Will Vino’s fall at Astana take down Nibali?
Doubtful that Vincenzo Nibali is still tranquillo at this point. Things were bad and embarrassing when it was the Brothers Iglinskiy and their two EPO fails and the three steroid cases from the Astana feeder team. That’s several piles of dirty blue and yellow laundry.
Then Dr Evil Michele Ferrari was once again forced out from under his rock. Sensationalist Italian newspaper Gazzette Dello Sport published new claims of Ferrari attending an Astana training camp in November 2013. Which was a last minute torpedo attempt on the teams’s desperate attempt to secure their WorldTour license for 2015.
Things were dire in Kazaktown but most critics figured the UCI would deliver the license with a PR slap on the wrist, bad Astana, don’t do that again. Things would go back to normal for ex-doper and team boss Alexander Vinokourov and Nibali could once again focus on his training instead of doing his own damage control on a situation that threatened to engulf his Tour repeat hopes.
Then the shit storm hit and suddenly Astana is now on life-support. Gazette dello Sport details the highlights of the the long running Padova doping investigation from 2010 and 2011. While a good portion of it is old news (Hey, Denis Menchov!) the new claim is that Vino and Ferrari had set up an entire doping program for the team.
Of particular interest and damnation, the report says Vinokourov and Ferrari had a contract for at least 10 Astana riders in 2010. Now we all know that Italian doping investigations often drag on forever, generating a tremendous amount of smoke but little fire, suspensions or convictions. That said, we can metaphorically state that Vino’s house is in fact burning down as we speak.
Setting aside the unrepentant Vino, what is the final outcome now? How will the UCI deal with Astana’s WorldTour license when the Katusha precedent no longer applies? The Russian squad had some “ethical issues” but still managed to win their case in the Court for Arbitration in Sport and get their ticket back. Astana is clearly in a whole other category of deceit and lies.
We’re wondering how Nibali escapes from the collapsing building. At bare minimum, it now seems believable that the UCI downgrade Astana to Pro Continental status. In addition, it’s easy to imagine Cookson and company insisting that Vino be removed immediately and forever from any role in the squad. His days are done and maybe it’s time for him to run for political office in Kazakhstan.
If that’s the scenario, Nibali may still be assured of riding Le Tour anyway despite all the dark clouds. As a wildcard, Astana would need the invite but would ASO be prepared to say no to the reigning Tour champion? Given the pervasive cheating at Astana, it’s more than possible that Christian Prudhomme would say “absolutement non.” The Italian would crash out of the Tour before it even started.
What’s a Shark to do? Join old man Chris Horner at Airgas-Safeway for a quiet year racing in the United States? Nibble could take a working vacation and win the Tour of California, Utah and the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Or he could hide out in the desert with Dubai’s Skydive team. The money is very good and Paco Manchebo can show him the ropes. There are few cycling terms in the Arabic language but that’s not saying Nibali couldn’t invent his own.
In point of fact, Nibali is now isolated on a hors categorie climb — teammates all gone, no help in sight, energy flagging. He has little choice but to stay the course and it sure looks ugly from here.