Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali says the new generation of Italian cyclists is working hard to restore a reputation tainted by past doping scandals. The 29-year old Astana rider has been majestic in leading the Tour almost since the very first stage in Yorkshire, northern England. He currently leads Australian Richie Porte by 2min 23sec with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde third at 2:47. And he hopes that he and others can be an example to future generations of Italian cyclists as the ills of the last 20 years gradually get forgotten. Many a top Italian cyclist has been either caught out doping or embroiled in a scandal, including Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, Giro d’Italia winners Ivan Basso, Danilo Di Luca and Paolo Savoldelli and world champion Alessandro Ballan.
Nibali’s Astana team do not have a great record when it comes to doping either as team manager Alexander Vinokourov was banned for blood doping in 2007. Sporting director Giuseppe Martinelli held that same position at Mercatone Uno when Pantani was their star rider. Current rider Michele Scarponi was briefly suspended in 2012 due to his links to tainted doctor Michele Ferrari. Lance Armstrong also road for Astana for two years while Alberto Contador was stripped of the 2010 Tour crown he won with Astana for doping. Several other riders such as Andrey Kashechkin, Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni failed tests while riding for the team. Astana also hired Johan Bruyneel at one point while they were asked to leave the 2007 Tour due to Vinokourov’s failed test and barred from the 2008 edition due to the numerous scandals. Yet Nibali says it is time to consign such stories to the history books.
“I don’t know what to say about Martinelli, I have a good relationship with him and it’s also thanks to him that I joined Astana,” said Nibali. “Astana invested a lot in Italians because we have credibility and they have changed the make-up of the whole group. There were errors made in the past by many riders but it’s best to leave all that in the past and go forward. We’re a new generation, there are young riders coming through and we must make room for those young riders trying to change cycling. We also have the biological passport, surprise controls and controls at your home. You can’t say cycling hasn’t changed, it’s in a better situation but you can’t change cycling from one day to another. I also joined Astana because it’s important for me to progress and because I could build a group to tackle important races such as the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta a Espana.”
Nibali remained remarkably calm and forthright when asked about Astana’s doping past and also said he could understand the line of questioning: “It’s normal, it also happened last year during the Giro and in the past when I’ve been on training camps,” he said. “But I think it belongs to the past. There are a few isolated cases, there always will be imbeciles. I can’t be a spokesman for the whole peloton but I assure you there’s a great desire to improve and do more (to combat doping).”