Categories: General
      Date: Oct 31, 2007
     Title: Kazakhstan target Astana success at Tour de France


Kazakhstan hopes to use its newly revamped Astana cycling team to win next year's Tour de France, the head of the Kazakh Cycling Federation said on Wednesday.

"We, the Astana team, must win the Tour de France next year. We will win. It's our main goal," Danial Akhmetov told Reuters in an interview.

Astana has changed its team structure after becoming embroiled in a series of doping scandals this season. This month the team signed Tour de France winner Alberto Contador to ride for the new-look squad over the next two years.

"I am convinced that certain difficulties that have emerged within the team are already behind us. The best managers, the best athletes believe in Astana's future," said Akhmetov, who also heads the Ministry of Defence.

Former Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel, whose teams won eight Tours de France in nine years, has agreed to take charge of the Astana project, bringing Contador as well as this year's third-place finisher American Levi Leipheimer.

Astana is a Swiss-registered team backed by some of Kazakhstan's largest industrial companies. The national railroad, a government-owned airline, a state-run natural gas company and a state mining company all feature on the team kit.

The team was forced to pull out of the Tour de France in July after Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for a homologous blood transfusion following his victory in the stage 13 time trial on July 21.

Vinokourov denies any wrongdoing. Compatriot and teammate Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for a homologous blood transfusion while on holiday in Turkey in August.

"Of course what happened to Kazakh riders has made me very sad," Akhmetov said.

"We believe in the anti-doping charter and will abide by it strictly. Any athlete caught doping should be punished. This is what stands behind the integrity of this sport."