Tour de France cyclist tests positive for doping
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 2:29 PM ET
Team Astana pulled out of the 94th Tour de France on Tuesday after one of its riders, Alexandre Vinokourov, tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.
The positive test of the Kazakh rider, a one-time favourite to win cycling's premier event, dealt a heavy blow to a sport already reeling from a spate of doping scandals.
"Vino has tested positive having to do with a blood transfusion and the team is leaving the Tour," team spokeswoman Corinne Druey said, using Vinokourov's nickname.
Tour de France organizers said the race would go on.
French daily newspaper L'Equipe reported on its website that the positive test occurred after Vinokourov's victory in the 13th-stage time trial on Saturday.
The story added that analysis, conducted by the Chatenay-Malabry lab on the outskirts of Paris, revealed two distinctive types of red blood cells found in the A sample, and showed that Vinokourov received a blood transfusion from a compatible donor shortly before the time trial.
Pat McQuaid, president of cycling's world governing body, the UCI, said he could not comment as long as the result of the backup B-sample had not been confirmed.
"We have a process in place and we have to see this process through," McQuaid said.
A pre-race favourite, Vinokourov won two stages this year — the time trial in Albi and Monday's 15th stage — and stood 23rd in the overall standings.
He dropped out of contention for good Sunday after losing 28 minutes, 50 seconds to race leader Michael Rasmussen.
The Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday and race director Christian Prudhomme said the case showed that cycling's drug-testing system doesn't work.
"It's an absolute failure of the system," he said. "It is a system which does not defend the biggest race in the world. This is a system which can't last."
Vinokourov was injured in a crash in the fifth stage, requiring stitches in both knees.
"With a guy of his stature and class, in cycling's current situation, we might as well pack our bags and go home," said British rider David Millar, who came back from a two-year doping ban in the Tour last year.
Tour de France officials expressed dismay at the latest doping case to scar the event and the sport as a whole.
"Everyone will feel betrayed," said Patrice Clerc, head of Amaury Sports Organization, which owns the Tour. "The public wants to see a credible winner."
But Clerc said it "never crossed my mind" to halt the Tour.
"We have started a war against doping," he said. "It's out of the question to give up."
*le sigh* This was the death knell for professional cycling we all feared, I fear. Like Millar said, they might as well pack their bags and go home. No sponsor is going to want to be associated with the sport at the professional level anymore.
Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 15th stage of the 94th Tour de France on Monday.
LE TOUR DE FRANCE OBTAINS THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE ASTANA TEAM
The organisers of the Tour de France have been informed by Marc Biver, the manager of the Astana team, about the positive test of Alexandre Vinokourov on the day of the time trial stage in Albi. At the request of Patrice Clerc, President of A.S.O., the Astana team has agreed to leave the 2007 Tour de France:
Christian Prudhomme, the Director of the Tour de France, and Patrice Clerc, wanted to reaffirm in Pau their stance in the fight against doping and to assure the public of their determination to insist with the battle. “The start in London was a formidable occasion to re-conquer. It has failed. The riders have to understand that they are playing a game of Russian roulette if they are doping. They have to realize that we will never give up the war against doping in which we are involved. Doping ruins our childhood dreams. Vinokourov has cheated and the only possible answer was: leave! It’s an absolute failure of the system. It has to change now. The re-conquering of cycling has to be done with the Tour de France. I started this job believing that we could change this system but it’s not enough: there has to be a revolution!”