Astana Pro Team
|Website||Team home page|
|General manager||Alexander Vinokourov|
|Team name history|
|2007–||Astana Pro Team|
Astana Pro Team (UCI team code: AST) is a professional road bicycle racing team sponsored by the Samruk-Kazyna, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city Astana. Astana attained UCI ProTeam status in its inaugural year, 2007. Following a major doping scandal involving Kazakhstani rider Alexander Vinokourov, team management was terminated and new management brought in for the 2008 season. The team was then managed by Johan Bruyneel, former team manager of U.S. Postal/Discovery Channel team. Although Astana under Bruyneel was very successful, with a lineup including Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador, as well as runner-up Andreas Klöden, the team was on the verge of financial collapse in May 2009. A battle for control of the team related to the return of Vinokourov for the 2009 Vuelta a España caused Bruyneel and at least fourteen of its riders to leave at the end of the 2009 season, most for Team RadioShack. Only four Spanish riders, including Contador, and most of the Kazakhs remained with the rebuilt team for 2010. Those four Spaniards all left the team for Saxo Bank-SunGard in 2011.
- 1 History
- 2 Team roster
- 3 Major results
- 4 National Champions
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes and references
- 7 External links
Demise of Liberty Seguros-Würth
Astana first became involved in sponsoring cycling during the 2006 season. The Spanish Liberty Seguros-Würth team was heavily implicated in the Operación Puerto doping case and the sponsors Liberty Mutual, and later Würth, withdrew their sponsorship of the team. Astana stepped in to sponsor the team, and during the second half of the season, Vinokourov won the Vuelta a España while riding for the renamed Team Astana, and his Kazakh teammate Andrey Kashechkin finished third.
2007: Formation of the new team
The new Astana management initially tried to buy the ProTour licence of the former Liberty Seguros-Würth team, held by Manolo Saiz. However, Saiz was reluctant to sell, so Astana applied for a licence in their own right. Initially, the new team was based in Switzerland under the holding company of Zeus Sarl and managed by former Tour de Suisse organiser Marc Biver. Vinokourov was the team's debut leader.
The UCI ProTour license commission first informed Astana that they would not be granted a ProTour License for the 2007 season. Following UCI's decision not to grant a ProTour license, the organizers of the three Grand Tours informed Astana Team that they would be included, regardless of ProTour license status. On 20 December 2006 the UCI License Commission relented and awarded Astana Team a 4-year ProTour license.
Other prominent new riders for the 2007 season included stage race specialists Andreas Klöden, Paolo Savoldelli and Andrey Kashechkin, as well as Matthias Kessler, Grégory Rast, Thomas Frei and Spanish climber Antonio Colom.
Riding under a Luxembourgian license, the team also included other ex-Discovery Channel riders such as Tomas Vaitkus, Sérgio Paulinho, Chechu Rubiera, Vladimir Gusev and Janez Brajkovic, as well as American Chris Horner. However, former Discovery Channel rider Savoldelli left the team.
The Astana team was also not invited to the 2008 Giro d'Italia. However, on 3 May, one week before the start of the race, Giro organizers chose to extend a last-minute invitation to Astana. Astana was able to field a team despite the short notice, and on 1 June, Alberto Contador won the Giro, finishing 11th on the final stage time trial to keep his pink jersey and take the overall victory. Contador also won the 2008 Vuelta a España, with teammate Levi Leipheimer finishing a close second. Thus, despite not competing in the Tour de France, Astana still won two Grand Tours in 2008 and achieved three podiums. Leipheimer also won a bronze medal in the time trial in the 2008 Olympics, just edging Contador, who finished fourth.
Among the other results achieved by the team were victories in several stage races: by Contador in the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Vuelta a Castilla y León, by Leipheimer in the Tour of California, by Klöden in the Tour de Romandie and by Russian Sergei Ivanov in the Tour de Wallonie. Various team members also achieved several other top-tier results, and Ivanov, Paulinho, Vaikus and two of the Kazakhs won their national championships.
Astana's strict anti-doping policy came to the forefront later in the year. On 28 July Astana fired Vladimir Gusev for showing "abnormal values" in an internal doping check. In a release from team director Johan Bruyneel it was indicated that although the results "do not indicate the use of banned substances, the team has therefore applied the contractual terms based on these physiological and biological abnormalities", dismissing Gusev "with immediate effect."  On 17 June 2009, almost a year later, the Court of Arbitration in Sport ruled that Astana was wrong to fire Gusev based on Dr. Damsgaard's interpretation of blood values and ordered Astana to pay Gusev back wages, damages and legal costs.
2009: The return of Lance Armstrong
On 25 September 2008, it was confirmed that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong would leave retirement to ride for the team in the 2009 season. Along with Armstrong, Yaroslav Popovych, another former Discovery Channel rider, joined the ranks of Astana, which brought the number of former Discovery Channel riders on Astana to nine (Armstrong, Popovych, Contador, Leipheimer, Rubiera, Noval, Vaitkus, Paulinho and Brajkovič).
It was reported that Armstrong would share team leadership with current leader Contador, that he intended to participate in the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California, Paris–Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Critérium du Dauphiné Liberé and the Tour de France, and that he would receive no salary or bonuses, instead directing his attention to raising awareness for cancer research.
Along with Armstrong and Popovych, Astana also signed Jesús Hernández, who had joined the former Liberty Seguros team in 2004 when Alberto Contador was one of the riders there, and Basque rider Haimar Zubeldia. Contador expressed his support for the return of Vinokourov from his two-year doping suspension but seemed less enthusiastic about Armstrong's return.
Armstrong was part of the team that participated in the season's first ProTour race, the 2009 Tour Down Under. The team's first victory of the season was the 6th stage, followed by the general classification, of the Tour of California by Levi Leipheimer. In the same week, Alberto Contador won a stage and the classification of the Volta ao Algarve, and subsequently two stages in the Paris–Nice race.
Armstrong's participation in the Tour was cast into doubt in late March, after he suffered a broken collarbone in the Vuelta a Castilla y León that required surgical repair. However, Armstrong was able to recover in time to ride in the 2009 Giro d'Italia.
On 6 May 2009 Astana admitted that it had failed to pay its riders amid the financial crisis in Kazakhstan, but a team spokesman said that this was only a delay, that the team was not in danger of folding, and that the team would compete in the 2009 Giro d'Italia as planned. On 7 May Armstrong, riding for Astana on an unpaid basis, expressed his sympathy for employees waiting for their wages only days before the start of the Giro d'Italia. He also said that if the financial crisis was not resolved, the team's license should be turned over to Bruyneel, which he said was the "most logical solution."
Organizationally, Astana has an unusual structure. Although the Kazakh team holds the UCI license and pays the salaries, the individual rider contracts and equipment leases are held by Bruyneel's Luxembourg-based Olympus SARL, so the team could continue with merely a license transfer. UCI President Pat McQuaid is planning a visit to Astana during the Giro to discuss the team's future. According to Armstrong: "I don't have any concrete answers but I suspect we can find some funding that would get us from June to the end of the year." On 11 May, the UCI set a deadline for resolving Astana's financial situation of 31 May, the last day of the Giro. If the team has not met its financial obligations by that date, it will be suspended by the UCI. Bruyneel noted that at least the team would be able to finish the Giro under its current banner.
During stage 7 of the Giro, eight of the nine Astana riders, including Armstrong, rode in jerseys with the non-paying sponsors' names nearly faded out in protest over the team's unpaid salaries and remained in such jerseys for the rest of the Giro. The only rider not to participate was Andrey Zeits from Kazakhstan. According to Bruyneel, the names of paying sponsors, such as Trek and KazMunayGas, were not blanked out, and the team would continue to "race with these shirts until everything, emphasis on everything, is fixed", as "the riders have only received two months of salary in 2009." On 19 May, Bruyneel announced that the sponsors have paid part of the past-due wages since the start of the protest "but the major part is still missing." On 3 June the Astana team gave financial guarantees to cycling's governing body which will allow them to compete in the 2009 Tour de France in July, and later that month declared their financial problems to be resolved and the funds secure at least to the end of the season.
Vinokourov versus Bruyneel
During these financial problems, it was rumored that three of the former Discovery Channel riders on the team – team leader Contador and his domestiques Noval and Paulinho – would join Garmin-Slipstream for the Tour de France if Armstrong were to take over the Astana team. These problems seemed to be resolved, at least for the remainder of 2009, when the team's funding was resolved. However, the funding battle may have been merely a skirmish related to the underlying issue: control of the Astana team after the expiration of the two-year doping suspension of Alexander Vinokourov on 24 July 2009.
On 2 July, Vinokourov stated that he would return to Astana, which he noted was "created for me and thanks to my efforts", when his suspension ended, and that he would ride for Astana in the 2009 Vuelta a España. He stated that he expected to reach agreement with Bruyneel about his return within the week, but that "if Bruyneel does not want me, it will be Bruyneel who is leaving the team." The next day, the French newspaper L'Equipe reported that the Kazakh Cycling Federation planned to fire Bruyneel, Armstrong, Leipheimer and many of the other riders and rebuild the team in the model of the old Liberty Seguros team, which was predominantly Spanish. The paper quoted the vice-president of the Kazakh federation as saying, "[Contador] will be our sole leader for years to come [and] will be able to pick out the riders he wants to ride with him. In our mind, the team will be composed of Spanish and Kazakh riders, including Alexander Vinokourov."
On 21 July, with Contador, Armstrong and Klöden holding three of the top four places in the Tour de France, Bruyneel told Belgian channel VRT that Astana as currently constituted was "finished" and that he would be leaving the team, as Vinokourov and the Kazakh federation had discussed, at the end of the season. Despite the comments by Vinokourov and the Kazakhstan federation, Bruyneel and Vinokourov did not reach an agreement regarding Vinokourov's return to Astana for 2009, and the team submitted a preliminary roster to the 2009 Vuelta a España listing him only as a reserve. Finally, on 24 August, Astana announced that an agreement had been reached between Vinokourov and Bruyneel and that Vinokourov would rejoin the team for the start of the Vuelta. The next day, Armstrong announced that Bruyneel would take over Team RadioShack in 2010.
The immediate result of Vinokourov's return and Bruyneel's departure was a mass exodus from Astana. Although Bruyneel still had a year to run on his contract, Astana permitted his departure in return for him not blocking Vinokourov's return. Contador also has a year on his contract, and Astana refused to permit his departure. However, much of the rest of the team departed for RadioShack, including Armstrong, Klöden, Leipheimer, Zubeldia, Horner, Brajkovič, Popovych, Paulinho, Vaitkus, Rast, Rubiera and Muravyev (the only Kazakh to depart), which meant that eight of the nine members of the winning Astana team at the 2009 Tour de France moved to RadioShack. Additionally, Schär and Morabito joined BMC Racing Team. All that remained of Astana was four Spanish riders (Contador, Noval, Navarro and Hernández) and the Kazakhs (except Muravyev). Since then, the team has signed three more Spanish riders, including 2006 Tour champion Óscar Pereiro, to support Contador. Consistent with the July 2009 plan, the 2010 team includes 12 Kazakhstanis and 7 Spaniards among its 26 riders.
2013-present: Nibali era
When Contador left the team after the 2010 season, the Spanish faction of the team declined, to be replaced by an Italian element; in 2011 and 2012, the team signed Enrico Gasparotto, Mirco Lorenzetto, Francesco Masciarelli, Jacopo Guarnieri, Francesco Gavazzi, Simone Ponzi, and Fabio Aru, while in the same period of time David de la Fuente, Daniel Navarro, Jesús Hernández, Benjamín Noval, Óscar Pereiro, and Josep Jufré, so that by the beginning of the 2012 season there were no Spanish riders of the team. In 2013, the team signed Valerio Agnoli, Andrea Guardini, Alessandro Vanotti, and Vincenzo Nibali, who immediately won Tirreno–Adriatico and the Giro d'Italia. Then Nibali wore the leader's jersey more than any other Italian in the history of the Vuelta (13 stages out of 21), but lost first place to American Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan). In 2014, Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France and became the sixth cyclist who have won the three Grand Tours. In August the team announced they had signed Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo), Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Davide Malacarne (Team Europcar) & Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) for the 2015 season. On August 20, the team announced the signing of Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) on a one year deal. With the 2014 addition of Michele Scarponi and in 2015, Dario Cataldo, the team at the beginning of the 2015 season, had a plurality Italian element, with 9 riders out of 25, and only 5 Kazakh riders remaining.
The team recorded its first doping positive in April, 2007, when Matthias Kessler tested positive for testosterone following a surprise control in Charleroi and later analysis of his B-sample. Later in July, Eddy Mazzoleni, left the team after allegations of doping usage. Mazzoleni, who had finished 3rd in the 2007 Giro d'Italia, was later suspended for two years for his alleged involvement in the Oil for Drugs doping case. On the eve of the 2007 Tour de France, Alexander Vinokourov confirmed he had received coaching from controversial doctor Michele Ferrari. The next positive doping result came from team-leader Vinokourov, after a positive result for blood doping (blood transfusion). As a result, ASO (the organisers of the Tour de France "invited" Team Astana's management to withdraw the entire team from the Tour de France; this invitation was immediately accepted. Following confirmation that Vinokourov's B-sample had also tested positive, the Astana Team announced that he had been sacked with immediate effect. On 1 August 2007, fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin tested positive for homologous blood doping following an out-of-competition test in Belek, Turkey. He was suspended and subsequently fired. This was followed by the termination of José Antonio Redondo's contract after "failing to abide by team rules", making him the fifth rider of the team to leave during the 2007 season.
Following the doping problems of 2007, the sponsors of Astana replaced Biver with Johan Bruyneel, the former directeur sportif of the defunct Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. Bruyneel had the mandate to start afresh with the team, so he hired a number of former Discovery riders including 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (who had ridden with Vinokourov on the old Liberty Seguros team) and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer. Additionally, Bruyneel introduced the anti-doping system developed by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, Head of Information for Anti Doping Danmark (ADD). The anti-doping system was initially used by Team CSC starting in 2007. The link between the Discovery Channel team and Astana was strengthened when Bruyneel signed a contract with Trek Bicycle Corporation to supply the team with bicycles and components, as they had done with Discovery Channel. Bruyneel also affirmed sponsorship with SRAM, the component maker.
On 13 February 2008, the organisers of the both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France announce that Astana would be barred from their 2008 Grand Tours, due to the teams links to Operación Puerto and involvement in the 2007 Tour doping scandals. This meant that Contador was unable to defend his Tour crown, because his contract does not have an "escape clause" that covered Astana's current situation. One week before the 2008 Giro d'Italia, the organisers go on to invite the team to the race, a race which Alberto Contador would go on to win. In July, Vladimir Gusev is sacked by the team due to "irregular values" highlighted by the teams new, internal, anti-doping system.
In 2009, after returning from retirement, Lance Armstrong is accused by the French anti-doping agency of acting improperly by disappearing from the sight of the anti-doping invesitgator for 20 minutes. In June, Assan Bazayev is given a two week internal suspension for not correctly reporting his whereabouts properly.
In September 2010, Alberto Contador returned a positive doping test for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France. After a two year legal procedure, Contador is stripped of his 2010 Tour de France win (and 2011 Giro d'Italia victory).
In 2011, Roman Kreuziger finished 5th at the Giro d'Italia as well as winning the best young rider classification. In 2014, the UCI began proceedings against him for biological passport anaomalies dated from 2011 and 2012 – the two years he spent at Astana.
In 2012, former Astana riders and staff including; Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Levi Leipheimer, Dr. Pedro Celaya and Dr. Luis del Moral are heavily implicated in the mass doping scandal which surrounded the U.S. Postal /Discovery Channel team.
In September 2014, it emerged that Valentin Iglinskiy has returned a positive test for EPO  at the Eneco Tour, he confessed to doping to the team and was immediately sacked, three weeks later Valentin's brother, Maxim Iglinskiy was provisionally suspended by the UCI for an EPO-positive on August 1. It was later announced that Astana withdrew themselves from the Tour of Beijing per the MPCC rules, who state that a team with 2 positives in a short period of time must not participate in the next World Tour event.
Subsequently a sample taken at the Tour de l'Avenir in August from Ilya Davidenok, a rider with the Astana Continental Team and a stagiaire with the Astana Pro Team, tested positive for anabolic steroids. Davidenok was provisionally suspended, and a review into the team's licence was announced following the positive tests for Davidenok and the Iglinskiy brothers.
University of Lausanne independent audit
On February 27, 2015, cycling's governing body, the UCI, requested that the team's WorldTour licence be withdrawn following an audit of its doping controls by the Institute of Sport Sciences in Lausanne. The UCI stated that the audit revealed a large difference between the team policies presented to the Licence Commission and reality.
- As of 1 January 2015.
- Kazakhstan Road Race Maxim Iglinsky
- Luxembourg Road Race Benoît Joachim
- Kazakhstan Road Race Assan Bazayev
- Kazakhstan Time Trial Andrey Mizourov
- Russia Road Race Serguei Ivanov
- Russia Time Trial Vladimir Gusev
- Lithuania Road Race Tomas Vaitkus
- Portugal Time Trial Sérgio Paulinho
- Slovenia Time Trial Janez Brajkovič
- Spain Time Trial Alberto Contador
- Slovenia Road Race Gorazd Stangelj
- Kazakhstan Road Race Maxim Gourov
- Kazakhstan Road Race Andrey Mizourov
- Estonia Road Race Tanel Kangert
- Kazakhstan Road Race Assan Bazayev
- Slovenia Road Race Borut Božič
- Ukraine Road Race Andriy Hryvko
- Kazakhstan Time Trial Dmitriy Gruzdev
- Ukraine Time Trial Andriy Hryvko
- Estonia Time Trial Tanel Kangert
- Kazakhstan Road Race Alexsandr Dyachenko
- Kazakhstan Time Trial Daniil Fominykh
- Italy Road Race Vincenzo Nibali
Notes and references
- AFP (2008-05-04). "Astana Will Race The Giro". Bicycling. Retrieved 2009-05-11.[dead link]
- "Astana sacks Gusev over 'abnormal values' found during internal checks - VeloNews.com". VeloNews.com.
- Jean-François Quénet (2009-06-17). "Gusev back in action after CAS decision". cyclingnews.com. Archived from the original on 20 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
- "Route Summary Stage 11". La Vuelta '08. 2008-09-10. Archived from the original on 12 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
Astana team-manager Johan Bruyneel has admitted that he has spoken with Lance Armstrong and has stated that he can't see the North American riding for any team other than Astana.
- "RTHK English News". rthk.org.hk.
- Associated Press (2008-10-17). "Astana's Contador cautious in welcoming Armstrong back from retirement". ESPN. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- "Lance Armstrong's Astana team fails to pay riders amid financial crisis". The Guardian. 2009-05-06. Archived from the original on 9 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
- "Armstrong ponders Astana takeover". BBC Sport. 2009-05-07. Archived from the original on 8 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
- "Armstrong: Bruyneel could buy Astana". Eurosport. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2009-05-10.[dead link]
- "UCI monitoring Astana's financial situation". CNN. 2009-05-07. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- Associated Press (2009-05-11). "UCI gives Armstrong's Astana team May 31 deadline". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- Reuters (2009-05-15). "Astana riders blank out sponsors' names in protest". Universal Sports. Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-15.[dead link]
- "Team Astana makes a statement". Astana Cycling Team. 2009-05-15.
- Reuters (2009-05-20). "Astana owners cough up part of riders' owed wages". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- "Armstrong team to continue racing". BBC Sport. 2009-06-03. Archived from the original on 4 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
- "Astana says its money problems are over". Cyclingnews.com.
- Shane Stokes (2009-06-24). "Vaughters downplays Contador rumors". cyclingnews.com. Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- "'Vino' says he will be on Astana ... or heads will roll". VeloNews.com. 2009-07-02.
- Susan Westemeyer (2009-07-03). "Kazakh coup to oust Armstrong and Bruyneel from Team Astana?". cyclingnews.com. Retrieved 2009-07-04.
- "Bruyneel says it's time to quit Astana". Special Broadcasting Service. 2009-07-22. Retrieved 2009-07-21.
- Richard Tyler (2009-08-14). "Preliminary Vuelta a España startlist announced". cyclingnews.com. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
- cyclingnews.com (2009-08-24). "Vinokourov to head to the Tour of Spain with Astana".
- Fergal O'Brien (2009-08-25). "Armstrong Says Bruyneel to Join New Team, Landis a Possibility". Bloomberg.com.
- Associated Press, "Oscar Pereiro agrees deal to join Astana team for one year", The Guardian, Dec. 9, 2009. Retrieved 12-24-2009.
- "Professional cycling 2014-2015 Transfer Index". Cycling Weekly. 7 August 2014.
- Cycling News. "Taaramae signs one-year deal with Astana". Cyclingnews.com.
- Shane Stokes. "Astana fires Kessler after positive B-sample". Cyclingnews.com.
- "www.cyclingnews.com - the world centre of cycling". cyclingnews.com.
- "www.cyclingnews.com - the world centre of cycling". cyclingnews.com.
- "Cycling News". BBC News. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
- "Vinokourov fired by Astana team". BBC News. 2007-07-30. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
- Bruyneel to head new-look Astana team in 2008 – Cycling – Yahoo! Sports
- Associated Press (2008-02-13). "Tour de France organizers exclude Astana team; Alberto Contador may not defend title". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
- "www.cyclingnews.com - the world centre of cycling". cyclingnews.com.
- "www.cyclingnews.com - the world centre of cycling". cyclingnews.com.
- Susan Westemeyer. "Astana suspends Bazayev over whereabouts". Cyclingnews.com.
- Cycling News. "Alberto Contador tests positive for clenbuterol". Cyclingnews.com.
- Barry Ryan. "Astana timeline: Eight years of shadows". Cyclingnews.com.
- Laura Weislo. "USADA's reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong follows the money trail". Cyclingnews.com.
- Cycling News. "Valentin Iglinskiy sacked by Astana after positive test". Cyclingnews.com.
- Cycling News. "Maxim Iglinskiy provisionally suspended for EPO". Cyclingnews.com.
- "Astana withdraws from Tour of Beijing following Maxim Iglinskiy positive". Cyclingnews.com (Future plc). 6 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
- Cary, Tom (16 October 2014). "Astana future under threat after Ilya Davidenok becomes third rider to fail drugs test". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
- Daniel Benson. "UCI requests withdrawal of Astana's WorldTour licence". Cyclingnews.com.
- Sadhbh O'Shea. "Astana talking with lawyers after UCI request licence withdrawal". Cyclingnews.com.
- "Astana Pro Team (AST) – KAZ". UCI World Tour. Union Cycliste Internationale. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
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