Reports that relations between Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin have cooled appeared to be given credence during Thursday's time trial, when the Kazakhstan pair seemed to go to great lengths to avoid each other.
Kashechkin, who used to be a team-mate and friend of Vinokourov at Astana, was competing in his first race since his ban for blood doping ended in early August. He has apparently not found a new trade team yet for next season. Vinokourov also recently returned from a two-year ban for the same offence, and re-joined the Astana squad in August.
Kashechkin kept a low profile, and slipped away almost unnoticed following his ride - which saw him eventually place 25th. Vinokourov, on the other hand, was mobbed by an army of fans, many of them wearing "Vino is back" T-shirts, and chanting "Vino, Vino" as he prepared in the start house. He eventually placed eighth.
During Kashechkin's ride, Vinokourov warmed up by the Astana team bus, which is being used by the Kazakh national team during the championship. But when Kashechkin finished, he avoided the bus - and his former team-mate - by remaining beyond the finish line and then pedalling off alone in a black top.
Kashechkin was accompanied by Stefano Cattai - the former Italian pro' and athletes' liaison for Swiss bike manufacturer BMC - who handed him the black training top, with subtle BMC branding. He was also riding a BMC time trial bike, though Cattai said that Kashechkin is not being sponsored by the bike company, and doesn't have a team for next year. He even suggested that Kashechkin had paid for the bike with his own money.
The Astana team rode on BMC bikes before Vinokourov and Kashechkin's positive tests, during and just after the 2007 Tour de France, after which their association with the team ended. According to Cattai - and contrary to what a Kazakhstan team official told Cyclingnews on Wednesday - Kashechkin will team up with Vinokourov in Sunday's road race.
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