With cycling's transfer season in full swing, one major team that still needs to substitute its outgoing leader is Alexandre Vinokourov's Astana squad. With three-times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador officially off to Bjarne Riis' Saxo Bank-SunGard outfit next year, the Kazakh team now lacks a Grand Tour contender.
Speaking at the Criterium de Castillon-la-Bataille in France on Tuesday this week, Astana rider and decision maker Vinokourov told the newspaper Sud-Ouest that his team was interested in "(Denis) Menchov, (Roman) Kreuziger and - why not - the Schleck brothers."
Even though Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck and his elder brother are widely expected to join a new team in their home country of Luxembourg, Vinokourov did not seem fazed by this. "To the best of my knowledge, nothing has been signed yet," he added.
All options thus remain open for Astana, whose contract negotiations seem to be well under way. Rabobank's triple Grand Tour winner Menchov, who rounded out the podium at this year's Tour de France, may be a more realistic possibility for the Kazakh team than the Schlecks, however. The brothers are allegedly already committed to signing for RadioShack in the unlikely case that their deal with the new Luxembourg squad does not work out.
Liquigas' Kreuziger, who came ninth at the 2010 Tour, is potentially a very talented GC rider and just 24 years of age, but he is also still a rough diamond lacking the years of experience a Grand Tour leader needs for victory.
Meanwhile, Vinokourov paid tribute to Contador, and insists that there are no hard feelings in the wake of the announcement of his departure. "I would have preferred Alberto to stay, but he can do what he wants and those who go with him, too," said the Kazakh. "That's just pro cycling. With Alberto on the team, we have won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d'Italia, that's a good outcome. If he got a better proposal, it's normal for him to leave."