Double stage victor Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)learned Tuesday that he had tested positive for homologous blood doping following his victory in last Saturday’s stage 13 individual time trial.
Vinokourov and his Astana team have reportedly withdrawn from the Tour.
The 33-year-old had lost all chance of winning the Tour with a dismal performance in Sunday’s 14th stage but then bounced back to take Monday’s 15th stage in the Pyrenees.
Vinokourov, whose performance in Monday’s stage was feted in the French press with headlines such as the ‘Courage of ‘Vino”, had been criticized before the Tour by UCI president Pat McQuaid for his association with Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari.
McQuaid declined to make any statement on the matter until results of a likely B sample test are released.
“I can’t comment on it. We have to follow the rules,” said the Irishman, who like predecessor Hein Verbruggen has now seen a team pull out of the world’s most famous cycling race over a drugs scandal – Festina having been kicked off the Tour in 1998.
If Vinokourov’s B sample comes back positive, Aussie Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) would be declared the winner of stage 13.
Vinokourov becomes the first cyclist to test positive for homologous blood doping – the injection of an other person’s red blood cells – since American Tyler Hamilton and Spaniard Santi Perez were found positive for the banned technique in 2004.
Vinokourov’s Astana confirmed that the Kazakh star tested positive for blood doping.
“The anti-doping control on Alexandre Vinokourov, which was carried out on July 21 after the time trial in Albi, has tested positive,” read a statement released by the Kazakh team. “According to the ethical code of the Astana Cycling Team Alexandre Vinokourov has been suspended from the team with immediate effect. The rider has asked nevertheless for a B sample analysis.
“Informed by the Astana management, the organisers of the Tour de France invited the team to withdraw, which was immediately accepted.”
The news spread through the Tour press corps like an electrical current. Journalists were attending a Saunier Duval-Prodir team press conference about the team’s plans to plant 1 million trees in Mali when the first story moved across the wire: Vinokourov positive for blood doping. David Millar was the first rider to react to the news: “Jesus Christ – there you go, that’s my quote,” he blurted out. “What timing, huh? This is just f#cking great.” Addressing Irish sportswriter Paul Kimmage, a former cyclist who exposed doping in pro cycling his 1990 book “Rough Ride” and made waves this year when he challenged Vinokourov for working with Ferrari at Astana’s pre-race press conference, Millar said, “Well there you go, Paul.”
“I wanted to believe it was a really good day [for Vinokourov]. It makes me very sad. Vino is one of my favorite riders. He’s one of the most beautiful riders in the peloton. If a guy of his stature and class has done that, we all might as well pack our bags and go home right now.”
Millar later backpedaled on that statement, saying, “The Tour de France should go on. If it stops, I would have to retire tomorrow.”
“The irony here is that I was hoping to make an announcement today about my future plans,” Millar said, likely referring to rumors that next year he will ride for Slipstream Sports, the strict anti-doping squad run by Jonathan Vaughters.
“I have some projects in the works. I am hoping to work with young riders, to show them that you don’t have to dope to succeed.”
Millar broke down into tears when he was asked by British journalist Jeremy Whittle if he was all right, saying, “I just feel like crying right now.”
The third positive
If Vinokourov’s B sample does indicate the presence of a secondary population of red blood cells, the man from Astana will be only the third rider to have ever triggered a positive on the homologous blood-doping test introduced in 2004.
American Tyler Hamilton tested positive for the presence of foreign red blood cells after a time trial victory at the Vuelta a Espana on September 11, 2004. His then-Phonak-teammate, Santiago Perez, tested positive soon after and both men were suspended for two years. Hamilton, however, embarked on a lengthy and costly legal fight to clear his name. Hamilton continues to maintain his innocence.
Hamilton’s suspension ended last fall. He signed a contract to ride with Tinkoff Credit Systems, but has been in limbo with that team since being suspended purportedly for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto drug scandal in Spain.
The homologous blood doping test is based on the recent application of a relatively old technology designed to sub-type populations of red blood cells.
VeloNews’s Andrew Hood, Neal Rogers and Charles Pelkey contributed to this report