Astana: that’s 3 strikes, get them out

Cycling can learn from baseball (and I don’t mean in finding new tricks for hiding needle marks)? No, how about we borrow the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ concept? Because if we did, we’d be free from the shambles that is Astana.

In case you missed the news, a third Astana rider has been popped for le dopage within 3 months of the first. llya Davidenok has returned a positive A sample from a test taken whilst a stagiaire riding the Tour de l’Avenir for Continental Team Astana this August. Young Davidenok’s drug of choice, it seems, is anabolic androgenic steroids.

These are the steroids of choice for bodybuilders, used to increase strength (5-20% as reflected in various studies) and increase lean muscle mass whilst cutting fat, but they do not appear to affect endurance performance. It would be possible of course, that Davedinok was on other drugs that would helped with his endurance, but that they had already passed through his system.

But that would be a very cynical view to take. Banish that thought.

So, three guys with the same outfit.

Nice work lads! I was originally impressed with the stupidity of the Iglinsky brothers for getting busted within a few weeks of each other (because, seriously, to get busted these days you have to be breaking the rules of micro-dosing, and with EPO having a half-life in the blood of just 5 hours, well, you get the picture), but now it seems that a low IQ, coupled with a propensity for cheating, are common on this squad.

Strike one, strike two, striiiiiiiiike three! Yer out!

Right? Um, well…. No.

Vincenzo ‘BrassNeck’ Nibali explained today why three positives on one team within three months of each other was not a problem at all, just in case you had the cheek to ever entertain that ridiculous idea.

“I don’t think there are big problems for Astana’s licence,” said the 29-year-old.

“The incidents that happened concern the Iglinskiy family, it’s a separate thing. As a team we can’t respond to what two brothers got up to. As for the last one (Davidenok), he’s not one of ours, he’s part of the Continental team and is not managed by us but by someone else.

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed and it’s also my responsibility to give more clarity on my part. But there is great serenity in the team in terms of my way of racing and my sporting seriousness in these years.”

So, all ok. Phew. Serenity now!

(Nibali in the back seat…)

And here I was thinking it was a proper disaster over on the weird blue and yellow bus. Apparently, it was never thus. As long as the two guys that get caught within days of each other are related, it has nothing to do with the team. Next we’ll be hearing that Davidenok is a second cousin, and all will be swept right under that bulging Kazakh carpet that’s already reminiscent of a boa that’s just swallowed a large wild pig.

Vino's yet to pay the fine for that hat
Vino’s yet to pay the fine for that hat

Imagine a football team or a rugby squad that had three positive tests in a month, two from first team players and another from the youth academy. Would the same bilge be dished out by a teammate – as is here by Nibali, whose disingenuous claptrap is doing him no favors at all – in that situation?

It might, but no one would buy it. But cycling is different you see. We are infected like a piece of rotting flesh by a culture that constantly and immediately apologizes for those responsible for this never-ending trail of cheating. And lo, if Astana wriggle free from this one who would really be too surprised by that?

“Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed,” said Nibali as he rubbed a dollop of metal polish into his gleaming neck, completely ignoring the fact that the in latest infractions in Astana’s grubby ‘past’ was uncovered just hours earlier.

Let’s hope he gets that myopia seen to soon or at this rate, he’ll be falling off his bike at every corner.

In all seriousness, if ever there was an instance of a rider having the right to demand to move off a team that has been shown to produce dopers, it is here and now.

Nibali won many admirers for his ride in the 2014 Tour de France, and there was a groundswell of opinion that he may have been doing it clean too. Or cleaner. So where does that go now? Why, it has to be asked, would he not distance himself from all this rather than spew out statements that a five year old could contradict within seconds?

Upon hearing the news that the UCI was thinking of reviewing Astana’s ProTour license, Alexander Vinokourov, former doper himself and the man behind the team jumped off the merry-go-round, spat his dummy out and proceeded to have a full blown tantrum right in the middle of the playground.

“I don’t see why the team should have to pay for the stupidity of two [er, three – cp.] riders. The rules are the same for everybody and the commission will decide if we are working correctly or not.”

Let’s hope so Vino, for it would make a change to see a cycling commission do the right thing.

He then spoke of his own suspension for blood doping, saying that he felt that he and his team were being punished still as a result of it.

“I paid for it with my two-year suspension. I can’t pay for it all my life,” he said.

Well, let’s add the doping past (that he never admitted to in any case), along with the fact that the UCI, on August 20th this year, charged him and Alexander Kolobnev with bribery after Vino allegedly paid Kolobnev 150,000 euro to throw the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the fact that he has now three doped riders on his current squad and, well, it’s all a little more serious than the 2007 positive.

“Maybe I was too naïve about the Kazakh riders on the team sometimes. It’s been a big lesson. When you’re a manager you have to be very strict with your riders,” he said, blissfully unaware of the ridiculousness of that statement.

How can a rider who once doped (and is from Kazakhstan!) be ‘naïve’ about riders from Kazahkstan on his own team? And was it just the Kazakh riders, Vino? Roman Kreuziger’s recent doping brouhaha (of which he was cleared by the Czech authorities but which the UCI and WADA will appeal) stems from his time at – you guessed it – Astana.

Quadruple KerPlunk.

dodging the dope tests - a nerve-wracking game of skill!
dodging the dope tests – a nerve-racking game of skill!

Here is the point that Vino is missing. He was a professional rider and a very successful one. Then he was shown to be doping and thrown out for two years. Then he came back and won the Olympic road race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Then he moved into management with Astana and became even more wildly popular in his home country, where, it is rumoured, he will one day run for president. And he’s loaded.

What in that story does not tell you that doping pays?

What in the Alexander Vinokourov StoryBook would suggest to a young rider that it is worth taking the chance? Two years out does not seem to big a price to pay for the riches, the wins, the success, the love. And even if you do get kicked out for good you can still find many a team willing to pay you top dollar for your ‘experience’.

The UCI it seems, might finally be ready to flex its muscles. Let’s hope they follow through, because this is a mess that needs cleaning up, and it is one that they are largely responsible for.


Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

5 thoughts

  1. Lee, your frustration and passion is- as per usual- running ahead of your logic on this one…

    Okay, so here we go again…. let’s grap the Crankpunk pitchforks and torches, and burn ASTANA to the ground!! Ok, so what now? You want to see the defending TdF Champion who won in majestic (if unchallenged) fashion ride against the best Stage racers in the world next year? Uhmmmmm…. Or you want to see Fabio Aru, Italy’s next stage racing talent match up against Nairo Quintana in a MTF extravaganza? Well….See……

    And what were your expectations of Vincenzo in this situation? You really expected him to speak against his own multi-million Euro self interests and start castigating his team- the same team that delivered him to the TdF crown in fine style this season, and stood by him when he was getting passed up like a cyclo-tourist in the Dauphine and had NO RESLTS all season? I mean, what were you expecting? The Vino thing is since 2007- The man won an Olympic medal and a monument since his return. He is a certified doper, and pretty unsavoury, but he is also pretty talented and bloody intelligent, AND pouring millions from state coffers into the sport… How do you propose we pitch him out???

    I am not saying that ASTANA dropped out of a flower- Obviously there are structural problems in the team that need to be sorted out, and quickly. But I would make the case that ASTANA are just a less polished, less refined, less elegant version of the slick approach to doping taken by SKY over the past few seasons (non-membership in MPCC, total opacity with information and methods, meticulous attention to every single detail – except in vetting JTL whose performances screamed “DOPER” from 100 yards away, miraculously back dated TUEs, brilliantly placed connections within the UCI, emergency Cortisol regimens for chest colds and strategic inhaler use-which miraculously was not needed as much this season- Go figure!)

    ASTANA will always be at higher risk because when you bring young men who may be good in KAZ but not THAT good on a global stage, desperation leads to stupid stuff like anabolic steroids, and shared doping regimens with their brother. I am not absolving them from responsibility, but I am also not going to paint Nibali as a doper, primarily because (a) there is no proof that he is, (b) I think that he is important to the peloton (and to Italian cycling) and (c) I would hate to see another 2008 where the ASTANA TdF Champion was prevented from riding especially as we enter this wonderful age of several first class GT stage racers all at (or near) their peaks….

    I do not think that this is FESTNA or US Postal systematic doping regimen. I suspect that this is a case where Vino chose to stringently managing his “A” team of talent due to his own shady past and the need to go the extra mile. I also think that he is under pressure to make sure that he has some KAZ dudes in the team at all times, and the cycling talent pool in that country is a bit shallow. So Vino pragmatically gives his home boys extra, extra, EXTRA room to do whatever they have to do to “Prove themselves” in the team with the express understanding that they do this on their own time, not on ASTANA property, not with ASTANA support, and as complete independents. If they win, fine, but if they get caught, they are immediately cut loose and have to fend for themselves…Hence, the distinct lack of sophistication in the doping approach and the equally distinct lack of ridiculous drawn out appeals from the guys who are caught. Game Over for them, and enter new KAZ additions to the team in 3…2…1…

    Anyway, you go ahead and grap your pitchfork and kerosene. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we can come to some sort of rational agreement as to how we can get the cheats out, but keep the sport going. Face it Lee, the very nature of cycling means that it will ALWAYS have doping, (in fact, it ALWAYS HAD doping), and I am just pleased that cycling is doing a world leading job in finding these people and getting them out…

    Good luck with your crusade….

    1. So nice to read a measured reply! Can i also add to doctornurse’s comment by saying a couple of things;

      I do not see how a “lemon law” (3 strikes and you’re out) such as cp is prescribing would work, would benefit cycling, or for that matter is even applicable when you are dealing with people, or teams of people as opposed to products. people are fallable. no matter what your thought on the institution/team here, it is ultimately the individual that has let you down, and there are clear rules in place for sanctioning individuals.

      Reference to the Kreuziger case here is interesting – well for me at least. again, your inference aside cp, with respect to astana it comes down to the individual – and in this case, i believe we could be at a watershed moment for UCI/WADA. there are clear physiological and statistical failings inherent in the bio passport protocol. i think for the very first time, these will be truly exposed in this case, and the governing bodies could well be on the end of their first ever CAS defeat.

      Finally, with again so much focus on the crime and sanctions relating to doping nobody in sport has ever truly targetted the “oxygen” on which sportsmen thrive – the podium! take that away, and you may get some welcome results. history shows that both sporting bans and monetary fines of any size or shape don’t work, so imagine what would be the situation if a doping sanction also came with a podium ban for life. should a convicted doper win/place in a race, the relevant step of the podium is left empty – a permanent reminder to everyone of your indiscretion. Take vino as a case in point – who as doctornurse pointed out was no “dog in a hat” – he had everything required to win clean (or dirty). Just imagine what the impact of a podium ban could have done for the sport in his post ban years. No podium at the Olympics for the gold medallist! Reduced incentive to allegedly bribe a peer in LBL! Furthermore, what team wants to win a team prize to then have to take a podium without a member of their winning group? What sponsor wants any part of that sceanrio? What fan wants that? Take away the oxygen, take away the incentive….

Leave a Reply