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Astana rider responds to questions about doping - but recent cases suggest battle against cheats far from won

Vincenzo Nibali, runaway leader of the Tour de France, insists that a “new generation” of Italian riders are trying to bring back credibility to a sport afflicted by past doping scandals. Some recent cases however suggest that some still succumb to the temptation to cheat.

The Astana rider took his third stage victory of the race at Chamrousse on Friday to tighten his hold on the yellow jersey as the Tour heads towards its final week, and finished second on yesterday’s Stage 14 to Risouls to extend his lead to nearly 5 minutes.

As race leader, it’s unsurprising that Nibali faces questions about doping, all the more so given the history of some of the personnel at his Astana team.

One of his key support riders at the race, Michele Scarponi, was handed a backdated three-month ban in 2012 for associating with the banned doctor Michele Ferrari.

Astana’s general manager Alexandre Vinokourov served a ban for an illegal blood transfusion while riding for them during the 2007 Tour de France – the entire team left the race at the invitation of organisers ASO.

Meanwhile, sports director Giuseppe Martinelli worked in the same role at Mercatone Uno at the peak of Marco Pantani’s career.

"I don't know what to say about Martinelli, I have a good relationship with him and it's also thanks to him that I joined Astana," Nibali told the press last week, reports SBS.

"Astana invested a lot in Italians because we have credibility and they have changed the make-up of the whole group.

"There were errors made in the past by many riders but it's best to leave all that in the past and go forward.

"We're a new generation, there are young riders coming through and we must make room for those young riders trying to change cycling.

"We also have the biological passport, surprise controls and controls at your home.

"You can't say cycling hasn't changed, it's in a better situation but you can't change cycling from one day to another.

"I also joined Astana because it's important for me to progress and because I could build a group to tackle important races such as the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta a Espana."

Nibali’s insistence that the current crop of Italian riders are different from their predecessors ignores the fact that some of them do fail anti-doping controls, including high-profile cases involving stage winners in the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Mauro Santambrogio – like the Astana rider, aged 29 – had been banned for two years after testing positive for EPO during last year’s race, when the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia rider won the snow-affected Stage 14 after attacking with Nibali.

Last month, it emerged that Lampre-Merida rider Diego Ulissi, winner of two Giro stages this year, had been provisionally suspended after a urine sample was found to have twice the permitted concentration of the anti-asthma drug, salbutamol. Both Ulissi and his team contest the findings, and the case continues.

Italian cycling is also currently overshadowed by ongoing investigations led by magistrates in Mantua and Padua into doping to which a number of past and present riders and team staff have been linked.

Nibali acknowledged why he should be subject to questions about doping, however.

"It's normal, it also happened last year during the Giro and in the past when I've been on training camps," he reflected.

"But I think it belongs to the past. There are a few isolated cases, [but] there always will be imbeciles.

"I can't be a spokesman for the whole peloton but I assure you there's a great desire to improve and do more [to fight doping]."

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

19 comments

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WolfieSmith [1323 posts] 2 years ago
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I want to believe in Nibali - especially after an 'out of this world' Contador leaving him for dead on Mt Etna in the 2011 Giro...

But Nibbles assertion that Astana (of all teams) wants to work with Italians as they have 'credibility' is stretching er, credibility a little.

I do fear we'll be watching yet another high paced Vuelta this year. Who knows - maybe that consistent champion Cobo will be back to dance up the climbs on just tea and biscuits and the aerial coverage will be porchine.  29

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notfastenough [3679 posts] 2 years ago
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I know what you mean. The battles with Wiggo & co in 2012 made me think he was strong, but not superhuman. Currently though, he shows no signs of weakness where others are. Then again, maybe it's just because the others at his level have abandoned.

I found last year's vuelta ridiculous, quite frankly. The climbing battles were a work of fiction. Only Froome tired.

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daddyELVIS [655 posts] 2 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

I found last year's vuelta ridiculous, quite frankly. The climbing battles were a work of fiction. Only Froome tired.

More or less ridiculous than Froome's seated-spin attack in the TdF, which was a 'result of being in the wrong gear' (er, later revised to 'wind-tunnel tested and deliberate')?

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HarrogateSpa [354 posts] 2 years ago
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Quote:

I found last year's vuelta ridiculous, quite frankly. The climbing battles were a work of fiction.

Of course I don't know the details, and I can only go on a general impression from afar, but I feel the same about the Vuelta, and have given up watching it.

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FarehamOxonian [3 posts] 2 years ago
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Just look at the facial expressions of riders when tackling big climbs - more and more nowadays show the pain and effort of climbing which many think is a sign of less doping.

As for those who continually tackle these climbs with a 'deadpan' expression of their faces ...............

Make your own mind up.

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chiv30 [986 posts] 2 years ago
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After the season his nibs has had and his now total dominance in this tdf, my gut says doping on a new drug that fails to show or can be masked within reason on the bio passports and urine tests  17

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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chiv30 wrote:

After the season his nibs has had and his now total dominance in this tdf, my gut says doping on a new drug that fails to show or can be masked within reason on the bio passports and urine tests  17

Just to play devils advocate a little, what about considering the fact he rode into form? With his peak starting to rise in the Italian nationals, and this is maintaing it.

Seems far more realistic than what we've seen in the last few years of an almost season long peak in week long races cuminatling in a GT...

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Simon E [2720 posts] 2 years ago
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A large number of riders claim this is a new, clean generation.

Yet riders are still getting busted for EPO and other stuff. When it happens they all look the other way and mutter "I never knew anything", teammates included.

So if they don't know their teammates are doping how can they be sure that the peloton as a whole is clean?

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Simmo72 [603 posts] 2 years ago
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Systematic doping at a team level is gone, but individuals will always try their luck, we are seeing these being caught. I do wish Nibbles would ride for another team, can't stand Astana and its history......Vino makes me want to vomit.

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chiv30 [986 posts] 2 years ago
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glynr36 wrote:
chiv30 wrote:

After the season his nibs has had and his now total dominance in this tdf, my gut says doping on a new drug that fails to show or can be masked within reason on the bio passports and urine tests  17

Just to play devils advocate a little, what about considering the fact he rode into form? With his peak starting to rise in the Italian nationals, and this is maintaing it.

Seems far more realistic than what we've seen in the last few years of an almost season long peak in week long races cuminatling in a GT...

Time will tell but it's very strange especially when you look who his DS is and the team doctor then look at the amount of riders (current or ex) that have been busted at some point in Astana team history

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notfastenough [3679 posts] 2 years ago
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daddyELVIS wrote:
notfastenough wrote:

I found last year's vuelta ridiculous, quite frankly. The climbing battles were a work of fiction. Only Froome tired.

More or less ridiculous than Froome's seated-spin attack in the TdF, which was a 'result of being in the wrong gear' (er, later revised to 'wind-tunnel tested and deliberate')?

More. Froome's spin-class attack looked daft, but he wasn't showing stage-winning dominance in the same way. I always thought he (and/or his team-mates) sometimes looked shattered and possibly exposed, but fortunately for him, only at times when the risk wasn't as great due to terrain or other factors. Much as Sky's strategic nous is often questioned, I thought that was one of the standout elements of Froomes win - he wasn't invincible, he was just strong on the most dangerous days. Nibbles hasn't once looked like if you had the legs, you could have him.

FarehamOxonian wrote:

Just look at the facial expressions of riders when tackling big climbs - more and more nowadays show the pain and effort of climbing which many think is a sign of less doping.

As for those who continually tackle these climbs with a 'deadpan' expression of their faces ...............

Make your own mind up.

I take your point, but if you were trying to outwit multiple opponents, wouldn't it be handy to not look like you were hurting? I spent years practising martial arts, and the psychological battle is massive. No matter how much it hurts when you get decked, you come straight back with a deapan face - your opponent thinks "that was my best shot, and he didn't even blink, he's going to beat me", so I don't read too much into facial expressions. More telling, I think, is the upper body movement.

Simmo72 wrote:

Systematic doping at a team level is gone, but individuals will always try their luck, we are seeing these being caught. I do wish Nibbles would ride for another team, can't stand Astana and its history......Vino makes me want to vomit.

I know what you mean, it's a shame, (especially for the rider, if clean) because whenever Katusha or Astana win, I get the eebi jeebies.

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daddyELVIS [655 posts] 2 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

Froome's spin-class attack looked daft, but he wasn't showing stage-winning dominance in the same way...

I'll remind you of the ridiculous spectacle:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52xv2Hg2fkI

notfastenough wrote:

More telling, I think, is the upper body movement.

In the video clip - who has the least upper body movement - Froome or Contador?

notfastenough wrote:

Nibbles hasn't once looked like if you had the legs, you could have him.

Are you saying he's doping, or are you 'just sayin'?

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pwake [376 posts] 2 years ago
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chiv30 wrote:
glynr36 wrote:
chiv30 wrote:

After the season his nibs has had and his now total dominance in this tdf, my gut says doping on a new drug that fails to show or can be masked within reason on the bio passports and urine tests  17

Just to play devils advocate a little, what about considering the fact he rode into form? With his peak starting to rise in the Italian nationals, and this is maintaing it.

Seems far more realistic than what we've seen in the last few years of an almost season long peak in week long races cuminatling in a GT...

Time will tell but it's very strange especially when you look who his DS is and the team doctor then look at the amount of riders (current or ex) that have been busted at some point in Astana team history

Why is it "very strange"? Because he's not British?
It's not strange that the DS and doctor and teammates have some history; it's tough not to in this sport, just ask Team Sky.
Last time Nibali rode the TDF he finished third behind Wiggo and Froome, neither of whom are there this year, so are you saying that Wiggo's win and Froome's second are strange? In 2012 Nibali finished with a fairly hefty time gap (almost four minutes) over fourth-placed Van Den Broeck, so I fail to see any great leap in his performance this year. In fact Nibali's progression in GT's has been very steady and, if you are of a suspicious mind, a lot more believable than Froome's.

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andyp [1448 posts] 2 years ago
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' a lot more believable than Froome's. '

This. Very much so.

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BikeBud [205 posts] 2 years ago
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Nibali has been consistently there or thereabouts in major tours, but of course his performance does raise questions.

It seems unlikely that cycling can clean up its act completely whilst the likes of Vino are allowed to operate as team managers.

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notfastenough [3679 posts] 2 years ago
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daddyELVIS wrote:
notfastenough wrote:

Froome's spin-class attack looked daft, but he wasn't showing stage-winning dominance in the same way...

I'll remind you of the ridiculous spectacle:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52xv2Hg2fkI

notfastenough wrote:

More telling, I think, is the upper body movement.

In the video clip - who has the least upper body movement - Froome or Contador?

notfastenough wrote:

Nibbles hasn't once looked like if you had the legs, you could have him.

Are you saying he's doping, or are you 'just sayin'?

Genuinely, I don't know. Unlike many comments/threads on here, I'm not trying to argue! I suppose I'm just thinking aloud (I interpret 'just sayin' as when people make snide insinuations without just coming out and accusing - that's not my intention) while sitting on the fence.

I really, genuinely, hope this is a clean race from top to bottom. I want to believe it is.

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daddyELVIS [655 posts] 2 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

Genuinely, I don't know. Unlike many comments/threads on here, I'm not trying to argue! I suppose I'm just thinking aloud (I interpret 'just sayin' as when people make snide insinuations without just coming out and accusing - that's not my intention) while sitting on the fence.

I really, genuinely, hope this is a clean race from top to bottom. I want to believe it is.

Fair enough. Whether it is or it isn't, enjoy the spectacle - best sport in the world!

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Joelsim [1975 posts] 2 years ago
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Of course it's not clean, no sport is let alone endurance sports.

Less dirty than 10 years ago for sure. But alas.

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DrDave [10 posts] 2 years ago
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It always seems to me that any chance scientific evidence has got of proving or disproving doping is mired by; telly-watchers being able to tell what a doping/non-doping rider looks like when they're riding up a hill, some personal dislike (Froome in particular seems to suffer from this), dislike of Team Sky as boring, or preference for some particular style of rider they will defend, not having funding to keep up with new styles of doping.

I am not above any of this. I personally detest Cuntador. The evidence is that he has cheated and has been banned and stripped of a TdF win. (Nibali is suspicious as he seems invincible, but if he came second what would that prove?). He refused a test on his blood (why would you, even if you have nothing to hide it now looks like you have something to hide) But that never stops my cycling mates saying "Yeah, but look at Bertie dance on the pedals, and he's always attacking, he never gets tired". And so can I tell he's doping or not doping by watching him on the telly? Can I bollocks, (but I still hate him).

Reading David Walsh's 'Inside Team Sky" (and I mean reading it, not making assumptions about it), I thought it was a decent stab at exploring how to prove a pro-team isn't doping. But its not fool-proof. If Astana opened up to something like this, from a person with a decent reputation, maybe it would help? But then there will be plenty of people who slag off David Walsh.

The Grand Depart was partly so brilliant to experience because Team Sky as (the-nearest-thing-we-have-to-a) British team and as a (what-seems-to-me-although-I'm-not-a-scientist) clean team, got loads of cheers and support on the roads. Which must be good after all the unsubstantiated trolling from armchair smartarses that goes on.