UCI chief Cookson: ‘Vinokourov needs to open up’
MILAN (VN) — UCI President Brian Cookson sent team Astana a warning: speak up or else. He explained that general manager Alexandre Vinokourov needs to meet with the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) about his doping past, a move that could help with Astana’s WorldTour license.
“Do I think ‘Vino’ deserves a place in cycling? Alexandre Vinokourov needs to speak to the reform commission, he needs to make sure that he demonstrates that the team he manages is fully living up to its responsibilities,” Cookson told VeloNews.
“There are serious question marks over that situation. He and the rest of those connected with the team need to bear that in mind that they are in a very, very serious situation right now.”
The CIRC began in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal as a way to uncover cycling’s dark past, to learn from its secrets, and to make recommendations for the future. The commission invited cyclists to speak anonymously about the past, specifically the 1990s and 2000s. Lance Armstrong and others have reportedly already done so.
Time is running out for the 41-year-old Vinokourov, however. The commission asked for and received a three-month extension to its original one-year task. With its work due to be finished at the end of February 2015, it has already begun writing the report that the UCI will publish “as soon as possible afterwards.”
“If anyone hasn’t come forward, they need to get into touch with the commission very soon,” Cookson continued. “For Vinokourov and others, time is running out very quickly.”
Vinokourov would have a colorful story to tell. The Kazakh cyclist began in French teams, rode for Germany’s T-Mobile/Telecom and Liberty Seguros, and started team Astana — which won the 2014 Tour de France with Vincenzo Nibali.
The road has been a bumpy one, however. “Vino” was forced to find backing from his home country to save his Liberty Seguros team after the 2006 Operación Puerto doping scandal. He failed a blood doping test in the 2007 Tour after winning two stages. He returned from his ban to win the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with allegations of bribery following afterwards, and the 2012 London Olympic road race.
Astana continued bankrolling Vinokourov over the years, including what could become one of his darkest. This fall, after Nibali was crowned in Paris, five of Vinokourov’s cyclists tested positive for doping — three from its third-division team and two from the ProTeam, including Tour rider Maxim Iglinskiy.
This week, La Gazzetta dello Sport leaked documents from a recently closed investigation in Padua, situated in northern Italy. It reported that Vinokourov worked with known doping doctor Michele Ferrari as a cyclist and manager, that he asked Ferrari to follow 10 to 12 of his riders for the 2011 season, and that members of his team met with Ferrari at a training camp ahead of the 2014 season.
Ferrari has been banned in Italy from working with athletes and teams since 2002. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation into Lance Armstrong gave him a global lifetime ban.
The Italian doctor denied the reports stemming from the Padua case files, which are in the hands of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in Rome and are next due to arrive at the UCI’s headquarters in Switzerland.
The UCI granted Astana a license renewal Wednesday, but Cookson said that it could backtrack if the new files reveal damning information.
The time appears right for Vinokourov to speak to the reform commission. Though not directly linked, his testimony could help if the license commission has to reconsider Astana’s 2015 status.
“I have encouraged anyone, including Alexandre Vinokourov, to speak to the reform commission,” Cookson said.
“It’s important that anyone who has had problems in the past, and wants to continue to work in the sport in the future, comes to the reform commission.”