By Andrew Hood
Despite its ProTour status for 2010 being still up in the air, Astana continues to bolster its squad for the upcoming season.
Italian workhorse Paolo Tiralongo revealed he’s signed a two-year deal to join the Kazakh-backed team while Aussie sprinter Allan Davis confirmed he’s seriously considering an offer to join Astana despite having one more year on his contract with Quick Step. Meanwhile news media in Kazakhstan reports that two time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni may, too, be poised to sign with the team.
The moves come on the heels of a lot of activity, yet little certainty, about the immediate future of the troubled Astana team.
The UCI is expected to decide as soon as early this week about the ProTour status of Astana, which has one year remaining on its license, but has struggled with monetary and doping allegations leveled at the team. UCI president Pat McQuaid has said there is a possibility that the license could be pulled.
No matter how the decision shakes out, it would have at least one major and immediate impact.
If Astana retains its ProTour license, it’s all but certain that two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will be bound to the final year of his three-year deal with the team.
If the UCI yanks Astana’s elite status, Contador would be able to break his contract and join another team for the 2010. Garmin-Slipstream and Caisse d’Epargne are considered to be the front-runners for Contador’s services if he can jettison the Kazakhs.
Meanwhile, Astana has seen a mass exodus of riders and staff as Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel bring most of the marquee names and important support staff with them to RadioShack for 2010. RadioShack’s application for a ProTour license was approved last week.
The uncertainty hasn’t stopped Astana from plunging ahead. They’ve also signed on Spanish attacker Davide de la Fuente and are making noises about keeping Basque all-rounder Haimar Zubeldia. Even more riders are being linked to Astana. According to a Kazakhstan web page, gazeta.kz, 10 new riders will be incorporated into the squad for 2010. Other big names include Simoni, Giampaolo Caruso and Ruben Plaza. The team is also said to be recruiting Enrico Gasparotto and Gorazd Stangelz.
Tainted star Alexander Vinokourov, back from a two-year racing ban for blood doping, has shown glimpses of his former glory with some gutsy but unproductive performances at the Vuelta a España, the road world championships and Giro di Lombardia. Vinokourov rode to victory in the Chrono des Nations on Sunday in Les Herbiers, France.
Vinokourov, who played a major role in securing the team’s sponsorship in 2006, has resumed an active role in the team’s management after returning from a two-year suspension for blood-doping. His presence may be one of the factors under consideration by the licensing commission, which has the option of pulling a team’s ProTour status for financial reasons and “other elements likely to bring cycle sport into substantial disrepute.”
Nonetheless, Astana has been negotiating with several staffers who have had their own brushes with the rulebook. The team has recruited former Festina team manager Yvon Sanquer to steer the team through what’s expected to be choppy waters no matter what the UCI decides.
According to TuttoBici, former Marco Pantani sport director Giuseppe Martinelli will join as the lead director.
Arroyo re-ups with Caisse d’Epargne
Spanish rider David Arroyo has signed a one-year contract extension to stay with Caisse d’Epargne in 2010. The team is losing 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro but bringing on Christophe Moreau, Marzio Bruseghin and Juan Manuel Soler next year.
New Spanish team
Spain will see a new continental team in 2010 as Caja Rural, a Spanish bank already backing an amateur team, will back the team’s promotion to the pro ranks. The team expects to sign 13-14 riders and is making ambitious plans for the future.
Cavendish wins top Belgian prize
Mark Cavendish, who led the season with 25 victories, won the International Flanders cycling prize awarded by the Het Nieuwsblad.