MONTPELLIER, France (AFP) — Kazakh cycling star Alexander Vinokourov announced his retirement on French television on Sunday, a week after crashing out of the Tour de France with a thigh fracture.
“I will continue to ride my bike, but as an amateur and just to keep fit,” said Vinokourov when asked if he would continue to compete once he has recovered from his injury.
“As far as competing goes, I think I will leave it there.”
Vinokourov, who began his professional career with the Casino team in 1998, will go down as one of the most attacking and respected riders of his generation.
He has twice won the Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day classic, has four Tour de France stage wins and finished on the podium of the world’s premier cycling event when he finished third with Team Telekom in 2003.
His last attack on the race came on the eighth stage when he went off alone in pursuit of a five-man breakaway that had him in the virtual lead of the race.
Vinokourov was only caught inside the final 2km, finishing with the main bunch 15 seconds behind stage winner Alberto Rui Costa (Movistar)
As well as his exploits, Vinokourov — who also won a silver medal in the Olympic road race at Sydney in 2000 — has also courted controversy in a 13-year career.
He was thrown off the Tour de France in 2007, after the 15th stage and during the second rest day, when it was announced he had tested positive for blood doping.
Vinokourov was sacked by his Astana team and served a two-year ban.
When he returned in 2009, it was ironically as the team leader of Astana, which, in the meantime, had undergone a management overhaul.
Despite a mediocre 2009 season the Kazakh got back to winning ways in 2010, winning the Giro del Trentino in Italy and his second Liège-Bastogne-Liège crown.
A month later Vinokourov wore the leader’s pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia for five days and, after finishing sixth overall, turned his attention to the Tour de France where he won stage 13.
Vinokourov came into the 2011 Tour de France pledging it would be his last but with the hope of pulling on the coveted yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
That dream came to an abrupt end on the descent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol, the summit of which was at the 99.5km mark of the 208km ninth stage in the hilly Massif Central.
He crashed heavily at speed and ended up in the trees at the side of the road. Unable to walk, Vinokourov had to be helped up to the roadside to await an ambulance.
Scans at a nearby hospital in Aurillac diagnosed a “fracture at the top of the femur on his right leg.” He underwent surgery at Parisian hospital la Pitie-Salpetriere the following morning.
Asked how his recovery was going, he said: “It’s going okay. I’m starting to walk on crutches, though it’s not easy.”
Expected to remain in the sport, Vinokourov has in the past indicated he would likely become manager or sporting director of Astana.