Following the confirmation of Astana’s WorldTour registration for 2015 – and, by extension, their place in the Tour de France – Bernard Hinault has called for organisers to be given greater say over which teams are allowed to participate in their races.
Astana have received a licence despite a recent glut of positive doping tests and while UCI President Brian Cookson has warned that their status is provisional and pending an early-season audit, the reality is that it would be extremely difficult from a legal standpoint to withdraw the team’s WorldTour berth at this juncture.
WorldTour race organisers have a binding agreement to allow all 17 top flight teams to participate in their events, meaning that ASO have no scope to exclude Astana over ethical concerns, as they did in 2008, when a dispute with the UCI meant that the Tour was not part of the then-ProTour.
“I’m against the WorldTour, quite simply because it’s money that’s prioritised over everything else and there’s no opportunity for the race organisers to punish cheats,” Hinault told Cyclingnews. “If organisers had that possibility, there would be a lot fewer people out there doing stupid things. That’s what they need to change because in my opinion it’s not good at all for cycling.”
The five-time Tour winner’s vision for a redesign of cycling’s hierarchy would see it comprise of “a first, second and third division, like they have in football” and allow the organisers themselves more freedom in deciding on who participates in their races.
Hinault also revisited the comments that he made about Lance Armstrong and doping cycling in an interview with AFP last month, after which he drew criticism from Robert Millar, Pat McQuaid and Jorg Jaksche for failing to acknowledge that the doping issue did not begin and end with the American.
“With Armstrong, I defended him for a certain amount of time because I thought that with all the tests he was doing he couldn’t possibly be cheating. And then when I learned the truth, I was really disappointed,” Hinault said when asked why he didn't have the same level of disdain for other Tour winners with doping histories.
“Certain other riders said ‘Ok, I cheated,’ but they were sanctioned and paid a penalty. But he always said that he had never cheated and he was never sanctioned while he was a rider. The only way he’s going to get sanctioned now is on a financial level. And it’s the only way fight against that – to take back the money and prizes that a rider has stolen from his competitors.”
Hinault was speaking to Cyclingnews from the launch of Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries. In his ambassadorial role for ASO, the Breton was a frequent visitor to Yorkshire in the build-up to the Tour de France Grand Départ and 2015 will see the first edition of ASO’s new British venture, the three-day Tour de Yorkshire.
But while expansion into new markets has long been part of the Tour organisation’s strategy, ASO will have been heartened, too, by the recent upturn in the fortunes of French riders, embodied by the podium finishes of Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot this year.
Hinault remains the last French winner of the Tour and 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of his final victory. The lack of time trialling miles on the parcours will certainly be to the liking of the youthful trio of Pinot, Romain Bardet and Warren Barguil, though Hinault was pragmatic about the prospect of a successor in yellow on the podium in Paris.
“They’re happy enough to follow the likes of Nibali, Contador and even Froome when they’re in great condition, but that’s not going to win them the Tour,” he said. “To do that, they’d need to attack from a long way out. They’d need to do what Voeckler did a few years ago [2011 – ed.] and take a few minutes of advantage early on, and use that as a starting point.”