By Jean-François Quénet in Saint-Galmier
Tour de France favourite Alexandre Vinokourov says he doesn't believe there is anything provocative in his team wearing "the colours of Kazakhstan on our cars and buses." Vinokourov rides for the team formerly known as Liberty Seguros whose future is in doubt after manager Manolo Saiz was arrested while allegedly in possession of €60,000 two weeks ago.
Vinokourov was responding to a comment in the French press by Bouygues Telecom rider Thomas Voeckler who said of the suggestion that the team would be sponsored by Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, "Ils sont gonflés." It's not clear whether Vinokourov has picked up on the double meaning of 'gonflés' in French. Voeckler's comment could mean, "They're pumped up," or "They're arrogant."
Voeckler said he felt ashamed to wear the same turquoise colours of Bouygues Telecom on his gloves as the one of the renamed Astana-Würth Spanish based squad. "If they're cheats in this affair, hopefully there will be sanctions as well and not only some noise," he added.
But Vinokourov can't see any reason why the UCI's ProTour commission would deny his team its license. "The license stays the same," he said. Active Bay has the license, there's only a new sponsor." The commission is nominally in charge of the financial and ethical aspects of the running of the teams, but as Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc observed the previous day, "They're quite slow in that matter."
Without a license, Astana-Würth couldn't ride the 2006 Tour de France Even if the commission does not make a decision before next week - effectively allowing the squad to continue as a ProTour team - Tour organiser ASO is still likely to ban Manolo Saiz from attending the Tour. "It would be good to use his experience for the tactics of the team," Vinokourov said. "But with Marino [Lejarreta] and everyone else, we can still make good tactics. It's not decided yet if [Saiz] will be at the Tour with us or not."
As for the race at hand, Vinokourov said, "I'm trying to stay calm. It's not my goal to win the Dauphiné, last year I came in form too early. I'm here to find my rhythm in the mountains and see how the others are." After the Dauphiné Vinokourov will go back to Kazakhstan to defend his national title and will not take part in any event before to the start of the Tour in Strasbourg on July 1.
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