Following Alexandre Vinokourov's announcement that he might ride the Tour of Lombardy, Astana's commercial director Dr. Aidar Makhmetov told Cyclingnews that the Kazakh champion is free to decide about his future, whether it's in a role as a rider, a team manager or at the Kazakh Cycling Federation.
Vinokourov is recovering from a broken femur sustained in a Tour de France crash, and was given the go-ahead to resume training this week. He had previously said he would retire from the sport rather than make a come-back.
In the recent decisions such as bringing Andrey Kashechkin back to Astana, Makhmetov has been seen as the man who pulls the strings. "I'm the link between the team and the main sponsor of the Kazakh Cycling Federation [Samruk Kazyna]," he told Cyclingnews. "Our team manager Giuseppe Martinelli is in charge of the recruitment. I only confirm the duration of the contracts. I almost automatically say OK to what Martinelli wants."
"Kashechkin was the co-founder of the team [with Vinokourov in May 2006]," Makhmetov recalled. "It's logical that he's back at Astana now, because unlike Italy, Spain or France, Kazakhstan doesn't have many riders of his level. I hope that already during this Vuelta, he shows good results. I believe that he has five successful years ahead of him.
"We've been very satisfied with our performance at the team time trial on Saturday. It's Astana's best TTT since we won at the 2009 Tour de France but that was with [Alberto] Contador, [Levi] Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, etc, that team was unbeatable."
Since the departure of the stars to RadioShack and Saxo Bank-SunGard, Astana has a new policy to bring young Kazakh riders up to the highest level. "For next year, we're creating Astana 2," Makhmetov said. "It will be a Continental team to develop Kazakh riders. Astana will always be an international team but from now on, we'll only hire the best foreign riders."
Makhmetov refused to reveal the names of the recruits or potential recruits for next year but he firmly denied the rumour of the arrival of Davide Rebellin. "This will never happen," he said.
However, with the departure of Allan Davis to GreenEDGE and Rémy Di Gregorio to Cofidis, Astana might be short in points for the World Tour status, should Vinokourov not be registered as a rider next year.
"Vinokourov officially announced his come-back yesterday," Makhmetov said. "If he's not a rider with us next year, we'll have to look for another rider with points. It's up to him to choose his position next year. He can be a rider, he can be a manager, he can be at the Kazakh Cycling Federation. Whatever he decides to do, he'll get a full support from the team. Everyone thought he had retired but if he keeps riding, it's also good for the team. I can't force him. It'll be his individual decision."
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