Vincenzo Nibali described it as a day like any other but the Tour de France winner must have felt a palpable sense of relief on Thursday morning following the confirmation that his Astana team will remain in the WorldTour for 2015.
Speaking ahead of a ride at the team training camp in Calpe, Nibali welcomed the news that the UCI Licence Commission had rubber-stamped Astana's registration for next season despite the recent spate of positive cases and the serious allegations regarding the team which have emanated from the Padova-based doping inquiry in recent days.
"Today is a day just like yesterday for me because we're here to train. We have the new season just around the corner. I'm concentrated on sport," Nibali told reporters as he emerged outside the team hotel, according to Biciciclismo.
The UCI called Astana’s management before its four-man Licence Commission in November to explain positive tests from Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy, which were followed in quick succession by doping cases from three members of the Astana Continental team.
Although the since-fired Continental team manager Dmitriy Sedoun was also a directeur sportif with the WorldTour team, Nibali and Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov have repeatedly maintained that the two squads were entirely separate entities.
"There are only two cases on the WorldTour team. It's not fair to conclude that the Astana Continental team is part of the WorldTour one," Nibali said. "They are two different, separate teams. It's not the same team, they're two completely different teams, with a different structure, a different president, a different manager…"
Vinokourov's status as general manager of the team has come under particular scrutiny given his positive doping test from 2007, his refusal to collaborate with the UCI's Cycling Independent Reform Commission and fresh information on his links to Dr. Michele Ferrari, which were published in the Italian press this week.
Indeed, Astana's long rap sheet of doping offences under Vinokourov and other managers since its foundation in 2006 makes for sobering reading, but Nibali pointed out that such a record was not unique to his team.
"The problems in this team are also in many others. I don't think our team is the worst because in other teams there are worse people than there are here, I won't name names," Nibali said.
"There's Mafia in Sicily, as in the rest of the world, but that doesn't mean we're all gangsters. As cyclists we're always trying to show transparency. I've always practiced clean cycling and I will continue to do so."
Excerpts from the 550-page report compiled as part of the Padova doping investigation were published in Gazzetta dello Sport this week, and it was suggested that 17 riders on the Astana squad had links to Dr. Ferrari.
Gazzetta also claimed that Ferrari had been photographed outside the Astana team hotel at a training camp in Montecatini Terme in 2013, although the newspaper was careful to stress that Nibali was not implicated.
"I have never worked with Ferrari, absolutely not, because we all know what happens if you work with him or even meet him. These are certainly unfounded rumours," Nibali said of Astana's alleged links to Ferrari.
Although Astana has received the green light to compete in the WorldTour in 2015, UCI president Brian Cookson said that the team could be considered "very much to be on probation" pending an audit by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne. Nibali said that he welcomed any additional testing.
"This way we can do something to make it a cleaner sport and give meaning to cycling," he said.
"I'm tranquillo. I've coped with this pressure before, at the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta. I work with serenity, it's part of my philosophy, my sport and it's part of my lifestyle. I also don't want to disappoint anybody, especially my family."
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