what to do about Astana and Nibali?

DoctorNurse (aka Stephen Nurse-Findlay) commented on my article from last week about Astana & Alexander ‘ChimneySweep’ Vinokourov and my call from them to be turfed from the sport.

i was going to leave my reply as a comment too but realised that it might be worth posting. here it is, with DoctorNurse’s initial comment first.


from DoctorNurse, Dec 1st, 2014

“Is banning ASTANA the best option? I mean, for sure 5 (count ‘em *5*) doping positives is a massive amount for any one organisation in spite of their protestations of innocence…

BUT, I was rather looking forward to seeing Nibali defend his title against the est in France this Summer, and was also looking forward to seeing if Aru is the real deal in Italy this spring. Do you think that we should eliminate the best(VN) and brightest (FA) of Italian cycling from contention for the action of a few seriously misguided dudes on their teams?

I mean, where would Nibali go? Who could afford to pay his salary, plus the 6-7 dudes he will requires? You have any ideas?

Given your experience and background, it would be interesting to hear your recommendations as to what could be done in addition to your well articulated opinions on what has already happenned…”


It surely is the only option. What message does the sport and, critically, the UCI want to convey – and never mind to the fans, the TV companies, the sponsors or anyone else – to the teams? That even this is acceptable? No, they have to be turfed out.

We need regulations in place for this very scenario – multiple positives from a single team. Indeed, we need serious and enforceable penalties in place for a single positive on a given team. A fine and a reduction of UCI points perhaps, as well as maybe a ‘strike’ against the team that could be cancelled after say 3 years, unless the number of strikes increase. Three in three years and you’re out? Maybe.

But five in three months? It’s mind-numbingly negligent at very best.

Should Astana be banned for good? Or for a decade? Or for four years? If, long before now, the UCI had enacted some meaningful criteria by which to judge and punish these teams that return multiple positives, then maybe we’d all be OK with a ten-year ban for the Kazakh outfit.

(I’d be almost fine with that, for the record).

Nibali: between a rock and a hard place
Nibali: between a rock and a hard place

It also brings back into focus (not that it should ever be out of it, in my opinion) the problem of having dopers in management positions. I can’t think of another profession where people who have been found to be corrupt are then welcomed back as overseers, trainers and managers.

Bent coppers coaching new recruits? Crooked lawyers teaching the bar? Footballers who’ve found to have influenced games for cash allowed to manage pro teams?

Never happens, so why in cycling? Cos so many were corrupt? Well that tells us that we need to stop this more than ever then.

About Nibali and Aru. If we had rules in place such as those I mention above, then perhaps the riders would use their collective clout and really and seriously get behind the anti-doping movement. Why can’t a guy have a clause in his contract that says he can leave if the team and/or other members of that team act in such a way as to damage his or her reputation or image?

Why not let him go to CAS to sort it out?

If you have this then surely the teams would do more to properly crack down on doping and they’d be signing riders who had better reputations than these guys who keep popping up year after year. No need to name names here, just look at the peloton over the past 15 years.

Do this, and maybe we’d edge closer to getting a clean peloton.

The dominant message still being conveyed by having guys around like Vino, Hincapie, Vaughters, and by still having measly 2 year bans and no criminal penalties is being heard loud and clear: cheating pays.

To the question of where would he go – well, if we had real movement on these points then maybe he wouldn’t have to change teams cos crap like this would be far less likely to happen. As it is though, maybe we need a top guy getting ripped like this, hard though that will be on one rider, to wake the rest of them up.

I mean, Nibali sounds clean, he does, but he’s been going to work every day in a crack den for the past 2 years.

What, is he really shocked? I rode with Astana development team guys over three or four years on the UCI Asia circuit and I knew enough to be very dubious about what I was seeing.

Nibali is asking us first to believe that there is no connection between the 5 positives (remember two were brothers so that’s why they doped, and the others were on the Conti team so, zero connection there either, right Nibs?), and then he’s asking us to believe that he was either just incredibly naive enough to join a team and not to have known or inquired about their reputation, or to believe that he is just plain thick.

Either way it doesn’t look too good for him right now.

Imagine a rider going to a team for an interview and the rider asking what kind of independent testing procedures the team had, before he asked about how much cash he was gonna get. Imagine every team proactively chasing guys known for being clean, or at least above suspicion. (I sound like John Lennon here with all these ‘imagines’.). Sure, there’ll still be cheats, but at least give the clean guys a chance by enacting something close to the regulations this sport actually needs.

I think of all the guys I know that are clean that are seriously good riders and how they had to deal with Nibali’s conundrum long, long before they even got close to racing in a Tour de France, never mind winning one.

Get this sh*t done for them and for the kids who are out there dreaming.

They have to come first.

imagine all the pipe dreams...
imagine all the pipe dreams…

Author: Lee Rodgers

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

14 thoughts

  1. I don’t imagine ASO is going to invite Astana to any of their events next year, so the ‘what happens to Nibali’ question is probably moot. Either way he’ll be home watching TV come July. There is a precedent for this isn’t there? Oh yeah…it was Astana, disinvited for Vino’s doping, despite having the defending Tour champion. History repeats again.

  2. “I can’t think of another profession where people who have been found to be corrupt are then welcomed back as overseers, trainers and managers…” Banking maybe?

  3. “I can’t think of another profession where people who have been found to be corrupt are then welcomed back as overseers, trainers and managers…” Politics?

  4. While such measures make sense on a basic level, these are not solely up to the UCI; they must be adopted by WADA too. Otherwise all we will have is CAS overturning suspensions in a revolving door fashion.

    The other thing to consider that the goal is to rid the sport of cheats, not just cheats who got caught or confessed. So while such rules would keep Vino out, there are plenty of others with skeletons in the closet who will remain front and center.

    Thus such measures aren’t cures, but they are steps forward to tidy up the structure while the needed cultural changes take root.

  5. One possible step to begin dealing with situations like Astana’s is to suspend the entire team for a month if one rider is found positive (after all, in a team, you win together or you lose together). Enough of the “I didn’t know what such and such was doing”. But even in teams with shady characters, there are those who are trying to make a living in an honest way (riders and staff). For that, how about then sending the team, to the next race, with a diminished number of riders? 4 instead of 7, 6 instead of 9. And ban the rider (s), if proven guilty, for at least 4 years. Begin putting the pressure where it hurts (the pocket) and start embarking in a serious campaign of “punishing the crime and its perpetrators”. The soft stick policy the sport has been subjected over the years is no longer convincing anyone.
    Once you hit them where it hurts the most, then you might start to get their attention.

  6. why is it that we don’t hear from the sponsors, what’s their point of view when ‘their’ team gets caught like this? specialized should pull their bikes from the entire team, both conti and pro teams…but i can’t see that happening

    1. yeah agreed. back with LA you had Oakley and others going ‘oh really, he’s a doper huh, we are so shocked’ and i mean come on, guys in those companies ride, they heard the rumors, they saw the performances. but a cash cow is a cash cow. now what if Specialized really did step out and say ‘hey you know what, we are pulling out cos of these positives’ – now that would be something…

  7. Can’t remember where I saw / read it, but there was a suggestion that Astana could be denied a World Tour licence. Point being that some kind of sanction against the team would demonstrate more of a determination to clean up the sport AND apply pressure on teams to clean up their act (literally and figuratively).

    In the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) we’ve seen football teams relegated for various offences including match fixing and insolvency. It seems strange that if there’s any sanction applied in cycling it focuses purely on the individual (rider) and yet the employer (team) escapes any penalty.

    I’m not completely sold on ex dopers being unable to return to the sport (assuming they genuinely have recanted) but clearly Vino is giving that idea very little help.

    Clearly there’s a long long way to go when you have riders launching websites this week proclaiming that “..have never failed a doping test.”

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