By Agence France Presse
Disgraced cyclist Alexander Vinokourov continues his return to competitive cycling this week hoping to show he has not lost too much form over his two-year ban for doping.
Once one of the peloton’s toughest competitors Vinokourov was revealed as a cheat in 2007 when he tested positive for homologous blood doping (the injection of red cells from a donor) at the Tour de France.
The scandal led to the expulsion of his team Astana from the race, and a two-year ban left his career in tatters.
During his enforced sabbatical, Astana was taken over by new management and Spaniard Alberto Contador fully assumed the team leader’s role by winning all three major grand tours while a member of the team, scoring victories in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in 2008 and the Tour de France in 2009. Contador won the Tour in 2007 while a member of the Discovery Channel team.
Vinokourov said recently he would love to return to the Kazakhstan-sponsored team, and is hoping to convince Contador to stay, expressing a willingness to ride in support of the Tour winner.
Before then the 35-year-old Kazakh is keen to test his own racing legs, and will get a chance to do so by returning to some familiar territory at the four-day Tour de l’Ain as part of Kazakhstan’s national team.
It was at the 1998 Tour de l’Ain that Vinokourov put his climbing skills on display by riding solo over the summit of the Grand Colombier climb, before crashing out of the race due to a fall.
The Grand Colombier could again play a decisive role on Wednesday’s fourth stage when Vinokourov, who said he has been itching to race since his doping ban ended on July 23, could be tempted to show some of his former magic.
Ahead of making a low-key comeback on Tuesday at a criterium in France, Vinokourov said he was happy to get back on the bike.
“The form is pretty good, but I am lacking some race rhythm,” he said. “That will come soon enough.”
The Tour de l’Ain will be disputed by 19 teams of six riders, is held over four days, although the third stage on Tuesday includes a road race over 103.3km to be followed by a 7.5 km time trial.
The first two stages favor sprinters like Belgian Greg Van Avermaet of Silence, Dutchman Theo Bos of Rabobank or Frenchman Jimmy Casper, who rides for Besson.
Tour de l’Ain – August 9 to August 12
- Sunday, August 9: Bourg-en-Bresse – Saint-Denis-les-Bourg (146.5 km)
- Monday, August 10: Trevoux – Oyonnax (146.5 km)
- Tuesday, August 11: Lelex – Lelex (103.3 km then 7.5km time trial)
- Wednesday, August 12: Belley – Culloz (129.6 km)