Astana going for clean in '08

Bruyneel hopes costly in-house doping controls will help Astana begin afresh in 2008

Team Astana has joined up with a major anti-doping expert in a bid to start afresh following a major doping scandal at the Tour de France in July.

Aware of the desperate situation in which the sport now finds itself, Bruyneel has brought on board Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, the Danish expert whose anti-doping programme, initially used by Team CSC, has won widespread respect in the sport.

Bruyneel is now hoping the Dane's battery of costly in-house doping controls will help Astana begin afresh in 2008.

"Zero tolerance is the minimum (requirement) and we want to go even further," said Bruyneel. "If we continue to tolerate actions like we have seen in the last few years we will only chase away sponsors from our sport."

Bruyneel added: "Dr. Damsgaard will have carte blanche while overseeing our riders during the 2008 season and we are requiring that he performs random independent in-house doping controls. It's the only way to prove to the world that we run a clean team and that clean cycling really exists."

The programme will include a scheduled 800 urine and blood analyses - many of which will be out of competition - during the season.

Urine samples will be tested for the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) and blood samples will be tested for growth hormone and homologous blood transfusions testing.

The Swiss-registered Kazakh-backed team was led by Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov during the three-week race where it was expected to be among the yellow jersey contenders.

However the entire team were thrown out halfway through after Vinokourov, a former Tour runner-up, tested positive for blood doping.

His main lieutenant, Andrey Kashechkin, tested positive for blood doping a
few weeks later, adding further suspicion on Astana following their sacking of German Matthias Kessler, for testosterone use, and Italian Eddy Mazzeloni, for suspected drugs use in the lead up to the race.

Astana have since sacked their manager, Marc Biver, and the team is now being run by Johan Bruyneel, who spearheaded Lance Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France wins.

According to the team, additionally each test will be analysed by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory, which would allow for a positive test to be later challenged by the relevant anti-doping authority.

"It's the best and most honest way of working," said Damsgaard. "Like the out-of-competition controls performed by the UCI (International Cycling Union), our surprise controls will have the same consequences for the riders. A positive test will be sanctioned."

In July Bruyneel was in charge of Discovery Channel as his Spanish team leader, Alberto Contador, claimed victory in the Tour de France.

Contador's stunning performances in the mountains came under much scrutiny, forcing the Spaniard - and Bruyneel - on the defensive at the end of July's race when French newspaper Le Monde claimed that Contador's name was linked to the Operation Puerto doping affair in Spain.

Contador has since joined Astana, where he has been joined by another former Discovery rider, `07 Tour third-place finisher American Levi Leipheimer.

Astana to race on SRAM Red
Astana General Manager Johan Bruyneel has signed a three-year agreement to have his team race with SRAM's Red gruppo, although no frame sponsor has been finalized yet.

"SRAM has proven itself at the highest levels of cycling, but having the lightest gruppo in the world with Red, along with all the function and features, is a real advantage," Bruyneel said. "(SRAM is) making serious impressions in the road market and we would not consider partnering with them if it wouldn't benefit this team and put us in a position to win."

David Zimberoff, SRAM's global marketing director, traveled to Astana's team headquarters to finalize the agreement in early November.

"Johan's proven leadership and legacy of success was the perfect opportunity for us to demonstrate the pure advantages of our road drivetrain and, most specifically, Red," Zimberoff said. "Prior to the agreement we had Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer test ride Red groupsets and they gave enthusiastic thumbs up. That's the type of verification that excites us at SRAM and we're looking forward to 2008."

© Bikeradar & AFP 2007

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