Should Nibali Leave Astana?

Play word association and many would link “Astana” to “positive test” rather than the capital of Kazakhstan or the Tour de France triumph. The Iglinskiy brothers and two riders few had heard of, Ilya Davidenok and Victor Okishev, riding for the Astana Continental team, a separate development, team have been caught recently.

It’s bad for the World Tour team and its reputation. The UCI has said the team’s licence application for 2015 is going to be looked at more closely. But what of the riders on the team? I’ve seen several saying Vincenzo Nibali should leave the team and readers have asked about this by email too. If only it was so easy.

No precedent?
Saying a rider should move because someone else on the team has tested positive appears to be new. It’s certainly one way to distance himself from the problem.

When Ag2r’s Steve Houanard and Sylvain Georges were given doping bans – EPO for Houanard – and the team self-suspended under MPCC rules I don’t recall anyone saying Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Péraud had to move teams to save their image. Nor should Joaquim Rodriguez move when Katusha’s sister team Rusvelo also stopped itself from racing after damaging doping dossiers. What’s different now? Well Nibali is more visible as a Tour winner but presumably because people trust Ag2r in a way they won’t with Astana and Rusvelo isn’t so obviously linked to Katusha given the different names. Astana’s stock of trust has never been too high. Witness how it needs the MPCC today given the team’s past, whether Vinokourov’s past, the roster of ex-Ferrari clients, the previous employment of Johan Bruyneel and José “Pepe” Martì et cetera ad nauseam. When people say they’d like Nibali to move I wonder whether they’re thinking of the rider and the realities of a move or assuaging their personal sensibilities instead. It’s as if it would be easier to compartmentalise “Tour winner” somewhere far away from recent scandals and suggestions that Nibali should move don’t extend to Fabio Aru moving or, say, Lars Boom shredding his new contract.

The Law
First let’s think of the legality. Nibali has a contract with Astana until the end of 2015 2016 so to walk out is to break this contract. He’d leave himself exposed to court cases. It’s unlikely there’s a clause in his contract which allows him to walk in the event of a teammate testing positive. Such a break clause is likely to exist in the event Astana loses its licence, whether entirely or merely gets a ride at Pro Continental level, the second tier. It’s normal for the star riders, liberating them if their team cannot be sure of riding the prime races.

The Jobs Market
Even if there were a break clause to leave then where would he go? It’s not like other teams have spaces available now yet alone a spare €2-3 million needed to afford him. Most other teams have their leaders and rosters fixed. Nibali’s sudden emergence on the market would be a contractual fire sale for the Sicilian. He’d stand to lose millions because whoever hires him surely doesn’t have the money sitting around and if they did, they could negotiate from a strong position.

Tinkoff-Saxo could afford him given the team’s billionaire owner but why would they want to hire Nibali with Alberto Contador, Peter Sagan and Rafał Majka to name three. Sky were said to be interested in the past but will back Chris Froome while BMC Racing, the other wealthy team, has invested considerably in Tejay van Garderen. Plus if you think Nibali should leave for reputational grounds, other teams have their issues. Bjarne Riis is assembling a cadre of managers that should be called the “50 plus club”, not for their age but their haematocrit when racing.

Wider Circle
This might be about Nibali but he doesn’t ride alone. He joined Astana with a cell of trusted allies. Riders like Valerio Agnoli and Alessandro Vanotti but also coach Paolo Slongo and soigneur Michele Pallini. If Nibali moves anywhere, or stays put, then contracts for these people follow. In fact Nibali’s said he didn’t want Maxim Iglinskiy on the Tour de France team either, preferring Agnoli.

The Ethics
So far, so practical. Having discussed the legal and financial aspects, the more fundamental issue is whether he’d want to move or even should go. Nibali’s departure would cost him plenty and all because of the mistakes of others, he’d pay the price for something that wasn’t his fault. The Astana name ensures U23 riders you haven’t heard of hit the headlines but if the team was called “Almaty” and rode in red kit perhaps the pressure would be reduced? The Continental team has its problems but it’s got little to do with the Italian.

If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change

That’s quoting another Sicilian, Tancredi in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa‘s “Gattopardo”. But what if Nibali stayed and things changed within the team? Perhaps the solution to reassure many would be for Nibali to stay but insist on a clear out around him? Easier said than done. Nibali was fielding questions last summer about trust given Astana’s a team managed by Alexandr Vinokourov and Guiseppe Martinelli, two people with a certain history in the sport. The recruitment of a new team doctor – of all the medics in Italy – who was linked to Marco Pantani doesn’t help either. But if Nibali is a significant figure he could not impose the signing of his brother Antonio on the team, they said no to this demand. If he can’t get his brother on board he can hardly call for Vino to step back.

I can see how Nibali’s presence on the team is awkward, as if his continued presence with Astana signals approval. In theory moving would put some distance between the Tour de France winner and the bad image of the team. But look more closely and Davidenok and Okishev share little or nothing with the Sicilian. The development team has links to the World Tour team but for now there’s nothing to say the steroid abuse of two U23 riders is connected to the main team.

Nibali’s exit might comfort some onlookers it wouldn’t fix the worries about rider development in Kazakhstan which have associated the Astana name with scandal again. Nibali is tied by contracts, money and more to Astana, it can’t be unpicked in one go. A rider, especially a leader, cannot be moved like a computer file, copied from a corrupted folder and pasted to a new location. In summary Nibali probably can’t move and if he did, it would cost him plenty and solve little.

116 thoughts on “Should Nibali Leave Astana?”

      • I always think a little less of a “big name” rider when they sign for Astana, putting salary above sporting reputation. When signing, they must know that the team enjoys little confidence from outsiders and their achievements will always be looked at a little sceptically.

        • Think of them less, but not by much. The move to Astana by Fuglsang was for a chance to ride GT’s for himself instead of supporting the Schlecks (he rode as a first time team leader in TdF 2013 and took 7th). Westra is probably in the same boat.

        • Well, what about Contador or Sagan signing for Tinkoff with Bjarne Riis? I mean, there is a difference, as the squad as a whole doesn’t have as many (recent) positives, but when people talk about how Astana has a bad rep because of 2006-10, I can’t help wondering how many people from CSC -Saxo Bank just didn’t get caught. The recent positives are bad, but Nibali does have a point, as two of them are from people he probably never even talked to before.

          • It is interestingly that Astana and Tinkoff often are met with significantly more suspicion than most other teams because of their team managements history with PEDs. Why are other teams having a treated less hard when their mangement have the same history with PEDs as Vino or Riis?

            Take Omega Pharma. Their management were involved i Mapei and Telekom and a least two of them have admittted use of PEDs for most of their carreers. Are they just more sympathetic to us?

  1. Isnt his contract up this year?…I thought I´d heard somewhere that Astana were pushing him to sign early this year, but apparently he was “resisting” … haha….bet he won´t be rushing to do that that anytime soon…..

    • It ends in 2015 and talks have been happening about a renewal/extension which would take him probably up to retirement. Reports say he signed for €2.3m a year plus bonuses, a new deal could be close to €4m a year.

  2. Great post, INRNG. It sums up the position. Doesnt mean that there isnt a case for Nibali to leave and sit out a season – and yes, I know that this would mean he would lost $$$$$. What price credibility, though? And tbh he’s not helping himself by repeatedly saying X rider and Y rider had nothing to do with him, when several rode alongside him in a number of races, especially Max Iglinsky of course.

    Re the Conti team, its also the case that a number of staff move back and forth between the WT and the Conti teams. It really is too facile to say the two teams have little to do with each other.

    Btw ‘called be called’ should be ‘could be called’.

    • Good point on the links between teams, they do exist but they’re equally different in other ways. For legal/rules reasons they have to be separate but they share a lot of staff, resources, sponsors and, perhaps most relevant, networks.

      I think the “Iglinskiy is nothing to do with me” point is because Nibali has his team within the team, his circle of staff and riders. This is a subtle point though and hard to demonstrate any big distance.

    • “Doesnt mean that there isnt a case for Nibali to leave and sit out a season”
      Or buy his way out like Cancellara supposedly did when leaving Saxo for Leopard.

      • I think the big difference is that although the Schlecks and Cancellara leaving Saxo did hack off Riis and Saxo, the Kazakhs would take Nibz trying to buy his way out VERY badly. Huge loss of face for them, and basically an interpretation that Nibz us confirming to the world that he thinks (or knows) the team are dirty.

    • Btw ‘a number of staff’ should be ‘a member of staff’, since only one persone, Sedoun, appears to move back and forth between the two 😉
      As long as I know, obviously. Who else?

      And in what “number of races” which of the positive riders rode alongside with Nibali?
      “Several”, you said… I’m asking just to understand if, speaking of typos, that ‘especially Max Iglinsky’ should instead be something like ‘essentially Max Iglinsky’.
      During the whole two years Nibali has spent with Astana, only *one* of the other riders, Valentin Iglinsky, “rode alongside him” in only *one* occasion, the 2014 Dubai Tour (not to be confused with the more important Oman Tour).
      Davidenok has been riding as a stagiaire in the Pro Team from August, 1st, but the only race he rode with Nibali around was the infamous Tour of Almaty, where he was nonetheless riding *against* him, that is, he raced in the Continental Team, not in the Pro Team, meaning that they shared at most some Kazakh Ministerial Party.

      If this is the attitude (“a number of” and “several” meaning any number between “one” and “two”), feel assured that credibility questions would be rised in whatever team.

  3. As long as the team retains a first class licence he should stay loyal to the team.
    There’s no chance he can find a team with the cash available at this time of the year and able to throw the backing he’s got at Astana right now for the grand tours.

    Cycling still is a hypocrite sport when it comes to doping despite all the MPCC and stuff and that won’t change from black to white overnight so, why bother? Looking after himself is his best way forward

  4. Innocent till guilty… The burden of proof… etc. etc. Frankly given the power ratios and all these doping bans: today nobody trusts Nibali to be clean – we just want to believe him being innocent.

  5. Open to accusations of racism/xenophobia here of course, but this is a Kazakh team, sponsored by Kazakh big businesses.
    The reputation in the West of these ex-SovBlock countries is that they are corrupt and undemocratic, controlled by rich oligarchs with little regard for the law and morality.

    So our image of Vino as an unreconstructed old-style doper, of Astana as an institutionally doping team, and of young Kazakh riders as happy to dope to succeed, just fits the picture.

    Whether it’s true or just our Western predjudice…dunno

    • A slippery slope but the country doesn’t score too high on many rankings, eg 161st/180 for a press freedom ranking. But half of the point of the team is to challenge prejudice, to make us think of a country that supports sport.

      • Nibali’s “chains of gold” hold him to Astana was what my friend Chairman Bill of once said to me. When the big salary contract was dangled before him along with assurances that he would get to bring plenty of his compatriots along + Vino no doubt claimed all would be well on the doping/ethics front, what should he have done? Where would he be now if he’d stayed with Liquigas/Cannondale? He’d be the same guy he was there, a slave for has-beens like Ivan Basso and now with that team being merged with Vaughter’s squad….? He had to be aware this could be the result, but as it stands he IS one of the few to have won all three GT’s and has a very fat bank account. If he’s smart he might never have to work again. In my fantasy world, a rich, Italian industrialist lke Giorgio Squinzi buys the entire Italian contingent out of their Astana contracts and creates a new team for Nibali and Aru, who then have NOBODY else to blame for any doping scandals or stupidity as Nibali has called it. But everyone knows the chances of that happening in Italy at present are Slim and None….and Slim’s already left.

    • With all due respect, I’d take this kind of speculation more seriously if it came from a Kazakh, or someone who is familiar with Kazakhstan sporting and/or doping culture, or who has even been to the dang country.

      So far I’ve only seen this angle discussed by people fitting none of the above criteria working off rumours gleaned from Twitter and it’s all had an air of ‘those wacky ex-Soviets’ about it. Give me a break.

      • There are a few “objective” studies that suggest all is not well in Kaazahkstan. Transparency International puts them at 140/175 in their corruption index for example.

        My own view is that the actual facts and history of the team, its riders and management are more than enough to justify the team’s poor reputation, without needing to revert to national stereotypes.

        • That is the way I see it too.
          The people being wannabe sociologists about Kazakhstan are just looking for more reasons to stick the knife into Astana team. It’s crass and obnoxious.

          • Not to mention the people in the Lowlights of 2014 post who insulted the woman in the top photo just so they could make more cheap jokes about Astana. Just… just no.

        • That’s fine but remember this is a ranking of the government. I know some Kazakh cyclists will come here to read and we should be careful not to be hard on them, anti-Kazakh commentary by riders is surely directed at some of the country’s institutions rather than its people.

        • TI is a strange metric, because it tries to poll the internal sentiment of a country by asking residents how they perceive corruption in their own land – it’s not a universal standard and it fails to take into account the most logical next question – How do you feel about the corruption in your own country?

          In some places, the US for instance, there is a cultural blindness to corruption, and the parameters that define it can be wildly different than in other places – for instance a $20 bribe to a cop to let your speeding ticket slide in some parts of the world is seen as harmless, while in some US states and European countries you have to pay the cop who stops you for your violation –

          Let me say that again – in some countries you can offer the cops pocket money to let you go, while in some US States and European countries the driving laws say you have to give the cops money to let you go –

          Which one is corrupt?

  6. Damned whichever way he goes, he stays he’ll be tainted, he goes he’s turning his back and opens out EVERYTHING that you’ve pointed out above. I’m not a big fan of Nibali, I don’t buy the spotless image, not with that palmares but he does appear cleaner than others.

    To be honest, I think it’s immaterial what he does, each and every team has it’s “past” some worse than others, but none outshine.

    I’ve given up bothering about the doping or anything like the politics. I want to watch bike racing same as I have for the last 30 years, I know the foibles of the sport and I understand that at some point some of my favourite riders will end up banned, thus is the life of the pro-cycling fan. That notwithstanding, doping is a scourge but until the leaderships of the sport make what they are doing visible we don’t know whether something positive will come out of it or not. Either way the nefarious doctors and some riders will always find a way to be ahead…..

    • I echo your third paragraph SlapshotJC. Yes I would like to see Nibali out of Astana, I wouldn’t trust that shower to run a bath. However the UCI, the men in suits, the dopers, the politics oh god I find it tedium.

  7. I was speaking to a current World Tour rider (who I won’t name because he was speaking off the record) this week and I asked him what he thought of the Astana situation. A long pause followed, then he said (I paraphrase) “I doubt it’s coming from the team. It’s four Kazakhs who might have come through the same networks and have the same doctor in the background somewhere, but the risk for the team to be directly involved is too high. And the drugs they’re being caught for are so stupid, steroids which have been easy to detect since the 1980’s. No big team would be that stupid”.

    I’m inclined to agree with him, and as much as Nibali is tarnished by association, it’s not as if he is able to personally police every rider in his team, let alone in the feeder team. It is a big shame for him, but as you say, in the short term how and where would he go?

    • Your premise could very well be true. But what does this say about the Astana Team? These knuckleheads got the idea from SOMEWHERE that if you cheat and get good results without getting caught, a nice fat paycheck and spot on the big-time Astana team is possible. It worked for Vino after all! Blaming the whole thing on the independent actions of stupid guys is the standard mode of operation and the reason the sport’s in the crapper in the minds of so many. With a new regime at UCI it’s time for this s__t to stop, otherwise pro cycling might as well join the likes of WWE and forget about any sporting value.

      • Larry’s right. Even if the team aren’t dirty, this highlights at the very least a totally apathetic culture set by the management within the teams (Pro and Conti) towards anti-doping.

        Though I have to be honest, if Vino were sitting across the table from me and trying to warn me about the evils of doping, I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face.

        • Well, he didn’t say that this was four guys acting on their own (he explicitly said that it’s dodgy that it’s four Kazakhs), he said it probably doesn’t come from the team management, because the risks are too high and the methods too stupid. I don’t know enough about the Kazakh federation and amateur system to make a judgment on them, but it looks suss.

          Of course you’re right about it being hard to take anything Vino says about doping seriously, and that’s Nibali’s problem here, he works for a team with no credibility.

      • I think it says that from some of these countries where you work for a pittance the chance to obtain some fame and fortune by any means necessary is perhaps a bit too tempting ? This is hardly a new phenomenon .. back in the 70’s and 80’s I am sure that there was always some young Belgian who would do anything to escape the farm or factory floor. I think we try and frame some of these arguments like a Graham Watson photo , it’s just an image in time but of course there is always more. I see some suggested Nibali sit out a season , he may just as well retire then . If he makes strong come back then he is branded a doper , if he can’t recapture the form necessary then he has thrown away something that he was worked years for. I don’t have an opinion on Nibali either way , I think his progress has seemed steady without any ‘salto di qualità’ that so often defined the riders in the 90’s and 00’s .

  8. Another blog from INRNG full of relevant and excellent points, but I can’t help thinking this whole charade has a stench of “I told you so” about it. Of course he can’t just leave Astana and find a new team, in late November, with a year to run on his contract. The transfer set up in pro cycling is intransigent at the best of times, and certainly isn’t capable of coping with this type of situation.

    As much as Nibali says these guys have nothing to do with him, and as much as he is probably right, he really has nobody to blame but himself for his tarnished reputation. When he signed for Astana, there was a minor outcry, but he chose to sign anyway, in no small part due to his salary. If he wanted to leave Liquigas to get a chance at GTs without having to ride for others, then he could have signed for another team. Another team with a smaller salary, true, but also without the guilt by association that he is now suffering. If he was a true sporting great, he would have listened to the nay-sayers at the time and signed for another team. Unfortunatley for him, and for his legacy, he didn’t, and he is now reaping what he has sown.

  9. I don’t think Nibali would gain that much credibility by breaking contract. Not enough to make the hit to his $$$ and his support team worth it.

    It might make a few people feel better, but would it convince the people who think he’s lying when he says he didn’t know about the doping?
    How about the people who think he’s dirty?
    How about the people convinced the entire sport is rotten but watch it anyway for whatever reason?
    Would it gain him that many more fans, for that matter? How many people beyond the cycling enthusiast press and a few sports reports looking for filler have reported the Astana cases? Did he lose that many fans and opportunities as a result of this, AND is it even /possible/ to win them back through such a drastic action?

    Maybe if this were a Puerto-scale scandal, or in a hypothetical decade from now where the overall level of trust among fans is higher, it would make sense for him to tell Vino to shove it.
    But now? He’d be stabbing himself in the foot just to make a small number of people feel better about themselves. There’s no point.

  10. Love the quote from “The Leopard”, a favourite novel.

    The problem for Astana is that the team is almost Vino’s personal vanity project now. As Jonathan Vaughters pointed out, 4 doping cases on his team would mean the end of him, yet first Brunyel and now Vino’s own blackened names seem not to perturb Astana’s backers. In a normal team some experienced foreign management would be bought in to clean up the place a la Bob Stapleton turning the drugged out detritus of the old T-Mobile team into his team Highroad, yet Vino’s bizarre cult status in Kazakstan means he’s impossible to shift.

    • Why is his cult status bizarre? A country that has lived in relative international obscurity for so long now suddenly has a place at the world sporting table. What is there not to like after years of neglect? Suddennly your country is famous not just for a not-too secret space centre. It is all to easy to take pot shots at the Kazakhs when coming from countries with much more prominent historical sporting traditions and success.
      He brought success, with ideas imported indirectly from the U.S. Postsl squad, so is understandably a hero. Not difficult to understand.
      Let’s criticise this on a structural level with regards to the team and not insult a whole people with some of the thinly-veiled xenophobia that runs through a number of the reports.

      • You misunderstand me completely. This is not about xenophobia, I will equally criticise the Italian tifosi for still venerating Pantani above all others or US public and media for largely ignoring their current crop of talented and clean riders like Van Garderen, Talansky and Phinney for endless navel gazing and/or nostalgia for the Armstrong/Postal years. My point was that as Astana as a team is supposed to promoting Kazakstan as a nation and new Kazakh riders, not celebrating the career of one doped ex-pro, and surely winning races cleanly is a better way to do that.

        • ALMOST a Vino vanity project? I went to the Astana Wikipedia page just to refresh my memory and was reminded it pretty much IS and always was exactly that. Of course when Vino was serving out his sanction there was a focus elsewhere, but I’d say if he left tomorrow that would be the end of the entire deal. I doubt the UCI will do anything other than slap Astana on the wrist, and even if they were kicked out of the top club, is there any doubt they’d still get invited to the big races if those promoters wanted them? As much as I like to watch Nibali ride, I think it’ll have to be ASO to put their foot down with this team as they have in the past.

          • Interesting thought, perhaps you or INRNG could let us known if the ASO could do this in the current World Tour like they did back in 2008, or since the TDF is in the World Tour are they obliged to accept all the WT teams?

    • “…some experienced foreign management would be bought in to clean up the place a la Bob Stapleton turning the drugged out detritus of the old T-Mobile team into his team Highroad”. Some form of sarcasm should be needed here, yet I feel that, quite unfortunately, it has not been included (at least, not willingly).

    • JV? He had three riders suspended for doping, then a fourth that was later exposed and only saved by the statute of limitations… moreover, we should add the fact that he himself may have deserved a disqualification as DS but worked out to be spared since “he now was a retired rider” (note that suspensions normally affect your general presence within the sport).
      Nevertheless, he could sell all the thing quite well as an history of repentance, deep-buried past and second chances, so it really didn’t mean the end of anything, on the contrary it allowed him to go on recruiting ex-dopers at sale price knowing that it wouldn’t affect the well-crafted team’s image.
      All this without explaining why all the *repentant* dopers that were quietly enjoying their new clean life in the clean team would keep silence about all they knew of the system until they were forced by the law to do otherwise.

      • To answer both you and Gabriele, I was just quoting Vaughters, not passing judgement on him or his team. And regardless of what you think of JV, surely his repentant attitude makes him slightly more deserving of respect or second chances than Vino? Sort of like the difference between David Millar and Valverde. Also doping cases like Hesjedal’s that happened when he was still a mountain biker can’t be blamed on his current team, again, in stark contrast to the spate of doping cases on Astana over the past few months.

        • JV vs. AV
          “Sort of like the difference between David Millar and Valverde”.
          You mean, good riders tend to be unrepentant and vice versa? ^___^

          All kidding aside, it’s really hard to define who does *deserve* things like respect or second chances without any real knowledge of these people. Their public image is way too vicarious.

          I’d agree that JV’s attitude, hypocritical it may be (or not), really helps to sell, and maybe even to create, a cleaner cycling. As such, it may deserve respect.
          But that works just as long as people don’t start to wonder: “did he know or not about Hesjedal behaviour *as a young man*? If he knew, did he consider that the best strategy was to stay quiet hoping that no one ever became aware of that (and why did he hire him, among all the others, by the way?)? Just like he himself and the other USPS guys did… But if you really repent about what you did, do you consider that the best thing is not to spread knowledge about what went on in the pro peloton? Did they really say all the truth? Why the truth looks like so appropriate for them?…”. And so on.
          You don’t need to be any philosopher, many fans are actually looking at Garmin just like that.

          Note that, personally, I don’t care much about those questions. My personal opinion of JV is that he’s a very intelligent person and a great professional as a team manager. I’m just observing that the contradictions that the project entails may easily raise doubts and, eventually, generate an even more cynical look to the doping/antidoping problem, something like: “they’re using it marketing-wise to make their own interest, nothing more”. That risk would reduce any credit gained for *improving cycling’s self-esteem*: it’s the focus they carry on that’s slightly “dangerous” in itself, since, IMHO, the whole doping problem is not individual. It’s not about your personal conscience. It’s a social problem, and should be tackled as such.
          That’s why I prefer to avoid throwing in the equation supposed moral values… The matter is complicated, let’s not make it even more labyrinthine.

    • What exactly is a normal team and why bring in foreign management and why is Vino’s cult status in his country any more bizarre than LA’s was?

      • “Normal” as in what any management team would do when their organisation has an image problem: bring in new people to try and diffuse the situation and clean up their image in their industry. Maybe there are plenty of Kazakhs who could run an cycling team better than Vino, but maybe also there’s a lot of recently unemployed people from teams like Euskatel/Vaconsoliol/Cannondale who would be qualified. To spell it out, as you’re having trouble working out what I’m getting at, I’m making a hypothetical assumption that there is actually a problem with Astana that certain people may want remedied.

        See above for my answer re the LA angle.

      • I suspect the point was being made because Vino’s ban made not one iota of difference to his cult status, whereas LA is now a pariah.

        Now just where is that ridiculous picture of Vino resplendent in full Kazakh Army General dress uniform, and weighed down with more medals than a platoon of soldiers who’d fought every WW2 campaign going, and earned the VC and the George Cross, to boot…

        • Perhaps a bit late to this fight.

          Sam, I think nails it. JV essentially made his mark as a team manager/owner with his money or money that he leveraged legally.
          AV made his team with “national” money and the blessing of his government seemingly with few governmental oversight or national.

          LA was the a great clean champion, yet that is a distant memory as he is a doper and should
          be a pariah. He used US Postal money and lied to 300 million people, and crashed what good faith had been built for years within the fragile evolving US Pro road cycling fan base.

  11. Today’s pro cycling reality is that those riders who want to maximize their commercial value are at the mercy of the highest bidder. Even Contador is at the mercy of Tinkoff. Just by looking at the pix of Contador with Oleg, you can see that the “Accountant” doesn’t look too happy. This fact probably makes Oleg feel more satisfied, like an extra bonus, being able to “buy” the best cyclist in the world. A vicarious way to live out his fantasy to have been a world-class cyclist.

  12. I wonder whether we will see opt-out clauses in the contracts of high profile racers in cases where their team gets tarnished by doping positives. It seems like a smart move for riders and then they can consider whether they can financially make a move to another team in such an event.

  13. Clearly Nibali is bound by his current contract, and is not free to walk away without a massive financial hit.
    What is unknown are the details of any break clauses in his contact. For example, it would not have been unreasonable to have negotiated a break clause allowing him to walk if Astana lost its World Tour license (although unlikely his immediate support circle would have been able to get the same flexibility).

    Perhaps a follow up article could be “Should the Licence Commission strip Astana of its World Tour status”

  14. I would certainly trust the INRNG more than my own analysis, but why not Trek? I would guess they can dig deeper into their pockets if necessary and really what does the team have besides Cancellara? Bauke Mollema, really? Nibali is the real deal (obviously) for GTs whereas nobody else at Trek really is close. He has a high profile and taking him from Specialized to their own bikes would be a coup. I understand and agree with the main premise of the article that it would be difficult and is unlikely that Nibali would leave Astana, but money is a huge part of that and Trek seems like an option.

    • Are you joking, right?
      He should leave Astana because Vino is a “big doper” and ride under the direction of Andersen, who was known (quite unfairly) as “the biggest doper ever”? Not that Gallopin or Demol have got a very inspiring CV as DS, either.
      And what if they decide that – as it would be logical – Popvych and Schleck should be in his support team for the Tour, like it or not, as Astana did with Iglinsky?
      I could share your view only from a cynical – while indeed realistic – point of view: it doesn’t matter if a team deserves or not any true credibility based on its staff and so; at the end of the day, what is relevant is if it gets under the limelight or not (eventually, because of some kind of political game in the UCI & C.).
      People’s memory is short and easily manipulated through media and cheap stereotypes, so why bother with the real *content* of a team? Sail towards calm seas, whether the water is clean or not is secundary.
      The funny thing is that maybe that’s how Nibali decided to move to Astana, which looked way more at peace with the world a couple of years ago, whereas Trek looked quite a dangerous place, then. But the political battlefield can change faster than ironclad contracts and their golden chains…
      As a cyclist, you can’t really do much more than “being a good boy” (which doesn’t necessarily mean just “not to dope”) and cross your fingers.

      • Very nice, Gabriele, you already wrote most of what I’d have written, too. Thanks. I remember how some were wishing that Purito should win the Vuelta, because he is such a “nice, humble and decent” guy. Ok, you never know, maybe by chance these people really know him and not just the nice things we all would say in front of a camera or a microphone, plus the fact that he often tries to win and fails (most likely the real reason why he is perceived as “humble”). Fast forward a few weeks and the opinions on this nice man sway, because- in a situation we all know nothing about – he acted questionable. If we never would have heard about this incident, he would stayed the “good guy” to those forever. If we wouldn’t make this a popularity contest, but keep it about what it is, Cycling, we would do much to help cycling get away from the image it has become. I can’t understand that the question where Nibali should work or not is even discussed. And of course mentioning the bad word is enough to sell many words on a daily basis and many books. I once saw a reader rate a book about a LIFE of a person as a bad book, because it doesn’t mention doping so much and didn’t name others. Seems he was interested in the sport doping and not in cycling or the rider.

        • That is an interesting example to use, because Deignan only wrote about Rodriguez punching him /after/ two other riders were disqualified from the Vuelta for the same reason a few stages later. The main differences between them and Rodriguez is they weren’t GC contendors and they were caught on camera.

          In the time between watching Brambilla v Rovny live, and reading Deignan’s article, I saw several journos and riders (including Deignan’s teammate Porte) make light of their fight. I don’t think that’s inherently bad considering it /was/ pretty funny but there was a certain element of ‘what’s the big deal? why are people so mad? why should they be disqualified?’ about it. The SBS commentators were more critical about the race officiators apparently taking too long to disqualify them than they were of the fight. I didn’t see any more of that once Deignan wrote his spiel. I like to think it’s because it made people think ‘oh, maybe riders punching each other when going at speed in a group is a bad idea’ but that’s probably my idealism again…

          You could draw a comparison between ‘Rodriguez got away with punching a guy in the face’ and ‘Vino got caught doping and is still successful’ and the possible influence this had on younger riders who decided they could get away with the same thing. This kind of bad example setting is something people need to move away from. In light of that I can understand people being leery of Nibali, even if I think it’s pointless to expect him to break contract.

          That said, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places but I haven’t see ANY ongoing derision of Rodriguez for his faux-pas like I’ve seen for Nibali (who hasn’t been tested positive himself) riding for Astana. Is it because Nibali has been more successful than Rodriguez in the GTs and this is what the Australians call tall poppy syndrome? Nah, it’s probably like you said, people just like gossiping about doping.

  15. I guess that’s a lot of especulation going on here. Maybe the guy ins’t worried at all. Maybe Nibali is just dealing with it as an unfortunate but inherent part of his sport. No biggy, just bussiness as usual

  16. “Bjarne Riis is assembling a cadre of managers that should be called the “50 plus club”, not for their age but their haematocrit when racing.”

    inrng, you sure know how to turn a phrase…

  17. If he left Astana my guess is that he wouldn’t perform as well. Make of that what you will.

    Far too many dodgy performances coming from that team including his.

    • Yeah, it’s sooooo unlikely that a rider who at his 26 was a GT winner with a couple of Giro podia, too – and went on at 27 to make podium in the Tour, just behind the Sky dynamic duo, on a course that was pretty unsuitable to him – may win a Tour or a Giro.
      All the previous results, while in the Liquigas team.

  18. I don’t believe that an established champion would be moved to change his winning formula just because he’s in a new team, and surely the new team would not want him to. Nibali has established winning ways on a bike and Astana are paying him big money to keep on doing it. No guilt by association for me.

  19. Only in cycling is one required to drop his entire livelihood because he happened to stay in the same hotel as a guy who doped! Oh and to appease the doubters who will continue to doubt whether he stays, leaves, retires or wins the next tour on a tricycle. I’m sorry but the suggestion to leave Astana is ridiculous in my opinion. There’s no proof the doping was structural, and there’s no proof of nibz doping himself (he gets tested all the time, just like other wt riders)- that’s all that counts – innocent until proven guilty, whatever the betrayed hurt and disappointed bike forum mafia demands. (Not talking about the well-informed INRNG readers obviously!)

    I think Nibali said the things about Iglinskiy before the Tour because he knew those bros were shady. He has his team within the team of trusted companions, he’s got Astana paying the bills, and I think considers the rest as collateral.

  20. Nibali took the money route, knowing full well the previous history, current management and medical structure.

    One should not worry too much about his supposed predicament, he was well aware of both the potential dangers and implications, but choose to ignore the obvious facts for the sake of his bank balance.

    • It’s really unfair to associate the money route just to the personal bank account (which is an aspect of it, indeed).
      A rich team means also that support riders and qualified staff can be bought to make a serious bid for the Tour, especially if you’re going to be one of the lead riders in the peloton and can’t just ride on someone else’s wheels.
      Teams like the old HTC or Giant-Shimano knowingly renounced to bet on big GC riders because it’s not just about buying a big name and throwing him in the mix.
      Thus, it’s not only about personal greed (or economic foresight if you prefer), it’s about sporting ambition, which a rider gifted with that potential must naturally be endowed with.

      The couple of WT teams without significant “potential dangers and implications” related to “previous history”, “current management” and/or “medical structure” just don’t happen to have the necessary critical mass to manage a TdF GC as Nibali’s case would require.

      I’d also add that if you go to a lesser team, it’s very difficult that they can hire all of your fellow riders, trainer, soigneurs and so, which ultimately means that you can’t build your own work group within the team, hence being way more exposed to whatever bad practice may be usual within the team (police investigations have disclosed several interesting stories about this kind of situations: or did you think that *only the big ones go bad*?).

      • Gabriele. A long reply with many points. My point was singular. That Nibali choose his own destination, based presumably, on amongst other considerations, the monetary reward. To argue differently is to avoid the obvious. I would add he also had the benefit of having full knowledge of the teams somewhat turbulent history and current staff. No problem. In view of this individuals choice, and the team chosen, I don’t feel an ounce of sympathy for Nibali. He is exactly where he choose to be.

        Lets not forget that SKY had at one time showed interest, but data made available to them caused a change of plan.

        Pantani also had the financial clout to hire his own team. That didn’t mean much !

        These questions are in general without answers. To try and psychoanalyse a sport which has such deep routed problems is all but impossible. Nibali is where he chose to be, for whatever reason.

        • To stress one point, or, better said, one singular aspect of one point, is to conceal other (multiple) aspects.
          SKY is not an “ethic” option, for me, not very much better than Astana (maybe worse, from one or two possible points of view) but that’s just a very personal opinion.
          Nibali, indeed, would have happily gone there in 2009. But breaking his contract with Liquigas wasn’t a viable option.
          Nevertheless, he was offered a multi-year contract, or so he declared to the press.
          I’ve got no information about what you say on data and such. I recall Brailsford saying he refused a big rider and some lesser rider because of BP data in a 2009 interview, but what I read in the Guardian seemed very hard to refer to Nibali.
          Did he face the matter elsewhere, maybe to refute Nibali’s interview? I’d be happy to read exactly who said what and when (Nibali’s interview was during San Luis 2013, on CN).

        • Nibali was NOT the rider Sky decided against signing due to concerns about his data. Brailsford remains a fan and has tried to sign him on at least two occasions.

          I believe the rider in question has since been banned.

        • Point of fact, BC, it was not Nibali whose bio passport made Sky back away but another Italian rider altogether.

          Brailsford has remained an admirer of Nibali’s, and is on public record as such.

          • Sam, Beth and Gabriele,

            Always like to back up my comments with a reference where possible. On this occasion I have failed to find the relevant document, so must accept that I might have been incorrect. I can almost quote from memory the precise words – but not good enough ! Withdraw comment.

  21. Leave Astana, take a big pay-cut, sign for MTN-Quebeka, give them a wildcard entrties to the grand tours in which Niballi would race at. The team has signed a lot of big names, no clear cut leader. I’m dreaming but i’d love to see that!

  22. Nobody speak about a possibility with OPQS ?

    It would be in fact a good solutions for him and for Lefevere who is looking for top GC riders more than just Uran…

    I think OPQS would be the best team for Nibali thanks to his talent, motivation and racing style.

    Someone agree ?

    • See my answer to MJJ above 😛

      Besides, from a technical point of view it’s not so easy to “build up” a team to fight for GC, both in terms of support riders and of DSs expertise. Despite Urán’s results, right now it looks like there’s still some way to go to be competitive in the Tour for the Quickstep group.
      Losing the likes of De Gendt and Poels isn’y fully compensated for by the arrivals of De La Cruz and Bouet.
      And I’m far from sure, but I think that Urán’s results were the best ever in GT’s GC for the team, which is quite incredible if you think that it’s one of the oldest structures of the circus.
      Nibali could take his men with him, but it would be a risk anyway, since Lefevere is not less of a commanding character than Vino.

  23. Any team Vino is involved with I would consider as bent as a nine quid note. In the past, now and any future team. He should have NOTHING to do with cycling as a sport, just the same as that b*****d Brewnail.

  24. Another superb blog by INRING, it does make me wonder what we would have to talk about if we did not have the constant barrage of doping positives.

    How should we view Nibali if he doesnt leave or if he extends his contract? Does it say something about him?

    Being stuck in a contract is one thing …. extending it another?

    Should we be asking Contador to leave Saxo?

  25. Although it seems completely disorganized and hopeless at the moment, why not approach the Alonso Project? They are no doubt looking for a marquee rider and credibility, and Nibali could have a strong position to negotiate from in regard to salary and staff, assuming the rumors of deep pockets are true. Perhaps not registering at ProTour level; such a team is still likely to get wildcards to the Grand Tours given his results and the publicity it could bring.

    • Thing, is, that’s two years in a row they have been making noises about making a team, and two years in a row it didn’t happen. I would doubt Nibali would want to get burned and stuck without a good contract because he was banking on Alonso to sign him. Besides, Alonso’s got bigger things to worry about. Sixth in the drivers’ championship this year and no wins? And when Vettel joins Ferrari he’ll become the #2 man.

    • It’s cool that we all have our favourites – one of the great things about cycling is that there’s so many different personalities out there to draw us into the sport.


      Jeremy Whittle pretty much nails the myth of Vino in the latest Cycling Anthology – his ‘faux panache’ was something that was bought from an Italian doctor and his ‘courage in adversity came from a batch of blood bags he’d made earlier’.

      I can only agree with him.

      • I don’t know Whittle very well, but I’d define these sentences as sheer rhetoric.
        I’ve read some pages of Bad Blood and I just can describe it as deeply biased and quite far from understanding much of cycling.
        If there was something like antidoping for writing, the test tube would be glowing enough to light up a room
        …(paying back with the same kind of counterfeit money 😛 )…

        • I understand what you mean Gabriele, it seems different when the doper is not “one of ours” as the treatment of David Millar demonstrates. The “real cheats” always seem to be “those other guys”. I remember how vigorously BigTex was defended in the USA while “those dirty Italians” were vilified. But let’s celebrate the civilized discourse we enjoy here vs the “you suck” “NO, you suck!” claptrap that appears elsewhere. W Inrng!!!

  26. Seems IRNG raised the heat level in our off season with this post story.

    Why can’t we all just agree, doping was unfortunately a factor in the past, and hopefully will not be in the future of our sport of road racing. If we all keep that in mind, we should be able to have more meaningful
    dialogue within this forum.

    What the hell does ” bent as a nine quid note” mean?

    • It refers to British currency. There’s no such thing as a nine pound note, if someone handed you one you’d be instantly suspicious. The More You Know

      And as much as I wish I could never hear another crappy joke about contaminated steak again in my life (SHUT UUUUUP) you can’t just tell people to stop talking about a hot button topic, especially not one that the rest of the internet and journalism can’t let go of and when there’s such a prevalent theme of ‘there’s still an issue’. If it makes you feel better these comments are waaaay more civil than most internet arguments I’ve seen in in the past. 😛

  27. More bad news for Astana.

    The UCI today announced a fifth doping positive for the Astana organisation, and the third for the Continental team. Artur Fedosseyev tested positive on August 16, 2014 for an anabolic steroid.

    • This is getting ridiculous. Are they just passing out steroids at that team? There have been tests for steroids since like the 80’s. Who in their right mind would be taking them now? The management must be either completely corrupt, or completely oblivious, and I’m leaning towards corrupt at this point.

      • So many people still using this… I’m starting to think it’s a good ideia, maybe a could finish a criterium this year
        ahahahhahaha I swear I’m joking

      • In lieu of an entire diatribe . . .

        Was the death of a rider of ‘natural causes’ in ECUADOR not on anyone’s radar? Good work by SStokes here. Shouldn’t it be big news in the sport of cycling when license holder at an elite level dies? Have I missed any others this year? Doping here or there- death of a pro? Where is theUCI? Grrrrrrrrrr……..

        • What sad news and I’d missed it before. But I think that suggests just how off the radar the Astana Continental team were and why most people had not heard of them, it’s only the link to Nibali and the Iglinskiy Bros that means “Astana” is looking so bard.

          I had heard only heard of Davidenok when he won the Tour of Quinghai Lake and was impressed by his result in the Tour de l’Avenir… but now we know this was aided by steroids (and possibly more). But all the other riders I’d not read a word about.

          • More than sad. We should ALL know when someone carrying a UCI license dies of sudden death due to cardio-pulmonary episode. That’s the responsibility of any governing sport body to communicate rapidly and openly. If this is not policy, it should be. If it is not followed, heads should role. What else have we missed this year? The year before?

            I just looked for information on the UCI’s website. Nothing – even with a search. Really hard for me to stomach.

  28. Sky offered him a deal before and with there Sponsors having Italian interests and the support riders to support Nibali in Italy and Froome in France it could work. Trek makes sense, so do BMC and QS.

  29. And something relevant to the article; the website when reporting the latest positive for the team titled the piece “Fifth doping case at Nibali’s Astana”.

    If there is nothing else there is clear association outside of the cycling world between the teams ethics and that of the rider.

    • Precisely, “outside of the cycloing world”. The man in the street isn’t going to realise there’s a team difference between Nibali and three of the positives. They just see “Astana” because to be fair, that’s how most of the regular media have reported it. Nibali should think hard about this for his image if nothing else – you gotta remember Kreuziger was at Astana too during his now-disputed time, and Contador too when he was busted for the 2010 tour, add that to Vino as team boss and it’s not especially rosy.

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