Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali says he has no responsibility for last year’s doping scandals that threatened his Astana team’s WorldTour status, but admits that team management are powerless to stop riders who decide to use performance enhancing drugs.
In February, UCI president Brian Cookson asked the governing body’s independent licence commission to withdraw Astana’s licence, but after reviewing the situation, the panel decided the Kazakh team should remain in the WorldTour, subject to certain conditions.
Five riders linked to Astana failed doping controls last year, three from its development squad and two – the brothers Valentin and Maxim Iglinskiy – from the WorldTour side. The latter tested positive for EPO shortly after helping Nibali win the Tour de France.
CNN asked the Sicilian how much he felt his achievement in winning the yellow jersey had been eclipsed by his team’s problems.
“I don't stop for something I am not responsible for,” he replied, adding that the doping scandal “was several months ago and not my responsibility.
“My mind goes into one direction only, and that's what's important. I really have to avoid thinking about anything that doesn't belong to me or stops me from getting closer to my goal.”
The UCI Licence Commission decided to let Astana keep its licence in part because it was satisfied that the team’s internal procedures had changed to help prevent a repeat of last year’s problems.
Asked whether the outfit, managed by Alexander Vinokourov, was doing all it could to fight doping, Nibali said: “Each of us is responsible for their own actions.
“No doubt that Astana does all it can to try to be fair, especially with its racers. However, nobody can guarantee that a rider who is motivated to disrupt the system doesn't do it.
“I can't guarantee this doesn't happen, as Vinokourov can't guarantee it, as no sport director can.
“So, when something like this happens - and unfortunately it can happen in any team - we need strict and clear rules.
“When It happens, it's not the whole team [that should] pay for it, but only the individual who cheated ... and he should pay a lot.
Asked whether he had considered switching teams to protect his own reputation, the 30-year-old replied: “I am tied to the team for another year, until 2016. I am not free to move to another team, and I never thought of it anyway.
“The only reason why this (would) happen is if we (didn't) get the licence and the team was to shut down. In that case yes, I would have thought about another solution.”
Looking ahead to defending his crown in July, he said: “It isn't easy, every year is different.
“No doubt that the Tour de France this year has a different map from last year and so it needs to be tackled differently.”
This year’s race begins in Utrecht in the Netherlands on 4 July and heads through Belgium before crossing into France.
Nibali, who went into yellow last year on Stage 2 in Sheffield and kept the lead until Paris, reflected: “Last year we had some very nervy stages, but racing in the UK is very different from riding in Belgium.”
The 2013 Giro d'Italia winner's comments come at a time when his team, through Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru, occupy the two podium spots at his home Grand Tour behind race leader Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo, a race in which, for the most part, Astana have ridden strongly, leaving some to question how much has changed.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.