By Susan Westemeyer
"It is one hundred percent certain that Johan Bruyneel does not want Alexander Vinokourov in our team," Team Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens has told Cyclingnews. Recent press stories have indicated that the suspended Kazakh rider is back in training, with the possibility of returning to ride in the Olympic Games in Beijing or even returning to the peloton.
"It is a question of credibility," Maertens continued. "We are working already since October last year on a new team. By accepting Vino in the team, we would have to start all over again. We proved already this season – unfortunately some organisers don't see it – that our team works super professionally and clean. We want to keep that." Astana has not been invited this season to any races sponsored by the ASO, including the Tour de France.
"Every rider deserves a second chance, but as organisers nowadays choose teams 'à la carte,' it is better to have only undisputed riders in the team." Vinokourov tested positive for blood-doping during last year's Tour de France and was given a one-year suspension by the Kazakh federation.
Maertens also dismissed rumours that the Kazakh sponsors may force the team to accept Vinokourov or any other rider. "Johan Bruyneel got 'carte blanche' from his sponsors to make this Astana Cycling Team. He will never be forced by sponsors to take certain riders."
The press spokesman said that while he has no direct contact with Vinokourov, he was in touch with someone who occasionally rides with him. "He is training, but it appears only to be a question of keeping his fitness. He confirmed to me that Vino has no plans to come back to competition. He is only working on his future. He will open a sports centre in the south of France."