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Despite the fact that the team includes the strongest Italian rider and the current Tour de France winner, Vincenzo Nibali, Alexandre Vinokourov is suggesting that a bias against the team on the part of Italian media might be behind the recent negative press about Astana.
Vinokourov, who admitted working with Michele Ferrari in 2007 and subsequently tested positive for a blood transfusion, is angry about the claims made last week by La Gazzetta dello Sport that Ferrari was seen at an Astana team training camp in November 2013.
“The goal is to destroy Astana,” he claimed to the Kazakh publication Time. “They are jealous of us, especially the Italians. Two of the best Italian riders wear the colours of the Kazakh team and their compatriots really don’t like it.
“For example, Nibali raced the Tour of Almaty and couldn’t ride Lombardy. Or they wanted to see him in the Giro but disputed the Tour because the team’s interests go above everything.”
The team has been under considerable pressure in recent months, not because of the media, but because of a total of five positive tests between its WorldTour and Continental squads.
Two WorldTour riders, Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy, tested positive for EPO in August.
In addition to that, three riders from the Astana Continental team tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids. These are Kazakhstan’s national champion Ilya Davidenok, who has been racing as a stagiaire with the WorldTour team, plus Artur Fedosseyev and Victor Okishev.
This spate of positive tests prompted the UCI to request its Licence Commission to look into the team’s issues and to rule whether or not it should be given a WorldTour licence for 2015.
While it was making final deliberations on that, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported the news that Ferrari had been seen at the team camp just over a year ago. Italia media sources also said that the Padova doping investigation had shown links between the team and the banned doctor.
The Licence Commission ultimately decided to give Astana the licence, but laid out strict conditions for that, including compelling the team to be audited by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).
It will examine the circumstances of the doping cases at stake to determine whether and to what extent the team and or/its management is responsible for the recent events.
The Licence Commission has not had a chance to look at the Padova report as a copy hasn’t been passed on as yet from Italian Olympic Committee CONI. UCI President Brian Cookson has said that this will be done as soon as possible, and that there is a chance the team might yet lose its licence.
Cookson also said that others also have a role in ensuring that things are done correctly by the team.
“This is not just a matter for the UCI,” he told Sky Sports in recent days. “We have all got our responsibilities here: the teams, Astana, the national federation of Kazakhstan, the sponsors, the funders, the suppliers of the team. The reputational damage that is being done to them is surely substantial, so we have all got to step up to the plate here.
“We are doing our bit, but we need other people to take their responsibility as well, so I am calling on the management of Astana to take their responsibilities very seriously.”
Despite the five doping cases plus statements like those from Cookson, Vinokourov appears to believe that much of the criticism directed at the team is due to his claims of jealousy.
“We have 70 employees of which 20 are Italian. We were looking for the best specialists and they choose Astana. It is clear that many people do not like this. I don’t understand this reaction: an Italian wins the biggest race of the year and they throw mud at your team. Where is the logic?”
He said that he planned to speak to the team’s lawyers. “I think we should at least receive an apology from the European press for what happened in recent months.”