Tour de France

Tour leader Nibali defends decision to join Astana

The team has a history of doping within its ranks, including its general manager Alexander Vinokourov

Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali was deft in handling a question in Thursday’s post-stage press conference over doubts of the history of his Astana team.

A journalist queried about his view on Astana general manager Alexander Vinokourov, who tested positive for blood doping in 2007 and served a two-year ban, only to return to win the Olympic road race in 2012.

“There have been many mistakes in cycling in the past, by many riders, but they belong to the past,” said Nibali, according to the Associated Press. “We now have a biological passport, out-of-competition controls, controls at home … Nobody can say that cycling hasn’t changed. Nowadays, there is an isolated case. There’s always the possibility that an idiot does something stupid …”

So far, Nibali has been immune to the doping questions that dogged Chris Froome (Sky) during last year’s Tour.

So much so that Sky principal David Brailsford was privately asking journalists on the rest day why no one was asking about doping this year.

Nibali defended his choice to join Astana, which also has Michele Scarponi, who served a ban for links to the Operación Puerto scandal, racing in this Tour. In fact, Scarponi, Vinokourov, as well as sport director Giuseppe Martinelli, who directed Marco Pantani to victory in the scandal-plagued 1998 Tour, joined Nibali at a rest-day press conference.

“It was because of [Vinokourov] that I joined Astana,” Nibali continued. “I came to Astana to be part of a group that could take me to the top in the Giro, the Vuelta, and the Tour. There will always be idiots.”

Nibali pointed out the presence of his longtime coach Paolo Slongo, who has a solid reputation, as one reason why he moved from Liquigas to Astana in 2013.

“It was important that we hired him because I worked a lot with him when I was young,” Nibali said of Slongo.

Doping controversies continue to plague the sport. On Thursday, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Sky) was banned for irregularities in his biological passport. Before the Tour started, Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) was sidelined for passport irregularities and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), who wore the yellow jersey for two days last year, tested positive for a banned product earlier this year.

Nibali insisted that despite a few cases, the sport is in a very different place, thanks in part to the biological passport.

“Mistakes were made by a lot of riders,” Nibali said. “We need to leave these mistakes in the past, and give younger riders a chance.”