Will Astana call it a day?

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01/08/07/ After Alexander Vinokourov was sacked by his Astana team on Monday, the team announced yesterday that it will suspend its activities in August. Meanwhile Vinokourov was backed by the Kazach cycling federation and sponsor BMC termintated its contract with Astana. Will this be the end of Astana?

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Alexander Vinokourov during stage 15 of this years Tour de France (picture: Cyclingheroes)

Vinokourov lost a lot of time against his main opponents for the overall win of this years Tour de France after he crashed at the 5th stage, but the Kazach rider won the first time trail with a lead of 1 minute and 14 seconds. On the second rest day of the Tour it was announced that 'Vino' tested positive for homologous blood transfusion after the first time trail in Albi.

Vinokourov has denied any wrong doing. The 33 year old said: "I have always raced clean."  Vinokourov added: "These test results simply make no sense. Given all the attention paid to doping offences, you would have to be crazy to do what I have been accused of, and I am not crazy."

The Astana team fired star rider Alexander Vinokourov on Monday. In a statement the team said that the team "received confirmation that the B-sample of Alexandre Vinokourov was also 'non negative'. The rider is then fired from the Astana Cycling Team with immediate effect."

On Tuesday Bike manufacturer BMC terminated their contract with the Astana team. In a statement BMC said: "BMC has terminated prematurely its agreement with the Swiss/Khazakh cycling team Astana as per end of July 2007." The staement continues with: "The reason for this is the latest case of doping that occurred in the Astana team during the Tour de France that has just ended. Whether BMC will engage again in the future as a sponsor of a professional cycling team is still an open question. The other current BMC sponsoring activities in professional cycling, mountain biking and triathlon are not concerned by the present decision."

Astana also issued a statement, saying: "Following the last events, Astana Cycling Team decided to suspend its activities during the month of August. This time will allow the whole team - management, staff and riders - to think about its future." The team management will organise new regulations "on the level of the team's structure as of ethical rules."

But the problems for Astana seems to be much worse and the statement could be the beginning of the end for the Astana team. Kazach sports officials doesn't seem to like that Astana sacked Vinokourov and backed the 33 year old on Tuesday. "I do not believe that Vinokourov was guilty of doping," Kairat Aitekenov, deputy minister for tourism and sport, said in the capital Astana. The Astana team was founded by Vinokourov with the help of the defence minister of the country who is also the president of the Kazach cycling federation. "During the race he was injured and received treatment. He can't understand it himself, he's in shock," Aitekenov said. "To win by doping is something he would consider below his honour, this is a principled sportsman."

Alexander Antyshev, executive director of Kazakhstan's cycling federation, said: "We will insist that the results of the A and B sample blood tests were the result of his heavy fall."

Earlier this month Astana sacked Matthias Kessler after he had been tested positive for testosterone and Eddy Mazzoleni and advisor Walter Godefroot terminated their contracts with Astana after doping allegations.

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