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Alexandre Vinokourov plans to ride the Tour of Poland (August 2-8) before taking part in the Vuelta a Espana (August 29-September 21) and the world championships (September 27), his main goals following a return to competition allowed from July 24 onwards. The July date is two years after he failed a dope test for blood transfusion during the 2007 Tour de France.
In his mind, there is no doubt that he'll ride for Astana although he hasn't negotiated any deal with team manager Johan Bruyneel yet. "This is the team we have created in 2006 with the president of the Kazakh cycling federation, this is our baby," Vinokourov said at a press conference in Monaco at the Fairmont hotel where the Astana team is staying, although no team official was associated to the meeting with the media.
"I don't see myself riding for another team," the winner of the 2006 Vuelta a Espana added. "I have no guarantee yet because I expect to negotiate with Bruyneel in the coming days. But it's not possible that he disagrees. If Johan doesn't want me, it will be up to him to leave the team."
Earlier this year, Astana faced losing their Pro Tour licence after Kazakh sponsors failed to make payments to the team.The UCI wanted guarantees for the payments for the remaining six months of the 2009 season. In order to ensure their participation in the Tour de France, the UCI has suspended proceedings against Astana.
Sitting next to Nikolaï Proskurin, the vice-president of the Kazakh cycling federation, Vinokourov said, "The Astana team is safe for the next three to five years at least." Vinokourov added that Bruyneel will remain the team manager for next year as well, although the Belgian may wish to create another team with Lance Armstrong.
Recent news from the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) added to Astana's financial difficulties. The Court ruled that Bruyneel's company, Olympus sarl, must pay former rider Vladimir Gusev 654,166.67 euros for irregular dismissal. The company is also expected to pay the Gusev 5% interest since November 27, 2008 and 25,000 Swiss francs for his legal expenses, in addition to 75% of the cost of the CAS procedure.
Vinokourov might not be the only rider that Bruyneel must add to his roster of currently 28 cyclists (30 is the maximum for a Pro Tour team). Andrei Kashechkin is also awaiting confirmation from the CAS, expected within a week, that he will officially be allowed to race again on August 1st. "We don't have the same relationship as before," said Vinokourov, "but we have a good relationship, we speak about once a month."
The two Kazakhs still live in Monaco where the Tour de France will start, without them, on Saturday. "There's no contract with Kashechkin yet but we're open to discuss with him as well," said Proskurin.
When he took over the infamous Astana team in August 2007 Bruyneel agreed to a clause in his contract that he had no obligation to sign Vinokourov, Kashechkin or Andreas Klöden, but two years later he's got no choice: accept it or leave, the Kazakhs said.
The Belgian is yet to respond to Vinokourov's announcement.