Alexandre Vinokourov has been forced out of his role as team principal of Astana-Premier Tech just two days before the start of the Tour de France, though the team said that he will remain a "valued member" of the Kazakhstani squad.
The 47-year-old, who had been in the role since retiring from racing at the end of 2012 – and who was instrumental in the team's founding after the folding of Liberty Seguros in 2006 – has been dismissed with immediate effect, according to French newspaper L'Equipe. Team riders and staff were informed via email at midnight on Thursday.
When contacted by Cyclingnews, the team confirmed that Vinokourov had been ousted. His firing has reportedly officially given for 'personal reasons', which Vinokourov refutes, according to L'Equipe. He has already begun legal action in order to be reinstated in his team principal role.
On Thursday afternoon, Astana confirmed Vinokourov's departure. In a statement, the team said that he "will remain a valued member of Astana-Premier Tech but relinquish his management responsibilities for the time being."
Team managing director Yana Seel said that veteran directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli and Steve Bauer, who joined the team with the introduction of Premier Tech, will take over Vinokourov's responsibilities.
"We can confirm that Alexandre Vinokourov will not be present at the Tour de France this year as he will step down as Sports Team Principal. Alexandre still remains part of the team but he will not be in charge of the team’s sporting operations at the moment and will move into another role. I hope that during this period Giuseppe Martinelli and Steve Bauer will work well together to lead the team from a performance standpoint and guide our riders to success, starting here at the Tour de France where Steve will work alongside Dmitry Fofonov and Stefano Zanini."
The move comes after a period of internal conflict at the team which has seen the departures of long-time directeurs sportif Alexandr Shefer and Dimitri Sedun at the end of 2020.
Vinokourov's role at the team had reportedly been reduced in recent times, with new management – including those from co-sponsor Premier Tech – taking over on the non-sporting side of the team.
In an interview with Kazakhstani outlet Kzaif.kz in May, Sedun said that Vinokourov was fired and reinstated last year after complaining about his and Shefer's firings.
"He told the truth that the team was shocked that Shefer and I had been sent away," Sedun said. "He paid the price for it but the management quickly came to their senses and brought him back to the team.
"Vinokourov is a media personality. Can you imagine what fuss would be made in the media if it was leaked that Astana's founder and ideological inspirer was ousted? Apparently, that is why everything was quickly changed."
Sedun said that problems at the team started after Seel had been appointed as managing director three years ago, with internal conflict only increasing after Canadian co-sponsor Premier Tech came onboard. The new management sidelined the previously established management team, including Vinokourov, he said.
"The fact is that a new team of shareholders are now playing first fiddle in the management of Astana. They are probably good professionals in their field, but in my opinion excellent business knowledge is clearly not enough for a successful performance in cycling. I believe that we will never see the 'old' Astana.
"In short, our points of view did not coincide with the ideas of the new shareholders. Even earlier, Vinokourov, [team performance manager] Dmitri Fofonov, and I had been 'sidelined' on the subject of negotiations and contracts."
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.
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