According to a press release issued by the Astana cycling team today, news of the squad’s demise has been grossly exaggerated. The statement says that the Swiss-based, Kazakh-sponsored outfit have the ‘formalities of 2008 UCI licence in hand’ (though it does not specify a ProTour one) and that its agreement with the Kazakh Cycling Federation will continue.
After the high-profile withdrawal of the entire Astana cycling team from the Tour de France as a result of Alexandre Vinokourov testing positive for blood transfusion during the event, it looked like the squad was on the rocks. Then, Astana rider Andrey Kashechkin was tested whilst training in Turkey and also failed a control for homologous blood transfusion.
Subsequently, the team lost its bike sponsor, BMC, and then lost its place on the Tour of Spain, all whilst the squad was serving a self-imposed one-month suspension from competition during August as it tried to sort things out.
Having no bikes, few places to race and – frankly – little credibility would spell the end for most cycling teams. However, today an eight-man squad wearing the Astana’s distinctive kit will line up at the Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen and then the Prix Jerome Dekimpe tomorrow, both in Belgium.
It begs the question: Is Astana loyally honouring a contract to complete the 2007 season with its sponsors, or blindly carrying on unaware that the squad’s mere presence taints the sport?