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Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali has repeated his previous assertions that the Astana team does not have a systematic doping problem, dismissing any suggestions that a spate of positive tests linked to the team could reflect a coordinated policy.
Speaking to the Guardian, Nibali was commenting after brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO and another Kazakhstani rider, the national road race champion Ilya Davidenok, had a positive A sample for anabolic androgenic steroids.
The latter has ridden for Astana’s Continental team since January 1 2012, then became a stagiaire with the Astana Pro Team on August 1 of this year.
“Apart from the obvious reaction – anger – my main feeling was that this was unbelievably stupid,” said Nibali, when asked about Maxim Iglinskiy’s positive. The rider had been part of his victorious Tour de France team in July.
“It did not make any sense. He had just renewed his contract. He did not have a massive goal to chase. Our sponsors in Kazakhstan weren’t happy at all. We were in Kazakhstan the week after [at the Tour of Almaty] and there was such a feeling of betrayal because he is a Kazak rider.”
As regards Iglinskiy’s his brother Valentin also testing positive, Nibali points out they come from the same family. But what of the fact that Maxim Iglinskiy was part of his Tour de France squad?
“But he was not part of my training team,” Nibali answered. “I have a training team of seven and he was never part of it. The two other members of the team are chosen at the last minute. They are like a filler.”
He said that he hasn’t spoken to the rider since, saying that he has effectively disappeared.
Davidenok’s positive was the third linked to the team, while a fourth, a positive A sample for anabolic androgenic steroids by Kazakhstani rider Victor Okishev, was revealed on Wednesday.
He competes for the Continental team Astana rather than the WorldTour squad, but it is likely this will be taken into account when the UCI’s Licence Commission completes its current assessment of the team and decides if it should be given another WorldTour licence.
The UCI told CyclingTips Wednesday that the commission met with the team on Wednesday. It is expected to communicate its conclusions to the UCI within the next fortnight, after which it will be made clear whether or not the team will remain part of the WorldTour.
Nibali was interviewed prior to this latest positive, but dismissed suggestions that Davidenok’s sample was another sign of problems with the squad.
“This guy is not from our team,” he insisted. “Astana has a satellite team of youngsters. It’s a completely different team.
“I dug up a little info on [Davidenok] because I didn’t even know who he was. I discovered he was racing with the Kazakh national team. So only the brothers were really associated with Astana and the Kazakhstan federation has been very tough on them. It’s right that they should.”
Some will take Nibali at his word, while others will wonder why he signed with the team in the first place. After all, its general manager is Alexandre Vinokourov, who himself served a two year ban after being caught for blood doping.
Nibali said that his decision to go to the team was due to the presence of Giuseppe Martinelli, who also has a managerial role, plus the fact that he was allowed to bring a selection of riders with him.
He denied any suggestions that he or any of his current team-mates work with the banned doctor Michele Ferrari. Vinokourov worked with him in the past.
“Maybe in the past they did,” he said, referring to Astana team-mates. “But, for sure, not now. I don’t know anything about them seeing him.”
In fact, according to Nibali, it is impossible to take banned substances and remain under the radar for very long. “Today we have a biological passport, regular doping control, race controls,” he said. “If you are doping, you will be caught.
“Even if the technique of doping can be advanced you will still be caught in another four years. It makes me laugh. Risking and cheating today is for stupid people.”
As time passes, history may show if Nibali is correct. His claim that the controls are infallible would be contradicted if it is shown that coordinated doping practices are in use, for example via rider testimonies, raids or bugging of doctors or competitors.
In the meantime, his Astana team is being scrutinised and will learn soon if it will be part of the WorldTour in 2015 or not.