MILAN (VN) — Speaking to Kazakh national news website, Vremya, Alexandre Vinokourov accused the media of seeking “to bring down Astana.” After damaging reports surfaced in the Italian media, he now suggests that Astana might sue to defend its reputation.
“In the last few weeks, we have been thoroughly smeared by the press, especially in Italy,” Vinokourov told Vremya. “‘Astana’ for them is once again the evil violator of all law and order! Luckily for us, that’s not true, and the UCI’s independent commission ignored the slander in examining our license.
“Now that all these difficulties are behind us, I think that as soon as I can get back to the office, I will consult with our lawyers. I think that at a minimum we should be able to get an apology for the slander that has been dumped on the team in the last months,” he said, implying that Astana may take the media to court.
The UCI ruled in favor of renewing Astana’s first-division license that will allow the team to race the 2015 season at the sport’s highest level. Five of the Astana organization’s cyclists failed anti-doping tests since the team’s Italian star, Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France in July. WorldTour team riders Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO. The latter helped Nibali to his Tour win. Three riders, all from Astana’s continental third-division team, failed tests for steroids.
Soon afterward, bombs fell on the team in Italy. Italian newspapers, primarily La Gazzetta dello Sport, got its hands on legal documents from the Padua criminal investigation. The newspaper reported, based on alleged case files, that Vinokourov asked known doping doctor Michele Ferrari to follow his riders for the 2011 season and that his team was photographed with Ferrari at a 2013 training camp.
The UCI told VeloNews that it is waiting for the case files from the recently closed inquiry and that it could revoke the team’s license if the reports proved true. Vinokourov explained that the reports are just the Italians’ vendetta.
“The goal is always the same — to bring down Astana. They envy us, especially the Italians,” Vinokourov said.
“The two best Italian riders defend Kazakh team colors, and that is something their countrymen really don’t like. For instance Nibali races the Tour of Almaty, but doesn’t start Giro di Lombardia. Or they want to see him in their own Giro d’Italia, but he chooses the Tour de France, because for him the team’s interests have priority!
“It’s understandable why a lot of people don’t like this. Except I can’t understand their reaction: An Italian wins the biggest race of the year and for that his team gets trashed. Where is the logic?”
Vinokourov began team Astana after Liberty Seguros pulled the sponsorship on his team in the 2006 season due to the Operación Puerto doping scandal. He tested positive for blood doping in the 2007 Tour de France after winning two stages. He returned to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time and the London Olympic road race before retiring and taking over the team’s management.
The 41-year-old remains close to his team’s cyclists, many who are from Kazakhstan as well. He raced with Maxim Iglinskiy and explained that their families are close.
“I never taught them to win this way, and we don’t need those kinds of victories. It’s plain to me that human laziness won out over Max, and he thought that he could stay on the couch, take something and get stronger. That’s something I can’t fathom,” continued Vinokourov.
“Right now professional sport is changing, the demands are strengthening, the punishments are more severe. One sure wrong step is to punish not just you, but the entire team.”
UCI President Brian Cookson told VeloNews that Vinokourov could help his and the team’s standing if he spoke to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) about his past involvement with doping. The commission will finish its work in late February, which means Vinokourov only has two months. Already, cyclists like Lance Armstrong have come forward.
“They call it the truth and reconciliation commission: If people want reconciliation, if they want to be able to continue to work in the sport, then they need to look at their conscience and come forward and give us the truth,” Cookson said. “If they don’t do that, then they are throwing away their rights. It’s quite clear to me.”
Astana for now is free to begin the 2015 season, which begins for them with Australia’s Tour Down Under stage race, January 20-25.
“Whatever happens we will show next year that Astana has won and will win honestly, without doping,” said Vinokourov. “We will make them respect our team.”