Alexander Vinokourov said Wednesday he intends to ride for Astana later this year or there will be serious consequences for those who keep him from riding on the Kazakh-financed team.
In a press conference held in Monaco in advance of Saturday’s Tour de France start, Vinokourov, whose suspension for homologous blood doping ends on July 24, said there’s no possibility that he would ride for any team other than the one he helped establish in 2006.
Vinokourov assembled a coalition of Kazakh sponsors to take over the ProTour license of his old Liberty-Seguros squad after that team folded on the heels of the then-breaking Operación Puerto scandal.
“I will resume my career as a professional on July 24,” he said. “I cannot imagine being on a team other than Astana. The Kazakhstan cycling federation wants me on team, I am currently negotiating with Johan Bruyneel and I think we will reach agreement in the next week.”
Astana, named after Kazakhstan’s capital city, was funded with the support of powerful political and economic interests in that country. The team was initially built around Vinokourov in hopes of delivering that country’s first Tour de France victory.
The team, however, nearly collapsed following Vinokourov’s suspension for homologous blood-doping at the 2007 Tour. The management shake-up that followed resulted in Bruyneel taking over the team soon after his former sponsor, the U.S.-based Discovery Channel cable network left the sport.
Bruyneel revamped the team, signing a host of former Discovery Channel riders, including 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, American Levi Leipheimer and, most recently, seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
Vinokourov suggested on Wednesday that Bruyneel has little choice but to respect the wishes of his Kazakh sponsors.
“This team was created for me and thanks to my efforts,” Vinokourov said. “I have served my suspension and I do not see why I could not return. If Bruyneel does not want me, it will be Bruyneel who is leaving the team.”
Vinokourov said he expects to ride in Astana colors at this August’s Tour of Poland and the Vuelta a España. He also plans to represent Kazakhstan at the world championships at the end of September.
With 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador and seven-time champion Armstrong spearheading Astana’s charge, Vinokourov said he has yet to speak to Armstrong as he prepares to watch Saturday’s start from the sidelines.
Vinokourov was initially banned for a year by the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation, but another year was added after the UCI, the sport’s governing body, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to raise the term.
But the Kazakh, a former third place finisher on the Tour, refused to shed any light on the positive test for blood doping which resulted in the entire team being thrown out of the Tour in 2007 and excluded from last year’s race.
“No, I still don’t have an answer to what happened. But I complied with the UCI’s rules for the two years I was banned and stayed silent,” he said.
“I will race for one or two years maximum, for my children and to rehabilitate my image on the world stage.
“Over the last two years I have followed cycling on television,” he said. “It is my passion. I only stopped riding for a few months in 2007, I have cycled with friends a lot in the last two years.
“It was always my dream to compete in another Tour de France.”