Alexandre Vinokourov – Has professional cycling finally gotten rid of Alexandre Vinokourov?
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On Thursday I woke up to learn that Alexander Nikolayevich Vinokourov, the former pro Khazakhstan rider turned team manager and one of the most cunning survivors of the fierce sport of professional cycling, was gone. He has, depending on what you read and believe, suddenly resigned on the eve of the Tour de France from his role as team manager at Astana, or was sidelined for reasons which remain unclear. For the first time since 2009 he won’t be on the Tour, a quick and ignominious end to a long race as a rider and team official.
Where is it?
A short, three paragraph statement of the team suggests that Vino voluntarily relinquishes his managerial post but “will remain a valued member of Astana” in an unspecified role, while assistant directors Giuseppe Martinelli and Steve Bauer will jointly assume the title of Team Principal.
But a report in the team says Vinokourov was dismissed for nebulous âpersonal reasonsâ which he denies, and his lawyers are already fighting to reinstate him. Recalling that it is faced Martinelli before, I remember this is far from the first time professional cycling has apparently abandoned Vinokourov, only to see him find his way back into the race.
In 2009, journalists crowded into a stuffy conference room at the opulent Fairmont Hotel in Monaco for a press conference on Vinokourov’s imminent return to racing after serving a two-year suspension for blood doping during the Tour 2007. During Vino’s time in the cooler, Astana had changed: his Kazakh supporters called on Johan Bruyneel, architect of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour victories, to rebuild after the disastrous and doping-filled 2007 season. Bruyneel brought in a core of riders from his former team, including 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, and quickly took control.
Of course, when Armstrong himself returned to the sport in 2009, there was little doubt which director would he roll with. The question, of course, was where Astana would go once Vino returned, and how all the dominant cocks on the team would get along.
Not well, it appeared. “it’s my team“Vinokourov said defiantly to the presser.” And if Johan has a problem with me, it’s up to him to leave the team, not me. “
It wasn’t boastfulness; next to Vino sat Nikolai Proskurin, vice-president of the Kazakh Cycling Federation, who added that Vino’s return was a certainty. “This is the wish of the sponsors,” he added. Bruyneel skipped the case, but Philippe Maertens, then the team’s press secretary, leaned against a wall, frowning as he scribbled in a notebook.
Vino’s statement was, of course, correct. He had basically created Astana, after all, when his old iteration as Liberty Seguros-Wurth burned down in the Operacion Puerto scandal in 2006. Vino brought in the new sponsors and management, and he brought the results, like his victory at the Vuelta EspaÃ±a in 2006 after the team was barred from participating in the Tour de France. At the end of this hectic 2009 season, Bruyneel and Armstrong were gone on their short-lived new RadioShack team, and Astana was firmly back in Vino’s hands.
As a rider, Vino brought the sport to life in unpredictable ways. He attacked on the last descent of the Alps on the 2003 Tour, forcing the desperate chase that led to the unforgettable crash of Joseba Beloki and that of Armstrong. cyclocross shortcut. He jumped off the field on the Champs Elysees in 2005 – the last stage of the Tour saw a successful breakaway – and gained extra seconds that propelled him past American Levi Leipheimer to fifth place overall. And it was Vinokourov who almost single-handedly upended the powerful British home team to win the London Olympic road race in one of their last races.
Rarely has he or the team been without controversy: doping scandals galore; rumors of purchased race wins; his and the team’s relationship with Michele Ferrari, the sport’s most infamous coach. But each time, the cycling villain survived, reminding the sport, “I am inevitable.”
Now, in the blink of an eye at Thanos, he’s gone. Astana has had some rumblings this season, with the departure of several high-ranking staff. Dmitry Sedun, now a former assistant director, complains that the changes are due to the entry of Canadian investors, via the new title co-sponsor Premier Tech and sports director Bauer. If so, the impetus for change could also come from Yana Seel, the 36-year-old Kazakh management professional hired in the 2018 season as CEO. A cycling outsider – not to mention one of the only women to hold top positions in the sport – Seel is would have been responsible for recruiting Premier Tech this season on a three-year contract.
Sedun’s complaints about sour grapes about Canadians are perhaps too simplistic. The team (and Kazakhstan) have been hit hard by the pandemic and cut wages, but Astana is still the main âsponsorâ – actually a consortium of Kazakh companies; Astana is the country’s Capitol. The kits are always the sky blue and the yellow of the national flag. We may see Premier Tech-Astana rebranded next year, but as long as the team remains closely tied to national identity, I think the only thing that would force Vino out would be if he finally exhausts his welcome with its long benefactor journey. It may take weeks or months before we know it. In the meantime, he is probably preparing his return.
At that cramped and uncomfortable press conference in Monaco over a decade ago, Vinokourov walked into the room casually dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt with a bizarre graphic and airbrushing himself on a bicycle, in an Astana kit, attacking the uncovered teeth in his trademark growl. He later put it on a cycling jersey and started a development team under his banner. He is still there, like Vino-Astana Motors (another sign of his deep ties to Kazakh cycling). But the original name of the project tells you everything you need to know about their self-esteem and survival skills: Vino4Ever.
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