Sunday, July 12, 2009

TdF – the Astana team vs doping

The Astana cycling team does not exactly have the cleanest records or the best reputation when it comes to doping or allegations of doping.

But there have also been drastic changes in the team riders and its manager.

In my search for more information about this team I have found the following on Wikipedia:

Astana first became involved in sponsoring cycling during the 2006 season.
The Liberty Seguros-Würth team of leading Kazakh rider Alexander Vinokourov was heavily implicated in the Operación Puerto doping case and the sponsors Liberty Mutual, and later Würth, withdrew their sponsorship of the team. Astana stepped in to sponsor the team, and during the second half of the season, Vinokourov won the Vuelta a España while riding for the renamed Team Astana.
On July 26, 2006, five Astana riders were cleared by Spanish courts. The five - Joseba Beloki, Isidro Nozal, Sergio Paulinho, Allan Davis and Alberto Contador - received a document clearing them of links to Operación Puerto

In April, 2007, Matthias Kessler tested positive for testosterone. The former Team T-Mobile-rider who had won a TdF-stage in 2006, was fired in July, and would turn out to be the first of a number of Astana-riders to be tested positive. Later in July, yet another former T-Mobile cyclist, Italian Eddy Mazzoleni, left the team after allegations of doping usage. Mazzoleni, who had finished 3rd in the 2007 Giro d'Italia, was later suspended for two years for his alleged involvement in the Oil for Drugs doping case.

After a positive blood doping (transfusion) test following the winning time-trial by team-leader Alexander Vinokourov, organisers "invited" Team Astana's management to withdraw the entire team from the 2007 Tour de France; this invitation was immediately accepted.

Following confirmation that Vinokourov's B-sample had also tested positive, the Astana Team announced that he had been sacked with immediate effect. On August 1, fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin tested positive for homologous blood doping following an out-of-competition test in Belek, Turkey. He was suspended and subsequently fired as well.

Additionally, the troubled team decided to suspend its activities during the month of August to decide about its future with new regulations.

This was followed by the termination of José Antonio Redondo's contract after "failing to abide by team rules", making him the fifth rider of the team to leave during the 2007 season.

Following the doping problems of 2007, the sponsors of Astana decided to replace Biver with Johan Bruyneel, the former directeur sportif of the defunct Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. Bruyneel had the mandate to start afresh with the team, so he hired a number of former Discovery riders including 2007 TdF winner Alberto Contador (who had ridden with Vinokourov on the old Liberty Seguros team) and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer. Additionally, Bruyneel introduced the anti-doping system developed by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, Head of Information for Anti Doping Danmark (ADD). The anti-doping system was initially used by Team CSC starting in 2007. The link between the Discovery Channel team and Astana was strengthened when Bruyneel signed a contract with Trek Bicycle Corporation to supply the team with bicycles and components, as they had done with Discovery Channel.

Riding under a Luxembourgian license, the team also included other ex-Discovery Channel riders such as Tomas Vaitkus, Sergio Paulinho,Chechu Rubiera, Vladimir Gusev and Janez Brajkovic, as well as American Chris Horner.

On February 13, 2008, the organisers of the TdF announced that Astana would be barred from the 2008 Tour due to its links to Operación Puerto and involvement in the 2007 Tour doping scandals. This meant that Contador was unable to defend his Tour crown, because his contract does not have an "escape clause" that covered Astana's current situation.

Astana's strict anti-doping policy came to the forefront later in the year. On July 28 Astana fired Vladimir Gusev for showing "abnormal values" in an internal doping check. In a release from team director Johan Bruyneel it was indicated that although the results “do not indicate the use of banned substances, the team has therefore applied the contractual terms based on these physiological and biological abnormalities," dismissing Gusev "with immediate effect.”

On 25 September, 2008, it was confirmed that seven-time TdF winner Lance Armstrong would leave retirement to ride for the team in the 2009 season. Along with Armstrong, another former Discovery Channel top rider, now officially riding under a Kazakh license, joined the ranks of Astana — Yaroslav Popovych — which brought the number of former Discovery Channel riders on Astana to nine (Armstrong, Popovych, Contador, Leipheimer, Rubiera, Noval, Vaitkus, Paulinho and Brajkovič).

It was reported that Armstrong would share team leadership with current leader Contador, that he intended to participate in the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Dauphine-Libere and the Tour de France, and that he would receive no salary or bonuses, instead directing his attention to raising awareness for cancer research.

On 2 July, Vinokourov stated that he would return to Astana, which he noted was "created for me and thanks to my efforts", when his suspension ended, and that he would ride for Astana in the 2009 Vuelta a Espana. He stated that he expected to reach agreement with Bruyneel about his return within the week, but that "if Bruyneel does not want me, it will be Bruyneel who is leaving the team." The next day, the French newspaper L'Equipe reported that the Kazakh Cycling Federation planned to fire Bruyneel, Armstrong, Leipheimer and many of the other riders and rebuild the team in the model of the old Liberty Seguros team, which was predominantly Spanish. The paper quoted the vice-president of the Kazakh federation as saying, "[Contador] will be our sole leader for years to come [and] will be able to pick out the riders he wants to ride with him. In our mind, the team will be composed of Spanish and Kazakh riders, including Alexander Vinokourov."

Before returning to the saddle, however, the controversial Vinokourov faces the angry opposition of cycling's world governing body, the UCI. The UCI has renewed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, asking the court to overturn the one-year suspension by the Kazakhi federation and to impose the standard two-year ban on Vinokourov. This appeal was originally filed in 2007, but had been dropped after Vinokourov announced his retirement from cycling: after he announced his intention to resume his career, the case was retabled, and the CAS announced that the ban would expire on 24 July 2009.


Today`s 2009 Astana team has a different manager and different riders than the 2006-07 team. It is interesting to see that Armstrong, Contador and Leipheimer are all on the same team, and can easily cause conflicts within the team seeing how they are each contenders for the yellow jersey.
None of these guys have been convicted of doping, but there have been lots of rumors and accusations.

I just hope that they stay clean. So far, in this year`s TdF, there have not been any doping scandals reported.

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