by Ryland James
MONACO, July 2, 2009 (AFP) – Banned rider Alexandre Vinokourov, whose doping suspension ends on July 24, insisted he will return to the Astana team even if it means its manager, Johan Bruyneel, has to leave the team.
The 35-year-old Kazakh, who failed a doping test at the 2007 Tour, is free to ride again later this month and on Thursday reiterated his intention to return to the team which was created by and for him in 2006.
Astana is currently managed by Bruyneel, the man who helped orchestrate Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France triumphs and who, beginning Saturday, begins another quest for the race’s coveted yellow jersey.
Bruyneel has been slow to comment on any eventual return of ‘Vino’ to the Kazakhstan-backed team’s ranks.
But Vinokourov was adamant he will return to the team whether Bruyneel likes it or not.
“I will return to professional cycling on July 24,” said Vinokourov at a press conference.
“Astana was created in 2006, it is our baby, I would not want to join another team.
“I am negotiating with Johan Bruyneel, but the Kazakhstan cycling federation wants me to ride in this team.
“This team was created for me and it is down to me and I don’t see why I should not return.
“If he doesn’t want me then he should leave the team.”
With 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador and seven-time champion Armstrong spearheading Astana’s charge, Vinokourov said he has yet to speak to Armstrong as he prepares to watch Saturday’s start from the sidelines.
Vinokourov was initially banned for a year by the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation, but another year was added after the UCI, the sport’s governing body, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to raise the term.
But the Kazakh, a former third place finisher on the Tour, refused to shed any light on the positive test for blood doping which saw him, and the entire Astana team, thrown out of the Tour in 2007.
“No, I still don’t have an answer to what happened. But I complied with the UCI’s rules for the two years I was banned and stayed silent,” added Vinokourov, who also underlined his plans for the autumn.
“I would like to compete on the Tour of Poland, the Tour of Spain and the world championships.
“I will race for one or two years maximum, for my children and to rehabilitate my image on the world stage.
“Over the last two years I have followed cycling on television, it is my passion.
“I only stopped riding for a few months in 2007, I have cycled with friends a lot in the last two years.
“It was always my dream to compete in another Tour de France.”