Suspend Astana now

It's hard to avoid the Borat jokes when considering the current state of the Kazakh-financed Astana team.

It's hard to avoid the Borat jokes when considering the current state of the Kazakh-financed Astana team.

To lose Matthias Kessler to a positive testosterone test at Flèche Wallonne was bad enough, but to have that setback compounded with positive blood doping tests for Alexandre Vinokourov at the Tour de France and Andrey Kashechkin last week while training in Turkey is a farce on a hugely comic scale. And let's not forget Eddy Mazzoleni left the team after being implicated in an Italian doping investigation.

Astana, of course, was born out of the collapse of the Liberty Seguros team, which fell apart in the early days of the Puerto scandal. That meant Vinokourov and co missed out on last year's Tour but returned at the Vuelta, which they ended with two riders on the podium. Yes, that's right, "Vino" and "Kash", with the Puerto-tinged Alejandro Valverde sandwiched between them.

The news about Kashechkin leaves the whole team looking less credible than Borat Sagdiyev

In order to regroup after Vinokourov's positive test, Astana announced they were withdrawing from the Tour and then from racing altogether until the end of August, the plan being for their riders to spend two weeks training in Switzerland starting this weekend to prepare for the Vuelta, which starts on September 1. But the news about Kashechkin leaves the whole team looking less credible than Borat Sagdiyev, and surely makes their presence at the Vuelta untenable.

Vuelta boss Victor Cordero has said he will review Astana's place in his race on Monday, but has indicated he isn't too well disposed towards confirming the place he offered them a few weeks ago. Let's hope Señor Cordero takes a hard line, and doesn't wilt in his previous rejection of the Relax team, who have several riders implicated in Puerto on their books. With a beefed up testing procedure already announced, it will be interesting to see how this Vuelta goes off. Will we have still have the high speeds and frenetic activity of recent years? Will Spanish riders dominate totally? And will Astana be there?

Let's hope the answer to the last question at least is no. Surely it would be best for Astana and cycling for the Kazakh team to take an even longer time-out and get their house in order.

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