confession.
July 15th 2007
Vinokourov’s dream of winning the Tour de France seems to hang by a thread after the road to Tignes, as whilst Michael Rasmussen soars to glory for both the stage and the malliot jaune, he is nursed home by Andreas Kloden to lose 1’16 to the group of favourites including Valverde, Evans, Sastre, Contador, Leipheimer and teammate Kashechkin, who in turn had lost 3.12/13 to the flying Dane. Kloden admits he could have ridden away from Vinokourov to limit his own losses, but says it was wiser for the pair to ride together. Kashechkin is now the best placed Astana rider, 5th at 2’52, whilst Kloden is 12th at 3’46 and Vinokourov 22nd at 5’23. Rasmussen is expected to keep the lead until the stage 13 time trial, where a modest time loss could put him in reach of the lower steps of the podium, it is believed. Vinokourov and Kloden now have a rest day to help them recover their strength.
July 16th 2006
An interview with the Kazakh ambassador to the UK reveals the national pride stoked behind the Astana team. “If the world sees the strength of our team in the Tour de France they will definitely be intrigued,” says Erlan Idrissov, “They will ask: ‘What is the country which has been able to produce such a strong team in such a short period of time?’ ”
It also reveals that Vinokourov was intrinsically linked to the Kazakh government’s intervention into the team, as well as having a big roll in the design of the kit. For instance, Vinokourov claims he was insistent on the Kazakh eagle and rising sun emblems being used on the jerseys. “It’s my team and I’m very proud of it” he says.
Ambassador Idrissov claims that Vinokorov and Kashechkin will “reflect glory” onto Kazahkstan, and that part of the goal of the team is to promote a “healthy way of living”: pertinent in a country where an estimated quarter million of the 15 million population are drug addicts. “Many boys and girls will jump into cycling, they will stay away from drugs and bars and they will have something to devote their lives to,” says Idrissov, “housands of Kazakh boys will want to be like [Vinokourov and Kashechkin].” The weight of expectation and support back home is felt in the words of Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov (by happy coincidence also the President of the country’s cycling federation, who boasts “We foresee victory in the Tour de France for Kazakhstan.”
July 17th 2007
As Colombian Mauricio Soler wins the stage in Briancon, Vinokourov’s Tour dream finally dies. The Kazakh was dropped after an attack 15km from the summit of the Col du Galibier, having already been put into difficulty by the Discovery duo of Contador and Popovych, as teammates Kashechkin and Kloden finally abandoned their leader to try and salvage Astana’s Tour. Kloden loses 8 seconds to the second placed Valverde, putting him 8th overall, 3’50 behind Rasmussen, whilst Kasheckin ultimately blows to finish alongside Vinokourov, both 3’24 down on Soler on the stage. This puts Vinokourov 8’05 down in 21st, whilst Kashechkin slips to 12th, 5’34 behind.
A dissapointed and exhausted Vinokourov blinks back the tears before saying “The rise to the Télégraphe top was already very difficult. Then in the Galibier I had pains everywhere. The team worked perfect for me. I gave and did all I could, but my knees were hurting me so much. It was once again a misery’s day for me…” Team manager Mario Kummer sighs “The Tour isn’t over yet. We’ll have to see in the next time-trial. According to me, for Vino, the most important is his health.”
July 19th 2007
A bullish Astana create controversy when they attack to drop French hope Christophe Moreau after his crash on the flat stage from Marseille to Montpellier, putting him 3’20 behind the peloton as echelons form. Vinokourov then tries to attack with 3.8km to go, but barley gains any distance on the sprinters teams and is rapidly swept up as South African Robbie Hunter wins. Jens Voigt expresses his displeasure at Astana’s actions “Christophe had crashed, it is not fair to make him lose the Tour de France because of that.”
Mario Kummer novelly tries to shift the blame to his team, saying “First of all, I have to tell you that the initial decision came from the riders” before offering an interesting appraisal of who Astana’s team leader is. “The most important thing in this situation today was that Vino got his morale back. We saw that he’s back, but now we have again three strong riders for the GC,” Kummer says, adding “Our captain is still Vino but we will give Andreas [Klöden] a free role, with all the support from the team so he has every possibility for the GC. Yet, the man who decides within the team is still Vino.”
July 20th 2007
The Tour wakes up to the news that Michael Rasmussen has been removed from the Danish national team due to the fact he has missed three drugs tests. Rasmussen says he has only missed one test, claiming “There must be someone at the top who doesn’t wish me well.”
In other doping related news, th UCI’s “Men in Black” suspicions are alleged to be all about Astana riders – the recently banned Matthias Kessler, Alexander Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden. However, Tony Rominger, who is the agent for all three riders, bemoans the media reports, claiming “Alexander Vinokourov is contractually obligated to ride every day in his team jersey…and [Kloden] has never worn a black jersey.”
July 21st 2007
The 54km time trial around the damp countryside surrounding Albi throws up to massive surprises. Firstly, malliot jaune Micheal Rasmussen, he who had famously lost 7’47 to Lance Armstrong over 55km in 2005 (and more importantly 7’24 to Jan Ullrich, who replaced him on the podium) having crashed twice and thrice changed his bicycle, loses only 2’55 to the stage winner to finish 11th overall, preserving a 1’00 lead over Cadel Evans and managing to catch his three minute man, Alejandro Valverde. Perhaps more incredibly, the stage winner is Alexander Vinokourov, who, despite stiches in his knees, wins by huge 1’14 over Cadel Evans. Australian Evans prevents an Astana 1-2-3, with Andreas Kloden 25 seconds behind him despite crashing, and Andrey Kashechkin just 5 seconds behind him. All three Astana riders thus haul themselves into the top ten, with
4th, Andreas Kloden, 2’34
6th, Andrey Kashechkin, 4’23
9th, Alexandre Vinokourov, 5’10
“This is revenge for Briancon” pipes up Vino, who talks himself up for the upcoming Pyreneean raids, ” Now that I found my legs again, I want to attack in the Pyrénées; we have a couple of days left to do something- Today the Tour really starts for me, it is not over yet.” When asked about whether he still has a chance of winning the Tour from 5’10 behind, Vinokourov states crypitcally “The team still believes in me as captain of the team. The team said that it wasn’t over, that they still counted on me. Today I’m still five minutes down on Rasmussen but I showed that the Tour is not over for me, I stay motivated for the rest of the Tour. We don’t have the pressure of the maillot jaune and we will show that we’re back during the next days, the tactics will be discussed later.”
On the fact that he has just won a Tour TT stage by more then a minute when it seemed he could barely walk due to the stiches in his knees, Vino smiles “I ama Kazakh. There’s no doubt a European rider would have abandoned a long time before now…When I see some young French riders abandoning due to a few minor knocks it makes me smile.” Liberation call him “the Genghis Khan of the 53×12.”
July 22nd 2007
As Alberto Contador and Michael Rasmussen duel on Plateau-de-Beille, Vinokourov, again with Serguei Ivanov, crashes on the Port de Pailhères after a fan’s flag becomes in his unlucky teammate’s wheel. This time though, there was to be no dramatic chase, none of the newly found legs of the previous stage, and no desperate fight back. Vinokourov quietly surrended a stunning 28’50 to leave him in 30th place, 34’12 down. The Tour de France dream is finally, belatedly extinguished. “I had no legs today” sighs Vinokourov, who has time to lay into UCI president Pat McQuaid,who says he doesnt want Vinokourov to win the Tour as he “doesnt seem like a credible rider.” “He has tried to make me look like a cheat,” sighs Vino, “because I was honest about revealing my collaboration with Michele Ferrari.”
Elsewhere for the team, Kloden manages 6th, albeit a minute behind the men challenging for the podium, with Kashechkin martialled by Antonio Colom to 8th and 9th, 2’23 off stage winner Contador. This leaves Kloden at 4’38 in 5th, and Kashechkin 7th at 6’58. Kloden blames the previous days crash for his bad day.
July 23rd 2007
It turns out Vinokourov just doesn’t know when to die. With his 34 minute defecit allowing him to be allowed to attack without fear by the GC men, the Kazakh infiltrated a strong break before unleashing his trademark punchy attacks and briding to leaders Kim Kirchen and Haimar Zubeldia, before riding past them to the summit of the Col de Peyresourde before plunging downhill to take his second stage victory of the race in Le Louron.
“I was very motivated to show I have good condition and I also wanted to motivate my team,” Vinokourov says after the stage. “I was here to win in Paris but the first week was very unlucky for me. I made a lot of effort to recover and then I changed my plans. But it is life and I don’t have any regrets. For sure, I wasn’t lucky the first two weeks and without my fall, things could have been different. But that’s sport…”
Vinokourov then talks up the chances of his team mate, Andreas Kloden, making the podium, revealing that the team is now behind the German’s assault for the top three. He stops short of “revealing the tactics” though, as Kloden finishes with his podium rivals, given that Michael Rasmussen and revelation of the race Alberto Contador had further distanced themselves from the chasing pack. Astana now have two stage wins at the Tour, which goes a decent way to making up for their lack of a yellow jersey.
The Astana team bus, along with Rabobank, CSC and Discovery Channel’s, is “routinely searched”, with only “prescription medicines” being found.
July 25th 2007
One of the more incredible days in the history of the Tour de France. It is announced that Alexander Vinokourov, the man who had been the white hot favourite for the overall victory, only to crash and severely wound himself to the degree he needed many stiches in his knees, who then, against all odds it seemed, devoured the competition at the Albi time trial before thrashing his way to a mountain stage victory a couple of days later, has tested positive for an homologous blood transfusion after his time trial victory. A homologous transfusion involves the use of blood that is not the riders own (that would be autologous).
The Astana team suspend Vinokourov, who none the less asks for the B-sample to be tested. ASO President Patrice Clerc is told the news by Marc Biver, and immediately asks the team to remove themselves from the Tour de France. The team accepts the request, and for the second year in a row, no Astana rider will complete the Tour de France. Speculation that the entire Tour will be stopped proves to be unfounded, although news brewing about Michael Rasmussen threatens to push the race to the very brink of such a move. “I have never thought to stop the Tour” says Clerc.
Following the news, Astana’s hotel is raided, with police searching rooms and local garbage for evidence of doping. Team vehicles are later searched. There are rumours the team will collapse with the predicted loss of its talisman, but the Kazakh cycling federation counters to claim that the Prime Minister and President of the Cycling Union (Still both Mr Akhmetov) still has full support for the venture. Vinokourov at least has an unlikely ally in the disgraced Floyd Landis, who says “Just as in my case, LNDD (Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage / National Anti-doping Laboratory) has leaked the test results to l’Equipe, permanently damaging Vino’s reputation and causing him to defend an allegation without any evidence. Furthermore, it is similar to my case because the LNDD’s leaked results have the potential to alter the outcome of the Tour de France before they have proved the alleged doping violation.”
Confusion reigns as to the status of Vinokourov and whether or not Cadel Evans (Albi) and Kim Kirchen (Le Louron) will inherit his stage wins. Technically, Vinokourov is not guilty yet – only his A-sample is positive and he has requested a B-sample test, plus he has not been disqualified – he has only left the race. His victories thus continue to stand and he is listed as “Did Not Start” on the race communique.
As another positive test for testosterone by Christope Moreni of Cofidis, leading to the withdrawal of their team (with riders such as Bradley Wiggins) from the race almost glossed over, Vinokourov breaks his silence to L’Equipe, claiming that his positive test is a “mistake.” “I never doped, that’s not the way I see my profession,” he says, before offering the excuse that “I think it’s a mistake in part due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors who had a hypothesis that there was an build up of blood in my thighs, which could have led to my positive test.”
Vinokourov then claims that there may be some sort of conspiracy going on against Astana, a claim that was well reheared in the past during the teams attempt to secure a ProTour license. “It’s been going on for months and today they’re managing to demolish me,” he says. “The setting up of our team made a lot of people jealous and now we’re paying the price. It’s a shame to leave the Tour this way, but I don’t want to waste time in proving my innocence.”
The Kazakh does think the situation warrants some humour however, making the wisecrack that “I heard that I made a transfusion with my father’s blood.That’s absurd, I can tell you that with his blood, I would have tested positive for vodka.”
Meanwhile, there is an actual race going on, and malliot jaune Michael Ramussen wins a top the Col de Aubisque to seemingly cement his place in the history books as a Tour de France winner, leading Alberto Contador, who he dropped despite having to deal with the Spaniard and his teammate Levi Leipheimer, by 3’10.
After the rise comes the fall however, and just when the day couldnt seem to get much worse for the Tour, Rabobank fire Rasmussen for reportedly lying about his whereabouts to the authorities, an offense comparable with doping under the WADA code. Rasmussen thus will not start the next days stage, meaning the race will not have a yellow jersey, leaving 24 year old Alberto Contador the likely inheritor of the coveted jersey at the end of the day. This completes an epic day both on and off the bike for the Tour, which began with L’Equipes front page trumpeting “Le courage de Vino” only to end in disaster.
July 26th 2007
BMC announce they are considering whether to continue their sponsorship of the Astana team, as they “don’t want to have anything to do with doping.” Andreas Kloden claims to be disappointing with the situation,claiming the decision to pull out has ruined his season. Paul Sherwen claims in commentary that Astana may seek to sue Vinokourov for damages.
July 27th 2007
Kai Rapp, the director of the Tour of Germany, known as the Deutschland Tour, announce that Astana are to be excluded from the race, although T-Mobile and Cofidis, both who had riders test positive at the Tour as well, are still welcome. Rapp claims that “Cofidis voluntarily withdrew from that race” and this has helped, and that he is not bothered that excluding Astana means that German Andreas Kloden cannot ride his race as “[last year] he decided he would rather ride criteriums.” The news comes as German cycling is at crisis point,with TV coverage pulled after Patrik Sinkewitz’s positive, which came after Matthias Kessler’s doping as well as Jan Ullrich’s Operacion Puerto fiasco.
July 28th 2007
Vinokourov’s B-samples are opened to be tested, with the results expected on the following Saturday.
July 29th 2007
Alberto Contador, the young Spaniard, wins the Tour de France by only 23 seconds, having held off the charge of Cadel Evans and his teammate Levi Leiphemer, who is just 31 seconds back, in the final time trial. The podium spread is the closest in the history of the race.
Meanwhile, The “Glooming Fatherland” Party in Kazakhstan uses the image of national hero Alexandre Vinokourov on flyers to try to win victory, showing that his downfall seems to have had little impact on his reputation at home at least. It is claimed that Vinokourov has actually helped people identify with their capital, Astana.
July 30th 2007
Vinokourov is fired by Astana after his B-sample is confirmed as positive. The team that Vino used to claim was his own is thus stripped of its talisman. He becomes the second rider to test positive under the Astana structure.
July 31st 2007
Werner Franke, a German journalist and self styled anti-doping crusader, claims to have documents that incriminate Alberto Contador in Operacion Puerto. Contador had originally been cleared after his name was allegedly found on some documents. “The name of this Mr Contador appears on several occasions on the court and police documents. All of this has been simply concealed and hidden under the carpet while the name Contador was erased from the list of supicious riders.” Franke also alleges the cocktail of drugs Contador is supposed to have taken. “He took insulin, HMG-Lepori, a hormone to stimulate the secretion of testosterone and also a product for asthma called TGN – in brief I have before my eyes a protocol for doping. All of this has been covered up, at least in Spain.”
Jorge Jaksche is asked about who the letters “A.C.” on the Puerto documents are, and indeed is asked whether they might be Contador. “That would at least be a reasonable assumption” he replies. Jaksche had been listed as “J.J”, his initials, in the documents.
August 1st 2007
“Following the last events, Astana Cycling Team decided to suspend its activities during the month of August. This time will allow the whole team – management, staff and riders – to think about its future. The Astana Cycling Team’s management will organise new regulations, as well on the level of the team’s structure as of the ethical rules. The first concrete measures will be communicated later on.” And so with that Astana suspends itself from racing for a month, purportedly a self imposed measure, but actually required by the UCI’s code of ethics, which requires three positives in a two year period to be followed by a one month suspension.
BMC follow up on the announcment they were looking into whether to keep up their sponsorship of Astana by immediately ending said sponsorship. “The reason for this is the latest case of doping that occurred in the Astana team during the Tour de France that has just ended. Whether BMC will engage again in the future as a sponsor of a professional cycling team is still an open question.” BMC have been rather unucky in that they have managed to sponsor Phonak and Astana, the two teams with the biggest Tour de France doping scandals in the previous two years.
Vinokourov is meanwhile building support at home and abroad, hiring Floyd Landis’ legal team to fight his blood doping charge, as well as getting support from Kazakh deputy minister for tourism and sport Kairat Aitekenov. “I do not believe that Vinokourov was guilty of doping,” he says, ” “During the race he was injured and received treatment. He can’t understand it himself, he’s in shock. To win by doping is something he would consider below his honour, this is a principled sportsman.” The idea that Vinokourov’s “heavy fall” contributed to his positive test is seriously put forwards by the Kazakhs.
August 3rd 2007
Astana are still on the start list of the Vuelta, but the organisers confirm that there is “no way” that defending champion Vinokourov could make some 11th hour entry to the event.
August 4th 2007
Andreas Kloden rides and wins the City Nacht von Rhede criterium in Germany, in Astana kit and on a team issue BMC bike, despite the Swiss manufacturer having pulled their sponsorship. “I was angry when I rode, because I have such good form and am not allowed to start,” Kloden says, adding “My morale is at rock bottom.”
August 8th 2007
As Astana prepare for a training camp, sponsors continue to desert them, with Swedish clothing manufacturer Craft the next to jump ship, although Skoda decide to stay with the team. Marc Biver claims he feels “double crossed” by Vinokourov, who he reveals has a healthy entourage. “There were a lot of people in the entourage of ‘Vino’. His father, but also a lot of Kazakhs that I didn’t know.” The reference to his father is supposedly brought about by rumours that Vinokourov’s blood transfusion originated from his father. Aknowledging that Astana had lost some 200,000 euros form the debacle, he adds “Vino is not very open. He doesn’t talk much.”
August 9th 2007
Andrey Kashechkin tests positive for a homologus blood transfusion from an uannounced test on the 1st of August, and Astana immediately suspend the rider a she requests the B-sample. It is the same type of doping carried out as by Vinokourov, raising questions as to whether there is anything more structured going on in Astana or between the Kazakh countrymen.
The Vatenfall Cyclassics bans any rider on the Puerto list from taking the start of its race, including the (unscheduled to ride anyway) Alberto Contador.
August 10th 2007
Tailwind Sports, the company behind the hugely successful Discovery Channel cycling team of Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and third place finisher Levi Leipheimer, announces that the team will disband at the end of the season, after a drawn out, world wide sponsor search cannot find a replacement to take on the $15million a year commitment.
Trek bicycles, who had become an insitituion under the team and massively increased their sales thanks to Lance Armstrong’s successes on the machines, say they will be “pretty selective” about who they sponsor in the future.
August 11th 2007
Marc Biver is summonned by the UCI to explain Astana’s recent glut of positive tests, to meet on August 23rd. it is expected that the team will be suspended, further prolonging their own self-suspension, whilst the team may also lose its ProTour license.
Johan Bruyneel, the director sportif of Discovery Channel who led the team to 8 Tour wins in 9 attempts, announces that he will retire at the end of the year.
August 13th 2007
The Vuelta a Espana organiser Unipublic revoke the invitation of the Astana team to the race they won with Alexander Vinokourov the previous year. Astana cancel the training camp they had planned for the event.
August 18th 2007
It is reported that Andreas Kloden is looking to leave Astana, calling the decision to move to the team “a mistake.” It is denied that T-Mobile have offered him a place on their team.
August 22nd 2007
The Kazakh cycling federation have a fairly farcial day, firstly reporting that Andrey Kashechkin’s blood samples are “negative.” They claim that a laboratory had made “repeated analyses” of the blood and found no problems, only for Astana to later confirm that the B-sample had not yet been opened. Nikolai Proskurin of the federation then laughs off claims that Andreas Kloden want to leave the team, saying “Right now he is training in Switzerland and is preparing for the Vuelta. We have an invitation to that race and Andreas will be co-captain there along with the Spanish rider Jose Antonio Redondo.” Apparently Proskurin is unaware that the team’s was uninvited from the event over a week before.
August 23rd 2007
Marc Biver presents what he hopes will be the team’s anti-doping system for the next year. “There will be 10 unannounced blood tests,” he says “as well as 10 urine tests, for each rider, which of course are in addition to the usual controls of the UCI and the WADA.” However, he reveals that his job depends on the Kazakhstan federation.
Andreas Kloden bemoans dopers in cycling, saying that they “destroyed my chances at the Tour de France.” On his team for the next year, he says “I am a professional. I can imagine riding for any team which offers me the appropriate conditions for a successful Tour de France.”
August 27th 2007
Andrey Kashechkin announces his intent to fight the UCI based on the notion that they are invading his privacy by testing him. Nobody gives this idea much time of day.
August 29th 2007
Despite having a contract until 2010, it is rumoured that Marc Biver is seeking to leave Astana, something the team quickly denies.
August 31st 2007
Astana prepare to end their suspension at the GP Ouest France-Plouay in France, albeit without injured team leader Andreas Kloden, who hit a car in training. It is uncertain what kit and bikes they will be using.
Andrey Kashechkin’s b-sample is also confirmed to be positive, and he is fired by Astana.
It is rumoured that Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel could be coming to Astana in 2008, and could bring a legion of talented riders with him in doing so, such as Contador and Leipheimer.This is despite Bruyneel annoucing his retirment earlier in the month.
September 1st 2007
Discovery Channel’s P.R. man P.J.Rabice says “In a brief phone conversation with Johan Bruyneel, he confirmed to me that he was in fact contacted by the Astana Team with an offer to manage the Team beginning in 2008. However, he had just returned from holiday and knew too little about the offer at this time to say whether it is a consideration.” The rumours of Astana’s contact with Bruyneel are thus confirmed.
September 5th 2007
Astana release a statement claiming the team is running with “business as usual” , claiming Marc Biver is tied to the team until 2010, and that the team will continue into 2008 with its ProTour license. It says “The Swiss company Zeus Sàrl, managed by Marc Biver and acting as the financial responsible of Astana Cycling Team, fills his tasks which binds it to the Kazakh Cycling Federation in accordance with the contract which links the two parts until 2010. So far, no indication was given to the executive board of the Astana Cycling Team that the team would not continue its activities. In addition, the formalities for the UCI 2008 license are in hand.”
It then drops in that 22 year old Spaniard Jose Antonio Redondo has been released from his contract with the team for “violating team rules”, although what these rules were is not given by the team,supposedly “in the interest of Redondo himself.”
September 6th 2007
Johan Bruyneel confirms that he is in talks with Astana,although he says it will be and open question as to whether or not he takes up the offer or decides to retire from the sport completely. “After the Tour De France this year, I got a phone call from [ President of Kazakhstan Cycling Federation] Danial Akhmetov who told me that they want to continue with the team and approached me to see if I was interested in restructuring and rebuilding the team. So for the moment I am considering this offer… It’s a change of approach for me because I have just announced my retirement from active cycling, at least as a team director. In my mind, I am prepared for that, so this Astana offer is a little bit of a change.” Quite how Marc Biver, who only the day before the team insisted would be continuing with his contract through 2010,and Bruyneel would coexist is not discussed.
September 7th 2007
There is confusion over what exactly is going on with Jose Antonio Redondo,as his agent claims the whole situation is based on a misunderstanding surrounding a training camp Redondo missed.The training camp in question was supposedly the one that was to take place before the Vuelta, which was cancelled anyway, but Redondo had supposedly asked not to attend due to the difficulties in travel arrangements. He had then received a letter on the 5th of September informing him he had broken his contract by not attending the camp, despite apparent assurances that he was free to do so. His agent declares that he is thus “still an Astana rider.”
September 9th 2007
Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, the organiser of the Circuit Franco-Belge, says Astana are not invited to the race due to the bad publicity they would bring. Vandenbroucke claims his race lost sponorship in the aftermath of the Tour de France, blaming this on the doping scandals perpetuated by the Astana team.
September 17th 2007
Nikolai Proskurin, the vice-president of the Kazakh cycling federation, claims that hiring Marc Biver was “our [Astana’s] mistake” and adds “It is 150 percent certain, that he won’t work for us in 2008. We have had good discussions with Johan Bruyneel. We want him as Biver’s successor. Johan enjoys a good reputation in cycling.”
September 20th 2007
Jörg Jaksche receives a backdated 1 year ban from cycling,running from the date of his confession, the 2nd of July, although this is to be approved by the UCI.
September 21st 2007
Allan Davis, now riding for Discovery Channel, is still feeling the effects of his alleged Puerto connections from Astana precursor Liberty Seguros, as despite having been cleared by the Spanish judges, the UCI are still trying to prevent him from riding the World Championships, claiming that Article 9.2.002 states that “A rider against whom an investigation was opened in relation to a fact which may cause a breach of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, will not be eligible for the World Championships or is not authorised to participate to the World Championships until the end of the suspension or until his definitive acquittal.” Cycling Australia respond that they are not obligated to remove Davis from their Worlds team roster as he is not under investigation. Davis can at least take solace in that he is not alone: The UCI are trying to prevent Erik Zabel, Paolo Bettini, Danilo Di Luca and most of all, Alejandro Valverde from competing: Zabel for a recent doping confession for when he raced in 1996, Bettini for refusing to sign a charter that would involve him turning over his DNA for cross referencing, Di Luca for his links to the Oil for Drugs malarky and Valverde for his alleged Puerto links.
Meanwhile, the idea of joining Johan Bruyneel at Astana (if it happens) is put to the Belgians star charge Alberto Contador, who declares “it is [a] good [idea[, and I would like to go with him,[but[ here are other factors to consider. I prefer a team in which he [Bruyneel] has freedom, and with strong riders.” The comment about freedom would seem to suggest that he is concerned about the control that the forces in Kazakhstan seem to have over Astana.
September 23rd 2007
Andreas Kloden will stay with Astana “if the team continues to exist – which I assume it will” says agent Tony Rominger.
September 28th 2007
The calender for the UCI ProTour 2008 is released, and does not include the three Grand Tours or indeed any of the key events organised by ASO, RCS or Unipublic. This is due to the long running spat between the race organisers (predominately ASO) and the UCI over issues such as drug testing and team participation in their races. The Grand Tour organisers thus seem to have won in their aim of gaining control of selection criteria for their races, a process begun with the uninviting of Unibet to Paris-Nice in January.
It is thought that this could lead to bad news for Astana, whose run of doping stories have already left them watching on the sidelines of races at the end of 2007. ASO only want to invite 18 teams to the 2008 Tour de France, and it is hard to see how ProTour team Astana would get into that selection given their 2007 performance. ProTour director Alain Rumpf declares “Astana is under high surveillance. We got Marc Biver to give us explanations and plans about what he’ll do against drugs in the future. But we heard that Biver might no longer be in the picture, so we wrote a letter to the license holder, which is the Kazakh cycling federation. We are still waiting for their precise answer. For now, they only say that we don’t have to worry about the team being clean.”
September 29th 2007
Stage winner and third placed finisher at the 2007 Tour de France Levi Leipheimer declares he is “off the market” but cannot reveal his new team yet. It is highly rumoured that the new USA National Road Champion will join a Discovery Channel migration to Astana with Johan Bruyneel.
October 4th 2007
Alberto Contador is rumored to be very close to signing a deal with Astana, although the phrase of the moment appears to be “New Astana”. “We want a different Astana,” says Contador, “with a new and different sporting structure. There are two riders who want to come with me: the Spaniard Benjamín Noval and the Portuguese Sergio Paulinho.” The “New Astana” is clearly an attempt to seperate the structure from Vinokourov’s, and thus to try and prevent the team from being viewed in his shadow. Contador confirms that the option to join Astana is one that appeals to him.
October 5th 2007
“New Astana” rears its head again, as it is claimed that Dirk Demol, the successful DS at Discovery Channel, would not join “New Astana”, which will be a “completely different team in all areas” according to nearly consecrated leader Bruyneel, who is negotiating a three year deal. Quite how this effects Marc Biver is up in the air, but Bruyneel tells the media that Contador, Leipheimer, Benjamin Noval, Sergio Paulinho, Jani Brajkovic and Thomas Vaitkus as would also join the team.
Astana’s seemingly out of the loop communications department have other ideas though, with spokesperson Corinne Druey denying that Contador has even had contact with the team. “Astana cycling team 2007 did not and won’t ask Alberto Contador to be a rider on the team next year,” Druey told the press, “We’re only seeing this in the media… The riders of the Astana cycling team don’t know what their futures will be.” Still, they could say something daft like Johan Bruyneel, who declares “I cannot do better than eight Tour victories in nine years.” Er, how about nine in nine Johan?!
October 8th 2007
Unsurprisingly, there is great confusion as to what is actually going on at Astana, given that there are seemingly two general managers, both with conflicting reports and statements from team members backing their cases, whilst riders claim to be signing contacts as PR people simultaneously deny all contact. So they don’t feel left out, the riders contracted to the team are drawn into the mess by discovering that they are not being paid, having not received pay since before September.
Marc Biver is revealed to have flown to Kazakhstan to reveal his dissapointment in the team, but confusion continues to reign as Contador’s agent Tony Rominger claims he hasn’t spoken to Astana, despite Contador all but committing to the team only days earlier.
October 11th 2007
Alain Gallopin is the first official signing for 2008 by the team, albeit a non-rider one – he joins from CSC as a sports director.
October 12th 2007
It is finally confirmed that Johan Bruyneel will be the team manager in 2008, as the Kazakh cycling federation confirm that the team will exist in a new format the next year. Danial Akhmetov says “Astana Pro Cycling Team is a national project. And we will by all means help it on to become one of the best professional cycling teams. I am fully convinced that our riders will occupy a worthy place in world’s elite.” The team will use a anti-doping system forged on CSC by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard and claim they will have neither direct or indirect contact with riders who have committed doping offences.
October 17th 2007
The much maligned ProTour series, due to finish with the Tour of Lombardy on the next Saturday, could all be decided to Alexander Vinokourov. How so? Because he has yet to be disqualified from the Tour de France, and if he was, then his points would be reassigned to Cadel Evans, who needs just 15 points to win the series after Danilo Di Luca, the imcumbent leader, was banned for three months for his role in Oil for Drugs. Vinokourov’s TT win in Albi at the Tour, where he finished one place ahead of Evans, netted him 10 points.
Alberto Contador appears to be reneging on his plans to join Astana, with agent Tony Rominger worried now that doing so might “damage his image.” Spanish teams, such as Caisse d’Epargne, edge to becoming the favourites for the Tour winner to join.
Just to confuse things however, Sean Yates, the English DS, has other things to say as he confirms he is joining the team. “We have a very strong team for the Tour,” he says, “Not only with Alberto but also Leipheimer and Klöden.” According to Yates then,Contador is indeed coming to Astana.
Astana also win their first race in at least three months, as Aaron Kemps,still astride a BMC, wins a stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The team would pick up three further stage wins (two with Steve Morabito and another from Kemps) in the next few days.
October 21st 2007
Contador is still not signed up with Astana as the season ends, although he contradicts his agent by saying “I do not agree with Rominger’s opinion. I think it is clear that the new Astana will not be anything like the old one.”
October 24th 2007
Alberto Contador finally signs a two year deal to join Astana, emphasising that the team allowing him to focus on the Tour de France was the key reason for joining. He also again emphasises how the team is “New Astana.”
“My main goal in 2008 is to ride the Tour and try to wear the yellow jersey on the Champs-Elysées. After weighing some interesting offers I had, I decided on Astana because it is an entirely new project and puts all available means into having a great team for the Tour de France.”
Later the same day, Levi Leipheimer confirms he has also signed a two year deal with the team. Teammate Vladimir Gusev is also rumoured to be joining.
October 25th 2007
The 2008 Tour de France route is released, with the race expected to be decided on Alpe d’Huez and in the final time trial, although early finishes at SuperBesse, a reduced first TT and finishes at Hautacam and Prato Nevoso add spice. Contador says “The Tour will be the most important objective for me next year. I will train all-out for the Tour. I will have to adjust my training to be ready for the mountains. It is very important to preview these climbs.”
There may be dark clouds looming however, as ASO President Patrice Clerc points out “No rider and no team has a guaranteed start at the 2008 Tour de France. Only riders with a biological passport will start, that’s all I can say. But we don’t have any link whatsoever with the ProTour. Nobody will oblige us to line up certain teams!” when asked whether Astana will be invited given they now posess the defending champion.
Discovery Channel riders Janez Brajkovic, Benjamin Noval, Sergio Paulinho and Tomas Vaitkus are confirmed as having joined Astana.
November 5th 2007
It is revealed that Astana will learn whether it will be in receipt of a ProTour license for 2008 on the 20th of November.
November 6th 2007
Viatcheslav Ekimov is revealed as the middle man in the Astana system,and tells of how the organisation contacted him and Bruyneel following Kashechkin’s positive test in August. He cites the “biggest issue” being the team keeping ahold of its ProTour license for 2008.
November 14th 2007
Paolo Savodelli leaves Astana for LPR Brakes,despite technically being under contract until the end of 2008. However, given he was contracted to now departed Marc Biver, he can leave the “New Astana.”
November 16th 2007
Jose Luis ‘Chechu’ Rubiera and Vladimir Gusev become the latest Discovery Channel men to join Astana.
November 17th 2007
36 year old American Chris Horner joins Astana from Predictor Lotto, to the annoyance of Cadel Evans.”He will be of extreme value in the mountains for our leaders. Chris is extremely motivated to join our team” says Johan Bruyneel.
November 21st 2007
“We are well aware of the payment issues with the Astana team from this season, and are working closely with the Kazakh Cycling Federation and the UCI to resolve these issues” says Bruyneel, as payment issues continue to plague the team. The riders are expected to be paid through Bruyneel’s own company,rather than Marc Biver’s Zeus set up, but friction between Zeus and the Kazakh cycling federation means back pay is essentially never going to happen through that channel.
November 26th 2007
Astana currently have 31 riders for the 2008 season – 1 more than they are allowed. 26 year-old Belgian Igor Abakoumov worries publically that he has been cut out of the team, bemoaning how no one will answer his calls and how the teams much publicised financial difficulties worry him even more.
November 27th 2007
On the same day Alberto Contador confirms his plans to aim for the Tour de France and the Beijing Olympics, the team confirms its anti-doping scheme will run under the supervision of Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, and will include 800 out of competition tests and a zero toleracne policy. Johan Bruyneel states that he cannot see what more the team can do to show they are competing clean.
November 29th 2007
Contador discusses his joining of Astana, revealing that the possibility of a two year contract over one, plus leadership at the Tour, were the key factors in his sigining. “I didn’t know whether I should choose that team, because obviously their image wasn’t a very good one after all that had happened. So I spoke about it a lot with my family and the people I’m close with – it wasn’t an easy decision to take at all. But on a sports level, I think it was the best option because it’s a team that is exclusively dedicated to me for the Tour de France. They also signed some very important riders from Discovery Channel, like Popovych and Leipheimer, who will help me at the Tour.”
On whether the team will be invited to the Tour and thus if he has made a mistake, Contador sensibly points out that “Not a single team can be absolutely certain about its participation in the Tour next year, so I wouldn’t have been better off in a different squad.”
November 30th 2007
Contador wins the Velo d’Or, although French journalists do not vote in protest at the doping scandals throughout the year.
December 3rd 2007
Johan Bruyneel confirms that the Kazakh Cycling Federation will pay the salaries of riders from 2007, even though “it is not responsible for doing so.” Supposedly the federation is thinking of suing Marc Biver’s Zeus company over this, although Bruyneel prefers to say “I am very glad that we can start the season without debts from the past.”
December 6th 2007
Andreas Kloden confirms he will stay with Astana, citing that “all the formalities with the sponsor and the new management have now been cleared up.” He claims his top goal for the coming year is a podium at the Tour de France.
December 7th 2007
The Kazakh Cycling Federation hand Alexander Vinokourov a one year ban from the sport, but spark constenation by backdating it to July 2007. The rationale behind this is fairly obvious – it would mean Vino’s ban would expire in July 2008, leaving his free to compete in the Olympics the following month. As Kazakh federation vice-president Nikolai Proskurin says “We decided to disqualify him for a year. I think that should he want to, Vinokourov will be able to take part in the Olympic Games in Beijing.”
Unfortunately for Proskurin, Vinokourov announces his decision to retire from cycling the same day, although not before his lawyer issued a statement reading “Mr. Vinokourov looks forward to the end of his suspension and to the opportunity begin returning to racing once his suspension is completed.” Vinokourov counters with “I am stopping competition … It’s a definitive decision. I don’t want this sport anymore … I’m slamming the door and I’m leaving. It’s sad that my career is ending like this but I want to restore my honour … I will prove that I’m not guilty and get the results of this test rescinded.”
With this “definitive” decision now done, Vinokourov returns to an old idea, that Europeans don’t want his team racing. “When we built the Astana team people started to talk behind our backs asking where are these Kazakhs coming from?” he says, “They told us they didn’t want us in Europe.”
Vinokourov’s decision to retire but still “fight for his honour” distract from the unusally lenient and clearly contrived one year ban, which many comment is an insult to the anti-doping system.
December 13th 2007
Trek bicycles confirm that they will become the supplier to the Astana team, continuing the trend of Astana effectively becoming Discovery Channel 2.0.”I didn’t go to anyone else for bikes in 2008″ enthuses Johan Bruyneel, Whilst Trek Road Bike Brand manager Scott Daubert says “When we learned that the Disco Team was dissolving after the 2007 season, we knew that we wanted to stay in the pro peloton. But we didn’t want to jump into just any team; we wanted to make sure any future sponsorships would be the right move for Trek, even if that meant sitting out the 2008 season.”
“When Johan approached us about a possible move to Astana, we realized that the opportunity to continue working with him was too good to pass up. It’s no secret that we’ve enjoyed tremendous success with Johan over the past decade, and he’s demonstrated time and again that he’s one of the savviest tacticians in professional cycling. We’re excited to be able to continue building on what has to date been a very fruitful partnership. The chance to continue working with riders like Contador and Leipheimer and now Chris Horner is an added bonus.”
December 13th 2007
Vinokourov gives an interview where he reveals some of the behind the scenes goings on that helped forge “New Astana”, particularly that he had to be “erased” from the structure for Bruyneel to join. Nikolay Proskurin, ever avaliable with a comment, claims the teams management were essentially out to get him from when he signed, claiming Marc Biver, who by now it is very clear is almost a caustic phrase for Astana, was only after the Kazakh sponor’s money.
Vinokourov isn’t doing too badly however, appearing in Kazakh TV shows and fashion magazine shoots back home in Kazakhstan.
December 24th 2007
Levi Leipheimer claims that “New Astana” is effectively “Old Discovery” (…) and that changing teams is “not even really a transition” as a result. He expects to be amongst the favourites for the Tour de France.
December 31st 2007
Astana once again end the year looking forward rather then backwards. The team took 18 wins in 2007, the most notable, although not for the reasons they hoped, being Vinokourov’s two Tour stage wins. Andreas Kloden won them Tirreno-Adriatico and the Circuit de la Sarthe however, and Paolo Savoldelli’s Giro and Romandie stage wins were good value, as was Gregory Rast’s overall triumph and a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg.
13. Andreas Kloden – Tirreno Adriatico Overall, 20/3/2007
14. Andreas Kloden – Circuit de la Sarthe, Stage 3 TT, 11/4/2007
15. Andreas Kloden – Circuit de la Sarthe Overall, 13/4/2007
16. Paolo Savoldelli – Tour de Romandie Prologue, 1/5/2007
17. Paolo Savoldelli – Giro d’Italia Stage 20 TT, 2/6/2007
18. Gregory Rast – Tour of Luxembourg, Stage 4, 10/6/2007
19. Gregory Rast – Tour of Luxembourg Overall, 10/6/2007
20. Alexandre Vinokourov – Dauphine Libere Stage 3 TT, 13/6/2007
21. Antonio Colom – Dauphine Libere Stage 5, 15/6/2007
22. Maxim Iglinsky – Dauphine Libere Stage 6, 16/6/2007
23. Alexandre Vinokourov – Dauphine Libere Stage 7, 17/6/2007
24. Maxim Iglinsky – Kazakhstan National Road Race, 29/6/2007
25. Benoit Joachim – Luxembourg National Road Race, 1/7/2007
26. Aaron Kemps – Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Stage 3, 17/10/2007
27. Steve Morabito – Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Stage 4, 18/10/2007
28. Steve Morabito – Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Stage 6 TT, 20/10/2007
29. Aaron Kemps – Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Stage 7, 21/10/2007