11. In conversation with Astana's Chris Baldwin
March 30 | In this episode of the Telegraph Cycling Podcast, we speak to Chris Baldwin, the press attaché for the Astana team as the Kazakh squads waits to hear if it will be granted a UCI WorldTour licence by the world’s governing body.
It has been a rollercoaster six months for the Astana team. Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France and the team was then rocked by positive tests, for blood-boosting drug EPO, for the Iglinsky brothers, Maxim and Valentin. Maxim had been a key domestique for Nibali during the Tour.
Add to that three other positive tests for riders on the Astana development squad, which is separate to the WorldTour team but has some links, and it cast a long shadow over the team.
Then there were reports in the Italian press that the banned doctor, Michele Ferrari, had met with the team's boss Alexandre Vinokourov and some of the riders – allegations the team strongly denies.
All this, and a review of the team's application for a UCI WorldTour licence, suggested an uncertain future.
This week, the UCI will consider whether the Astana team will be awarded a licence to race at the top level but whether they are successful or not, there remains a good deal of mystery about a squad that was borne out of one of the last decade's big doping scandals.
Formed in 2006, in the wake of the Operacion Puerto investigation which led the Spanish insurance firm Liberty Seguros to pull out of cycling, a consortium of Kazakh firms, with the blessing of the government, stepped in to ensure the nation's sporting hero, Vinokourov, had a team to ride for. The following year, Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion and served a suspension before returning to win the Olympic road race in London in 2012. Now he runs the team of the reigning Tour champion. The perception remains that the Astana team is opaque and indifferent to the doping scandals that have rocked the sport.
At Paris-Nice, Lionel sat down with Chris Baldwin to gain some insight into the team and its attitudes.