Vinokourov tested positive twice: report
Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov, the winner of two stages at Pau, tested positive for blood doping during the Tour de France.other Updated: Jul 25, 2007 16:08 IST
The Tour de France added another dark day to its troubled history at Pau on the eve of an anticipated battle for the race's yellow jersey resumes in the Pyrenees mountains.
The Astana team was thrown off the race after an 'A' sample from one of the most respected riders in the peloton, Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov, the winner of two stages at Pau, tested positive for blood doping.
Ironically, the Rabobank team's race leader Michael Rasmussen, who has a 2 minute 23 second lead over Spanish rival Alberto Contador going into stage 16, is fighting to convince everyone that he could be a credible champion.
Rasmussen was effectively told last week he could no longer represent Denmark by the Danish Cycling Union (DCU) in the wake of revelations that he has missed four random doping controls in 18 months.
It seemed almost too much to believe that, after the Dane had started the race's second rest day by undergoing a random blood doping test by the International Cycling Union (UCI), and then pleading innocence for his "errors" to the world's media, it was announced that Vinokourov had been snared.
If a test on the Kazakh's 'B' sample also tests positive, it means that he injected red blood cells from a compatible donor to enhance his performance.
Vinokourov's team manager, Marc Biver, spent a few nervous hours at the team hotel, where there was a significant police presence and searching of rubbish bags late Tuesday.
Hours earlier, he had suspended Vinokourov, taken his team off the race and said his star rider was guilty unitl proven innocent.
"We have to wait for the result of the 'B' sample. But for us, if his 'A' sample tested positive then he is guilty until the B sample proves otherwise," said Biver.
After nine days of trying to deal with the speculation surrounding Rasmussen, organisers have re-confirmed their belief that the Dane should not have even been allowed to race by his team.
Patrice Clerc, the president of the Tour de France's parent company, ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation), said Rabobank's failure to inform them of Rasmussen's missed tests was a "lack of respect shown to the administrative rules."
"We should have been told, we would have refused his participation because he is not a good role model for the others in the peloton," said Clerc.
The news concerning Vinokourov obviously pained Tour chief Christian Prudhomme, but the Frenchman said the sport will simply not tolerate cheats.
"I told the riders prior to the start of the race in London that this year was a chance for us to win them back (the public)," said Prudhomme.
"Well, we have missed that opportunity. But the cheats must understand that if they want to continue bringing scandal to this race, then they're playing Russian roulette."
The sample which tested positive for blood doping was taken from Vinokourov after his victory in the race's 13th stage time trial in Albi. Vinokourov was also tested after he won Monday's stage, although the result of that test is not yet known.
The official who informed Biver said the Kazakh's 'A' sample "contained an imbalance of young and old blood cells".
Vinokourov is not the first rider to have been caught by a homologous blood doping control. American Tyler Hamilton and Spaniard Santi Perez were also snared by the WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) test.
Even Biver seemed surprised.
"The test used was validated by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency), and so the test is credible," added Biver.
"It is obvious that it (the test) is impossible to manipulate."
Efforts have increased to crack down on doping in the wake of what has been a testing year for cycling.
The Tour de France began under a cloud last year when the 'Operation Puerto' scandal erupted two days before the start, leading organisers to eject 13 riders who were suspected of being involved.
Italian star Ivan Basso has received a two-year ban after admitting to his role in the affair.
The Tour also ended with scandal when a test on American champion Floyd Landis form stage 17 revealed abnormal levels of testosterone. Landis's case in in arbitration, but is expected to be settled in the coming weeks.
Recently, former Tour de France stars have also admitted to doping.
Bjarne Riis, the 1996 winner, was one of several former Telekom (now T-Mobile) riders to admit to using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
It seems ironic that Rasmussen could become the first Danish winner of the Tour since Riis, who will soon be wiped from the Tour's record books.
The 33-year-old Rasmussen continues to claim his innocence, but it is clear that his presence, especially in the fabled yellow jersey, is not a welcome one.
Clerc admits the race has seen rosier days, but said he will not let the cheats bring them down.
"I've never thought about ending the race prematurely. I repeat that we're involved in a war against doping, and in a war there are casualties," he said.
"The Tour de France is going through a dark period, but we're not going to lie down and let those who want to cheat walk all over us."