Astana riders Alexandre Vinokourov and his most valuable domestique Andrei Kashechkin have decided to call it a day for this season after the Züri-Metzgete, the pair announced. Even though the two could not participate in the 2006 Tour de France, they made the Vuelta a España a tough battle for Alejandro Valverde, and managed to turn the race around in the final week, to take home the maillot oro.
It is this achievement that French trainer Frédéric Grappe questions now in Vélo Magazine, saying that the physical progress Vinokourov achieved since the Tour de France last year was practically impossible. "He would have gained, in one year, between 35 and 40 watts on the verge of the anaerobic threshold? That's nearly impossible on that level of training. Even the best training in the world would not lead to this kind of performance increase," Grappe told the French magazine, speaking of those last two mountain stages where the Kazakhstani reversed the overall classification. He did not, however, explain how he estimated these figures.
"This remarkably fast performance imrpovement in the mountains needs to be explained precisely as to the methodology (of training) used. Moreover, this sudden explosion of potential in the mountains comes late - at the age of 33. Something's not right there," he continued.
"We are entering a new dimension to which only a few riders have the 'key'. The 2006 Vuelta leads to an irritating assessment. They're still racing as fast in the mountains; the only change concerns the incapacity of a team as a whole to control and regulate the race from a strong tempo in the first part of the climbs onward. This year, the main leaders fought it out on their own... except maybe at Astana."
Meanwhile, Vinokourov and his backers are assembling the squad for next season, with 27 riders already signed: Igor Abakoumov (Ukr), Assan Bazayev (Kaz), Antonio Colom (Spa), Koen De Kort (Ned), Thomas Frei (Swi), Maxim Gourov (Kaz), Rene Haselbacher (Aut), Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz), Sergey Ivanov (Rus), Benoît Joachim (Lux), Andrej Kashechkin (Kaz), Aaron Kemps (Aus), Matthias Kessler (Ger), Andreas Klöden (Ger), Alexey Kolessov (Kaz), Julien Mazet (Fra), Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita), Gennady Mikhailov (Rus), Steve Morabito (Swi), Dimitry Muravyev (Kaz), Gregory Rast (Swi), Jose Antonio Redondo (Spa), Joaquim Rojas (Spa), Paolo Savoldelli (Ita), Michael Schär (Swi), Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) and Sergey Yakovlev (Kaz).
The roster, featuring a few big stage race names such as Vinokourov himself, but also Former T-Mobile teammate Andreas Klöden or Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli, will be directed by Marc Biver as manager and Walter Godefroot as technical director. Three directeurs sportifs will advise the team at races: Alexandre Shefer, Giovanni Fidanza and Adriano Baffi, all retired professionals.
Godefroot, who had retired after managing T-Mobile for many years, is now waiting for the UCI to announce its verdict on the attribution of a ProTour licence for the squad, scheduled for November 23. But Vinokourov himself has said in the past that the team did not depend on this; and that he was sure it would be invited to the Grand Tours and other important races through their powerful roster.