Vinokourov Flunks Out of Tour

Alexandre Vinokourov won Saturday's 13th stage of the Tour de France, but a postrace test came back positive.
Alexandre Vinokourov won Saturday's 13th stage of the Tour de France, but a postrace test came back positive. (By Christophe Ena -- Associated Press)
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cycling fans loved the rider they called Vino. And he loved to deliver results -- just not the type that came out of a laboratory yesterday and ended his run in this year's Tour de France.

Alexandre Vinokourov was a pre-race favorite who excited Tour fans by rebounding from a bad crash in the fifth stage to stay in contention until Sunday's 14th stage. Then he won Monday's stage as consolation. But yesterday -- a rest day -- came news he tested positive for a blood transfusion after winning Saturday's time trial.

His B sample is expected by the end of the week, coinciding with the end of another tainted Tour.

Astana suspended the Kazakh rider and also withdrew its team, ending the chances of its best-placed rider, Andreas Kloeden, who was fifth. Vinokourov was 23rd.

"Alexandre denies having manipulated his blood," Astana Manager Marc Biver said, adding that Vinokourov believes the "blood anomalies in his body" may have resulted from the crash.

During the fifth stage on July 12 from Chablis to Autun, Vinokourov fell and hurt his knees so badly that he needed at least 30 stitches. He refused to pull out and slogged up the Alps even though he was losing time to his rivals.

On the eve of this year's Tour, international cycling chief Pat McQuaid questioned Vinokourov's relationship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, saying it damaged the sport's credibility as it tries to repair its tarnished image.

Vinokourov, who was third on the 2003 Tour and fifth in 2005, said he used Ferrari only as a physical trainer and not for medical purposes.

Last year, Ferrari was cleared by an Italian appeals court of distributing health-threatening doping products to athletes. He has denied he dispensed illegal substances.

On Saturday, Vinokourov blew away the field with a remarkable performance on a 34-mile time trial around Albi. He finished 1 minute 14 seconds ahead of second-place Cadel Evans of Australia, and 1:39 ahead of Kloeden.

After winning the clock race, Vinokourov was a little more than five minutes behind race leader Michael Rasmussen with three Pyrenees stages ahead -- and promised to attack.

But the next day Vinokourov fell apart on the Port de Pailheres, losing 28:50 to Rasmussen and dropping to 30th place and out of contention.

Meantime, Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi was cleared of doping charges by his national federation, which ruled that he used an asthma drug for legitimate medical reasons.

Petacchi had registered a "non-negative" test for salbutamol after winning the 11th stage of the Giro d'Italia on May 23.

"It's one of the most beautiful victories of my life," Petacchi said.

Petacchi was removed from Milram's Tour de France team when the Italian Olympic Committee recommended a one-year suspension two days before the start of the race.

Also yesterday, Denmark's Olympic Committee has backed the Danish cycling union's decision to drop Rasmussen, who leads the Tour de France, from the national team.

The union kicked Rasmussen off the national team last week for failing to tell anti-doping officials of his whereabouts for drug-testing.

Niels Nygaard, the chairman of the olympic committee, said yesterday that "we support that [ban]," but that a final decision on whether to exclude Rasmussen from next year's Olympics in Beijing has not been made.

The DCU had previously said Rasmussen cannot represent Denmark at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, in September.

Rasmussen received a warning on June 29 from the International Cycling Union because he missed random drug tests on May 8 and June 28. Anti-doping officials sought to contact Rasmussen but he had not informed them of his whereabouts and was reportedly training in Mexico.

Danish federation and international rules require cyclists to keep officials informed of their whereabouts for possible unannounced doping tests.

-- From News Services

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