The process for the change of sponsorship from Liberty-Seguros to Astana has cleared the investigation by the UCI. This allows the team of Alexandre Vinokourov to be allowed to participate in the Tour de France. This is a big relief for Vino since there was a very real possibility that the team would not be cleared by the UCI thereby rejecting the ProTour license. That would make it easy for Jean Marie LeBlanc to reject Vino’s team from the Tour.
Now Vino and his Spanish climbing support team can relax and get ready for one of the flattest Tours in recent memory.
(pic from Eurosport)
Comunidad Valencianna (formerly Kelme) are now uninvited to the Tour de France as a result of the Operation Puerto investigation. No surprise from this announcement as it was already seen as a done deal. Jean Marie Leblanc has stated previously that no other team will be invited in place of CV. No surprise there either since at 22 teams there would be a record size for fields at the Tour de France. Plus, it would be a bit late to send out another invitation to a team such as Unibet, Barloworld, LPR or Panaria.
Today, the UCI will look at the proposed switch of sponsorships for Astana, a Kazak conglomerate to take over for Liberty Seguros. If the UCI does not approve of the switch then the currently named Wurth team could be denied a ProTour spot which would guarantee that LeBlanc and Prudomme will promptly send out another uninvite to the shattered Spanish team. Prodhomme has stated that they will not replace any team no matter how many teams get involved in the Operation Puerto scandal. He mentioned that the Tour could run with 15 or 16 team if necessary. There has not been much word on other teams being involved, perhaps Prudhomme knows some insider information, but with only two or so weeks to go, it would be dificult to imaging the UCI pulling the license of other teams.
With the smaller peloton, riders such as Levi Leipheimer might be relieved that crazy Spanish guys aren’t clogging up the road like in 2003. That is the year that Levi went home after a mass pileup that also say Tyler trudge through the Tour with a broken collarbone.
Manolo Saiz finally stepped down from being the Director Sportif of Astana-Wurth, to simply being involved with Active Bay which is the management company that runs the team. Good news for Saiz to step away as his continued presence as DS was very detrimental to the team.
Surprisingly though, Alexandre Vinokourov is not jumping ship from the Astana-Wurth formation. Sure, his presence helped bring in the new sponsor which is a conglomerate of Kazak sponsors. If the UCI does not approve the sponsor switch then Vino will be left on the sidelines only weeks before his major season goal. Does Vino have a backup plan? I couldn’t imagine Vino’s agent would not be trying to secure a backup ride with a team like Saunier Duval or Agributel. Getting on a small French team would guarantee Vino’s presence in the Tour. Only problem would be that he might not have enough support, but at least he would be in with a chance of riding. So Vino, get on the phone to Agributel right away before its too late.
The new kit is out and it may seem like a rushed job, but a Kazakistan company or conglomorate has stepped up to make sure that Alexandre Vinokourov rides the Tour de France this year. With the fallout of Operation Puerto resulting in the departure of main sponsor Liberty Seguros, things looked grimm for the Kazak Tour hopeful. Although it remains to be seen if ASO will allow Astana-Wurth to ride the Tour de France, at least Vino has some sponsorship support to take over from Liberty.
The new sponsor has interestingly decided to use Kazak spokesman Borat to put on the new kit. They even switched to Kazak made Borat bikes instead of the BH bikes that were previously used.
Good riddance to Manolo Saiz from the world of cycling. That of course is if the stories are true and he is guilty. But this is cycling and Europe, so he is pretty much guilty until he is found innocent.
Is it just too much to ask that if you sign a contract with a major sponsor that is taking a chance on cycling that you would at least try and run a clean program? This is tought to swallow for a sponsor especially after Liberty restructured the contract to put a zero tolerance rule on doping. This comes as strike three after two strikes in 2005. Roberto Heras’ DQ as Vuelta champ is enough to take, so why would Saiz simply continue with the doping program when there is so much to lose?
The protests from Roberto Heras saying that he was being setup or unfairly implicated must ring hollow now that Saiz was basically caught red handed in this latest doping affair.
What about Vino?
Podium Cafe has some speculation about whose maglia Alexandre Vinokourov will be wearing when the Tour rolls around. Neil Stephans who was a member of Festina during the 1998 scandal and a team manager at Liberty (Hmm, maybe this guys knows more about doping that anyone suspects?) is proclaiming that the team will still ride even if they have no sponsor. I’d like to know how they will pay Vino to ride the Tour? Maybe he will ride for free since free is better than sitting at home and losing out at a prime chance at win the biggest bike race in the world.
Either way, we will not be enduring the shouts of “Venga Venga Venga” from Manolo Saiz’s bullhorn as he encourages riders to go faster during a time trials. Saiz will be working with lawyer preparing his defense or a guilty plea by July.
If Vino does not stay with x-Liberty, I would guess he would be picked up by a team like Saunier Duval. Vino would make a great combo with David Millar. Two guys on opposite ends of doping scandals. Vino just got burned and Millar is just coming back. The ying/yang aspect is too good to pass up. Either way, if Vino still wins the Kazak National Championships again he can simply slap on a new sponsor name over his light blue and yellow kit. That is of course if he is not in jail or implicated as part of the Saiz scandal.
Alex Vinokourov has been absent from many races this year choosing instead to train on the mountainous roads around Nice. He made a recent appearance at Paris-Nice while out on a training ride, but only to say hello to his teammates and other pals. Before this week Vino has not slapped a racing number on his new Liberty Seguros team kit.
This focus on training is all geared to winning the Tour de France in July, a tough task considering he is not a Time Trial specialist.
Currently there is a rare Vino sighting in Spain, where the Kazak leads the Tour of Castille and Leon. His training seems to be paing off with good form. So, with his current good form, Vino will try to carry it over to defending the Liege Bastongne Liege title that he won last year.
Vino will not have to worry about getting the glue from the racing numbers off his light blue and yellow Kazak champions kit too much this year. After Liege, Vino will only race the Daupine Libere as a tune up to the Tour. Gee, I think even Lance Armstrong did more racing leading up to the Tour than what Vino is doing this year.
Sounding a bit like Tonto talking about the Lone Ranger, Manolo Saiz believes in Roberto Heras. Heras, as you know is now serving a two year ban after tests taken during the Vuelta show that he was on the EPO juice. Saiz does not believe the tests were done accurately and that if there is justice, that we should see Heras riding again in February.
I am very sure that there are irregularities in the testing procedure for EPO. If the judicial process can look at the evidence of these errors, then we will see Roberto Heras riding again in February
The best know Kazakistan other than Borat is ready for the challenge of the 2006 Tour de France. Seems like ages since Vinokourov announced that he signed for Liberty Seguros. By now it seems like forgettable news since Liberty won the Vuelta with Heras only to lose it on the revelation of a positive EPO test.
To get to know the team better, Vino has been hanging out with Joseba Beloki one of the most experienced Liberty Seguros members. Beloki is ready to help his new friend from the east get acclimated to the team.
Vino received many offers during the Tour de France, especially from some French teams. The top offers came from AG2R and Credit Agriciole, but Vino was drawn to Manolo Saiz’s Grand Tour experience. “Manolo’s experience and the numerous top climbers on the Liberty squad is what drew me to the Spanish team” says the Kazak.
My main goal is to win the Tour de France. At T-Mobile everything pointed only to Ullrich, so it was difficult to get the same support from the team for my own ambition.
For 2006 Vino aims to start his season in Murcia, then Milan-San Remo and Settimana Catalana. He does not plan to ridde any other Classics in the Spring. Later on, he will ride either the Tour of Switzerland or the Dauphine Libere to fine tune his form for the Tour. So who does Vino list as the favorites for the Tour?
Basso and Ullrich are the favorites, but you must keep an eye on Paopovych and Cunego. Without Armstrong in the race everything changes. I prefer to stay in the second tier of favorites sort of incongnito
The Spanish team lead by Mr. “Vega Vega” hime self Manolo Saiz has some hope since they have “on paper” one of the top contenders for the Tour de Frace in 2006.
Vinokourov: `Alla Liberty per vincere il Tour` – Yahoo! Sport IT
Roberto Heras’ second sample came up positive for EPO. Does this mean that the test is flawed? or that doping controls to catch cheats are working? Either way, we will not be seeing Roberto Heras racing next year as he will soon be fired by his team. Heras will appeal this finding, but as the Yahoo News report says, this will take at least 8 to 9 months. So here are some puzzling thoughts:
1) Why would Heras risk taking EPO when he knew he would be tested and it would probably show up in his test? Did he not have access to sophisticated masking methods or why did he not try a more advanced doping technic?
2) The downside of getting caught for doping seems much worse than simply coming in second, especially for Heras who was a three time winner already.
3) He already gets paid handsomely for his services to Liberty Seguros and seemed like a rider who wasn’t really pressured to get results.
4) If he is indeed doping, does this mean that he was getting lazy and sloppy in his methods? It seems that taking EPO would be a very dumb and desparate move since the testing methods are improving. Not being a Pro Cyclist myself, I do not see where a rider like Heras would be that desparate to resort to taking EPO at the time that he did.
5) This is the second former Postal Service Team member to be caught for a doping offence. Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras are two racers from Postal that decided to go on their own. Did they partake in doping methods while at Postal, or does the fact they they are caught show that they only tried doping after the fact?
It is easy to be cynical about Heras finally getting caught, but to me the facts just do not add up. Getting caught for EPO use seems like an odd result for an experienced rider such as Heras. If he has been doping all along then he should at least be on the “latest” doping methods that would allow him to avoid detection. Or he would at least timed his dosage to avoid detection. In the phase of the Vuelta where Heras was caught doping, he already had a sizable lead and winning seemed all but assured. It would be unnecessary for Heras to dope at that time. So, is the testing flawed where there are false positves? or are riders not as sophisticated as originally thought and still using EPO out of desparation for winning?
Heras shows doping methods work, says Vuelta director – Cycling – Yahoo! Sports
Velonews: Radio reports Heras’s B sample positive
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