Astana Pulls Out of Tour de France

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; 3:29 PM

PAU, France -- Tour de France rider Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning last weekend's time trial, prompting his Astana team to pull out of the race Tuesday and police to raid the team hotel.

Despite the latest heavy blow to a sport reeling from doping scandals, Tour de France organizers said the race would go on.

The Kazakh rider, a one-time favorite to win cycling's premier event, was tested after his victory in the 13th stage time trial on Saturday.

"Vino has tested positive having to do with a blood transfusion and the team is leaving the Tour," team spokeswoman Corinne Druey said, using the rider's nickname.

Astana team manager Marc Biver said Vinokourov was sent home. His backup B-sample test results are expected by the end of the week.

"Alexandre denies having manipulated his blood," Biver said, adding that the rider believes that "blood anomalies in his body" may have resulted from a crash he was involved in last week.

About 30 police officers, some in plain clothes, descended on Astana's La Palmeraie hotel in Pau and sealed it off, preventing more members of the team from leaving.

The case brought back memories of some of cycling's darkest days. In 1998, police raids turned up a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in a Festina team car, plunging the Tour in crisis.

Vinokourov, a pre-race favorite, also won Monday's 15th stage. He was 23rd in the overall race standings. The Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday.

Race director Christian Prudhomme said the case showed that cycling's drug-testing system doesn't work.

"It's an absolute failure of the system," he said. "It is a system which does not defend the biggest race in the world. This is a system which can't last."

World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound, a frequent critic of cycling's doping record, said the sport should have cleaned itself up by now.

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