Astana looks to Armstrong for needed redemptionJune 30th, 2009 - 4:51 pm ICT by IANS
Paris, June 30 (DPA) Kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France and then banned from the 2008 edition because of doping, Kazakhstan’s Astana team are looking to redeem themselves with a resounding victory in this year’s race.
They certainly have the weapons, because the team roster includes seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, making an unlikely comeback from retirement.
Astana also have 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain, who was prevented from defending his title last year, and two former Tour runners-up, Germany’s Andreas Kloeden and American Levi Leipheimer, as high-power lieutenants.
In other words, Astana have four riders capable of winning the Tour de France. And the team is directed by the cycling Svengali who managed all seven of Armstrong’s Tour titles and Contador’s one championship, Johan Bruyneel.
It is therefore difficult, barring injury or some other unexpected occurrence, to imagine the victor in this year’s Tour de France coming from any of the other 19 teams in the race. If form holds, the triumph will be the greatest in Astana’s short history - and may also be its last.
The reason is money. The financial crisis has badly hit the Astana group, a coalition of Kazakh state-owned companies bankrolling the team, so badly that it failed to pay its riders in spring, provoking a brief mutiny during the Giro d’Italia.
Armstrong publicly expressed his frustration with the owners then, and said that the licence should be transferred to Bruyneel. He also invited other investors to sponsor the team.
The sport’s ruling body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), then demanded that the owners put into a special bank account the entire year’s salaries for the team’s employees or the team would be stripped of its licence, depriving Armstrong and Contador of a ride in the Tour.
On June 23, the UCI announced that the licence-withdrawal process had been “provisionally suspended,” but that it could be taken up again at any time.
A source with knowledge of the case told the German Press Agency DPA that the suspension of the procedure was to last at least until the end of the Tour, leaving open the possibility that the race could be the team’s last under the Astana sponsorship.
But if the team’s future looks cloudy, its past is downright sordid.
Earlier this month, former team leader Alexander Vinokourov was told by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that he had to serve a two-year doping ban because of doping infractions during the 2007 Tour, Astana’s first year on the circuit.
Vinokourov, 35, was originally banned for one year by the Kazakh cycling federation, but the UCI insisted on the mandatory two-year ban when he came out of retirement.
The ban expires on July 24, too late for the Tour de France, but making him eligible for the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) and the world championships later this year.
No doubt, Astana wishes their former captain would just go away, for he is a reminder of the team’s disastrous first season, when four riders, including Vinokourov, were caught using an illegal substance.
Vinokourov was the team’s leader on the Tour de France when he tested positive for homologous blood doping - the injection of another person’s red blood cells.
He was suspended and Astana was “invited” by Tour organizers to withdraw from the race, an invitation that was immediately accepted.
In 2008, Astana tried to turn over a new leaf, hiring Bruyneel. He immediately brought on board Contador and Leipheimer, hoping to lead the Spaniard to a second consecutive Tour title, but the team was banned from the race because of its involvement in the previous year’s doping scandals.
This was a serious setback for Astana and Contador, but they made the best of it. Contador won both of the other major multi-stage European road races, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, giving him a rare hat trick: He became only the fifth rider in history to win the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta.
For 2009, Bruyneel pulled another rabbit out of his hat: Armstrong came out of retirement, primarily to raise awareness for cancer research, but with distinct ambitions should Contador falter.
The stage is set, then, for a triumph - and redemption - for the beleaguered Astana team.
- Contador takes Tour of Spain title after serving doping ban - Sep 10, 2012
- Tour de France winner Contador suspended due to doping case - Jan 27, 2011
- Contador to focus on Tour de France in 2012 - Oct 01, 2011
- Sports tribunal suspends Spanish cyclist - Feb 07, 2012
- Stunning ride by Contador turns Vuelta on its head - Sep 06, 2012
- Armstrong to mark European return at Milan San-Remo - Mar 04, 2009
- Tour de France champion cyclist Contador cleared of doping charges - Feb 16, 2011
- Contador clings on to retain Vuelta lead - Sep 09, 2012
- Levi Leipheimer's Exit Puts Astana In Trouble - Jul 18, 2009
- Contador may face formal doping probe - Nov 10, 2010
- Tour de France champion Contador suspended after failing drug test - Sep 30, 2010
- Tour de France winner Alberto Contador receives one-year doping ban - Jan 27, 2011
- Kazakhstan's Vinokourov wins gold in Olympic road race - Jul 28, 2012
- Armstrong team given special treatment by UCI during Tour - Oct 05, 2009
- Tour de France 2010 launched under doping suspicions - Oct 14, 2009
Tags: 2007 tour de france, alberto contador, andreas kloeden, astana team, giro d italia, international cycling union, kazakh, lance armstrong, levi leipheimer, lieutenants, mutiny, resounding victory, svengali, team roster, time tour, tour champion, tour de france, tour runners, tour titles, unexpected occurrence