Power struggle within Astana team may explain Vinokourov’s pledged return
Aug 21. VeloNation
One month and three days after he announced his retirement from the sport, Alexandre Vinokourov dramatically announced yesterday that he could yet return to cycling and compete in the Giro di Lombardia. The reason for the change of heart was given as a quicker-than-expected recovery from the bad fracture he suffered in the Tour de France, as well as a chance for Vinokourov to increase the UCI points of the Astana team and Kazakhstan, which is looking to have riders in next year’s Olympic Games.
It appears however that there may be an altogether different reason for the announcement and Vinokourov’s bid to return; namely, an internal power struggle within the Astana team which allegedly involves false information being supplied to the UCI.
According to today’s l’Equipe, Astana’s recent signing of Andrey Kashechkin to the team and his entry in the Vuelta a Espa?a was made possible due to a declaration by the team to the UCI that another rider had left Astana. That resignation meant that the team had 27 riders on its roster rather than the maximum of 28, thus enabling Kasechkin to come on board. So who was the departing individual? Vinokourov, said Astana; not so, said the rider.
“I’m still a rider. I have a contract in force,” he told the newspaper. “I am particularly disappointed by what has just taken place in secret at my expense.”
L’Equipe states that the commercial director of the Kazakh team, Aidar Makhmetov, was involved in bringing back Kashechkin, who at one point was seen as Vinokourov’s likely successor. The two riders competed together on the team in the past, netting first and third overall in the 2006 Vuelta a Espa?a, and both were suspended for blood doping the following year.
Vinokourov returned to the team after his ban; Kashechkin did not, with reports at the time saying that Astana were told by the UCI that its licence could be under threat if it had two former blood dopers on the team at the same time.
There were also suggestions of tension between Kashechkin and the team.
Following Vinokourov’s big crash on stage nine of the Tour de France, his career seemed under threat. He had talked about possibly continuing until next year’s Olympic Games, but on July 17th he announced that his career was over.
“I don’t think I’ll get back on my bike as a professional,” he said. “I’ll stop here. We will try to find a new role in the Astana team for me.” Makhmetov told the rider he would work as manager.
The UCI will now seek to determine what exactly happened. If a false statement was indeed made, there could be repercussions for the team which, like the others in cycling, needs to have its registration renewed each season.
In the meantime, Vinokourov will work on getting back into shape, thus making a point that he is still part of the squad. “The exams revealed that I’m recovering very well from my injury after my crash in the last Tour de France,” he said yesterday. “The doctors told me that if I wish, I could start training in the coming days.”
Kashechkin confirms leader’s role, pleased with Vuelta start:
Meanwhile the rider who present because of the submission to the UCI that Vinokourov had broken his contract, Andrey Kashechkin, got his Vuelta a Espa?a underway yesterday. He said afterwards that he was very satisfied with the team’s unexpected fourth place in the team time trial.
“On the finish line we were all very happy and it was huge for me to feel this energy,” he said. “The result of a prologue is very important in a Grand Tour because it determines the mood of the team for the rest of the race. Today we didn’t have imagined achieving such a good result, especially because we didn’t have much ride together before that.
“Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, who is with us during the Vuelta, helped a lot to build the team and decide on the tactics according to the profile of the stage, he’s been a great help for us. This result gives us a lot of motivation and confidence for the rest of the race.”
He also spoke about his return to the team, saying that he was very happy to be back in the Astana squad and to be competing in the Vuelta a Espa?a. He confirmed that he is slotting into the same role that Vinokourov held. “Our director, Dr. Aidar Makhmetov, recruited me as a leader and has done a lot to build a team around me,” he said. “Personally, I feel in very good condition, even if I hadn’t competed since the Dauphine Lib?r?, I trained a lot, especially at altitude. As I’ve been doing cycling for twenty years and spent eleven as a professional, I don’t feel held back if I don’t compete for a while.”
Kashechkin finished back in 17th place last year. This time round, despite not few results of note in 2011, he has said he believes he can fight for a top five finish.