By Andrew Hood
The Kazakh Cycling Federation formally announced Friday that former Discovery manager Johan Bruyneel will take over the helm of the troubled Astana team starting with the 2008 season.
Kazakh officials have vowed to continue an estimated $15 million per year sponsorship, despite doping positives involving star riders Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, and have hired Bruyneel to usher in a new management team.
“As we recall this year some of team’s riders were linked to using performance enhancing drugs. In spite of these issues the KCF firmly decided to move forward, having conducted large-scale changes in its activity management,” a statement read. “Besides the KCF has stated that the Astana Pro Cycling Team will have no connection at all to any of the implicated team members (Kessler, Mazzoleni, Vinokorouv, Kaschechkin) either directly or indirectly.”
While no details were released of the deal, Bruyneel is expected to head the team for three years as general manager. Slotting in as lead sport director will be French veteran Alain Gallopin, who most recently worked at Team CSC. Viatcheslav Ekimov, the retired Russian star who worked as an assistant DS this season at Discovery, is also expected to join the move.
Leaving will be Swiss manager Marc Biver and much of his management team. Terms of an exit package were not released, but Biver’s departure had been the only stumbling block in the way of a Bruyneel takeover.
There was no mention of new riders, but Bruyneel is expected to bring Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and U.S. champ Levi Leipheimer. Four others from Discovery Channel – Sergio Paulinho, Benjamin Noval, Tomas Vaitkus and Janez Brajkovic – are likely to follow the Disco-Astana migration.
Bruyneel, 43, won eight Tours in nine years with Contador and Lance Armstrong, but announced his retirement in August after Discovery Channel failed to find a new sponsor to underwrite the team following the 2007 season.
Kazakh officials contacted Bruyneel in the wake of the Vinokourov-Kashechkin positives for homologous blood doping that devastated the team.
“It was not an easy decision to return to cycling after my recent announcement in August, however, in my new role with Astana I have found new challenges and I am excited to help the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation grow the sport in the country,” Bruyneel said in the release. “After the 2007 season, this team had no choice but to make big changes if it wanted to continue on, and I am proud to be the person they have chosen to lead this program.”
Kazakh officials say the team will follow the UCI ProTour Code of Conduct as well as any anti-doping measures sanctioned by the UCI or the teams’ organization.
The team will also work with Danish expert Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, who introduced a sweeping anti-doping program used by Team CSC this season.
Finally, Kazakh officials said the “Astana pro team is a national project” worthy of support despite the tumultuous 2007 season.
Paris-Tours: Last call for sprinters
Sunday’s Paris-Tours presents the final big date for the sprinters and solid collection of contenders from 23 teams are signed on for one of the most important late-season races on the calendar. There are plenty of contenders on the start list released for the 101st edition of the French classic. The 253km course typically delivers a mass sprint, but there are always exceptions. Last year, French veteran Frédéric Guesdon held off the peloton to upset the sprinters. Top among the big favorites are three-time world champ Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).
Second-tier sprinters who could surprise include Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital), Geert Steegmans (QuickStep-Innergetic), Sebastian Chavanel (FDJeux) and Robbie Hunter (Barloworld).
Among the outsiders who could disrupt the sprinter’s trains are Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Muraglia gets two years
Giuseppe Muraglia, 28, earned a two-year racing ban after testing positive during the GP Almeria in Spain on March 14. The Italian cycling federation handed down the ban Thursday, but didn’t reveal which product he tested positive for.
Chavanel wins French Cup
Sebastian Chavanel (FDJeux) claimed the season-long French Cup series in Thursday’s Paris-Bourges. Romain Feillu (Agritubel) won the race and slotted into second in the series of French one-day races, but Chavanel had plenty of margin to hold off the challenge to claim the series for the first time.
French Cup final standings
1. Sébastien Chavanel (FDJeux), 128 points
2. Romain Feillu (Agritubel), 112
3. Rémi Pauriol (Credit Agricole), 102
4. Yann Huguet (Cofidis), 95
5. Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJeux), 93
’08 contracts: Rujano, Capecchi, PérezJosé Rujano, the once-promising Venezuelan climber who soared to third in the 2005 Giro d’Italia, has penned a deal to join Caisse d’Epargne for the 2008 season. Rujano has since struggled with injuries and motivation since that breakthrough season. He joined Quick Step in 2006, but failed to impress. This season, he rode for Unibet.com, but missed many of the major events after that team was largely ignored by race organizers.Saunier Duval-Prodir has signed Eros Capecchi (ex-Liquigas) to join the Spanish team for the 2008 campaign. A former Italian junior champion, the 21-year-old is part of a youth movement for the yellow jackets. Nine new riders all under the age of 24 will sign on for next year.Rubén Pérez has signed a contract extension that will keep him at Euskaltel-Euskadi through the 2010 season.