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Vinokourov unhappy with media coverage – but Cookson warns Astana are ‘on a very short leash’

Astana general manager says his team have been ‘smeared’ by the press

Astana general manager, Alexandre Vinokourov, has suggested that the team will consult with its lawyers over what he perceives as being libellous media coverage in recent months. Meanwhile, UCI president Brian Cookson has referred to Astana’s ‘long and chequered history’ and says it wouldn’t take much for the team to be referred back to the licence commission.

Speaking to Kazakhstan news site Vremya, Vinokourov is reported by VeloNews to have said:

“In the last few weeks, we have been thoroughly smeared by the press, especially in Italy. ‘Astana’ for them is once again the evil violator of all law and order. Luckily for us, that’s not true, and the UCI’s independent commission ignored the slander in examining our licence.

“Now that all these difficulties are behind us, I think that as soon as I can get back to the office, I will consult with our lawyers. I think that at a minimum we should be able to get an apology for the slander that has been dumped on the team in the last months.”

Astana were last week issued with a WorldTour licence, but UCI president Brian Cookson has since told The Guardian that the team are “on a very short leash at the moment.”

A team from Lausanne University is currently investigating the extent to which Astana was responsible for recent doping positives and will also scrutinise whether it complies with upcoming measures designed to ensure teams are responsible for their riders. The deadline for this audit is February 2015 and Cookson says failure to cooperate will be viewed highly unfavourably.

Emphasising that one more positive test could see the end for the team, Cookson added: “Frankly it wouldn’t take very much for them to be referred back to the licence commission. Astana have a long and chequered history going back eight years, and that too could tell against them.”

Referring to a team press release which described Astana as being “happy and proud” to have been awarded a licence as well as a somewhat infamous picture published on Twitter of the team celebrating with champagne, Cookson said the team had nothing to be celebrating about. “Allegations continue to be made which are very worrying for them as a team and as individuals. We are all getting heartily sick of it.”

Quite how Vinokourov will react to this is unclear as he appears to believe that negative coverage of his team is largely borne of jealousy.

“The goal is always the same — to bring down Astana. They envy us, especially the Italians. The two best Italian riders defend Kazakh team colours, and that is something their countrymen really don’t like.

“For instance, Nibali races the Tour of Almaty, but doesn’t start Giro di Lombardia. Or they want to see him in their own Giro d’Italia, but he chooses the Tour de France, because for him the team’s interests have priority.”

Cookson says that the UCI has to be ‘belt and braces certain’ before taking any action, as all evidence has to be admissible in a court of law. “The licence commission has made a very detailed assessment, making a judgment which allows further consideration of information if it comes to light and I’m confident that will be sooner rather than later.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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