Alexandre Vinokourov was fired by Astana before being re-instated just one day later, according to eye-opening revelations from a former sports director on the team.
Dmitry Sedun, who worked for the team for 15 years, was let go in 2020 in an ongoing shake-up that has seen Canadian investment and management extend their control over the traditionally Kazakh team.
In an interview with national outlet Kzaif (opens in new tab), Sedun details how the behind the scenes upheaval has affected the sporting side of the team, including "unnecessary bureaucracy" and the "serious mistake" of letting Miguel Ángel López leave for Movistar despite the Colombian only wanting to be paid the same money he was already on, López keen stay after winning a stage of the Tour de France and finishing sixth overall last year.
"Trust me, the Colombian was worth that money. You can save on something else but keep the key rider. There are not many cyclists of his level in the world who are guaranteed to fight for the top spots in Grand Tours," Sedun said, going on to say that López was burned out at the end of the 2020 Tour de France as he went over the limit to prove to management he was worth keeping and that this cost him his podium spot, which he forfeited after losing six minutes on the stage 20 time trial.
Sedun then argues that although the new people in charge are successful in their own fields, they don't know a lot about bike racing, and likens it to if he was "appointed to lead the ballet troupe of the Mariinsky Theatre".
He details how new management, acquired gradually by Yana Zel who was appointed as managing director three years ago, now play "first fiddle" and have driven the team into a "rigid bureaucratic framework", with bicycles being counted "two hundred times over the past few years" and forcing support staff to write "constant reports". He says he would understand these changes if the team was "flawed" and needed to be pulled out of a hole, but this is not the case, and that it's been a minor miracle the team has been able to achieve multiple major victories these past few seasons. This year, however, Astana's victory list includes only two stages of the Tour of the Basque Country.
Sedun says that over time Vinokourov (who rode for the team before becoming its general manager) was also removed from strategic decisions, left only to deal with the sporting side as the new management took over strategic and financial decisions.
This management switch came about after Astana switched their technical sponsor to Candian bike manufacturer Argon 18 in 2017, who provided the team with a reasonable sum of money as well as equipment, who introduced the team to Premier Tech, the company then becoming a sponsor after harbouring the desire to enter the WorldTour for a number of years.
More interestingly, Sedun says that Astana has been "hanging" on a Luxembourg company called Abacanto SA for the past ten years, which is half-owned by a Candian sponsor, the other half Kazakh, and if Kazakhstan suddenly decided to stop financing the team the team's licence would automatically become Canadian.
Sedun claims that towards the end of 2020 contract renegotiations for him and fellow sports director Alexander Shefer were delayed until he learned through reports in the press that neither of them would be involved with the team going forward.
"They didn't even say thank you. Oh, sorry for that inaccuracy, I then read somewhere that the new management of Astana - Premier Tech expressed gratitude to us on the pages of a newspaper."
He then goes on to claim that management also tried to get rid of Vinokourov, the former pro having caused a fuss over the firing of Sedun and Shefer, before the 47-year-old was reinstated a day later, Sedun alleging that someone higher up had maybe "corrected" the decision.
"Can you only imagine what a fuss could have erupted in the world media if information leaked to the press that the founder and ideological mastermind of Astana was simply killed? Apparently, that's why everything was quickly changed," he claims.
He goes on to say that Vinokourov now holds a position which translates into Russian as "commander-in-chief" but that different people essentially run the team. Sedun adds that Vinokourov is hanging in there for the moment, and hoping that the situation in the team will change for the better in the future.
Astana have been contacted for comment
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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