Who is running Team Astana?
Although the normal answer would be team directors Giuseppi Martinelli and Yvon Sanquer, the real power lays with the Kazak Cycling Federation and in particular president Nikolaï Proskurin.
That fact was underlined Saturday when Proskurin, not Martinelli or Sanquer, suggested to L’Equipe that four Kazak riders will be part of the nine man squad for the 2010 Tour de France.
It was this kind of meddling that infuriated former manager Johan Bruyneel. In his interview with the Belgian magazine Humo several months ago, the former manager of Astana claimed Proskurin was always trying to force more Kazak riders onto his roster.
“At the Tour I had selected the Kazak rider [Muravyev] they didn’t want,” said Bruyneel. “They wanted Bazayev and Iglinsky but I suspended the first during the Tour de Suisse because he was messing up his whereabouts and Iglinksy only rides for himself.”
Johan’s ideal number of Kazaks on a grand tour roster? He’d round the number down to zero. “What Vinokourov and Kascheskin messed with isn’t my mistake and except for those two there’s nobody in Kazakhstan. Yes, three domestiques, including two I’m not trusting and a bunch of young guys who aren’t ready for the Tour de France,” said Bruyneel.
(This brings up an challenging new cycling tongue twister: How many Kazaks can a Kazak count on if a Kid Contador could call Kazaks in Kazakhstan?)
At Radio Shack, Bruyneel has eight of the nine riders who were on Astana’s last Tour de France roster. There’s a high probability that defending champion Alberto Contador will be riding with a weaker team and perhaps one with divided loyalties. The Spaniards will ride for Alberto but will the three or four Kazaks?
Alberto Contador admitted last year was his most difficult and rewarding year. Speaking to Spanish daily AS, he said, “It seems that something happens to me every winter. Either I don’t have a contract, or we’re not going to the Tour, or Armstrong decides to come back, or I don’t have a team at all. I always seem to lack some degree of tranquility, but I always manage to avoid letting it affect my training.”
What’s clear is that Contador’s final year with Astana will be anything but tranquil. He won’t be battling with his own teammate as he did with Armstrong. He’ll be battling with the Kazak Cycling Federation. On the plus side, Proskurin doesn’t use twitter like Armstrong. On the downside, Proskurin brings to mind the crude shoe-banging of Khrushchev, the dead Russian cold war leader. It’s Borat without the comedy.
The Kazak Cycling Federation won’t be choosing a tour roster based on talent or a commitment to Contador. They’ll be filling positions based on which riders know the words to the Kazak national anthem. Sample lyric: “Emerging from malicious grip of fate, from hell of fire, We scored a victory of glory and success.”
Johan Bruyneel had the track record and power to over-rule the Kazak Cycling Federation’s roster selections. Will Astana team directors Martinelli and Sanquer have the same control?
Twisted Spoke has examined the situation in great detail. Our assessment: Not a chance in hell.