Home > Feature

Premier Tech CEO says Kazakh government forced Vinokourov’s Astana return

Jean Bélanger explains why the Canadian company pulled out of its team sponsorship contract

The drama within the Astana-Premier Tech ownership continues, as the reasons for Premier Tech’s ownership exit are revealed. Jean Bélanger, CEO of Canadian company Premier Tech, recently told La Presse that the actions of Alexandre Vinokourov, the suspended Astana-Premier Tech sports director, are the reason the company abandoned its ownership stake of Astana-Premier Tech.

RELATED: After one season as title sponsor Canadian company Premier Tech leaves partnership with Astana

The conflict was not a secret. Right before the start of the Tour de France in June Vinokourov was suspended and in August, two weeks after the announcement of Premier Tech’s withdrawal, it was announced that he would resume his role in 2022. In an interview with La Presse Bélanger brought to light the details of the management conflict. 

RELATED: Steve Bauer steps up to lead Astana-Premier Tech

“It’s unfortunate,” Bélanger told La Presse. “Vino is a friend, although we may have different visions of how to operate the team.[The dispute] is really around Vinokourov’s presence and the philosophy he wanted in terms of strategy and tactics in the squad. Kazakhstan had to choose: do we go with the Vinokourov approach or do we go with the international, professional, transparent approach? ”

Kazakhstan versus Premier Tech

Premier Tech and Kazakhstan both had part ownership of the team, with a contract that ran until 2022. Bélanger said a clause in the contract would have given Premiere Tech the option to take full possession of the team from the Kazakh government, but they had no interest in engaging in the extensive legal battle that would have ensued.

“Our decision was: we are not going to destroy the team,” he told La Presse.”There are 85 people on the team. Riders, management, staff. We can’t do that. You have to put yourself above the fray. You can’t fall in the mud.”

Different ways of managing

Bélanger said the Canadians wanted to bring more funding to the team (via more sponsors) and Vinokourov did not share the same vision. He told La Presse: “With Vino, it’s like: ‘We don’t have to have other sponsors. We’re okay with each other. We keep that a tight, select little club. The less we say, the better. No staff meeting, no explanations to the staff on the strategy for the year, where we want to put the funds, what do we want to promote.’ Really manage the cards very close to the chest. It’s okay, it’s two different ways of managing, but we wanted to move towards change.”

Ultimately, Vinokourov’s return to the team management was forced by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. His reinstatement for the 2022 season was the deciding factor in Premier Tech’s exit, Bélanger said.

New teams

CyclingNews reported that Premier Tech is currently in talks with other WorldTour teams. Rumoured future Premier Tech teams include BikeExchange (with former Astana rider Jakob Fuglsang), Canadian-sponsored team Israel Start-Up Nation, Qhubeka-NextHash and ProTeam Rally Cycling.

Bélanger confirmed to La Presse that his next partner is among these four teams. Cyclingnews reports that Canadian Astana rider Hugo Houle will join the new Premier Tech team and that Steve Bauer is likely to move across as a team director as well.