‘Saddened’ Vinokourov Reiterates Doping Innocence

PARIS, April 27, 2010 (AFP) – Riled by the negative impact of his victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, former dope cheat Alexandre Vinokourov took the unusual step of writing an open letter Monday in a bid to convince his detractors.

Vinokourov, one of cycling’s big names of the past decade, was booed and jeered by some fans as he rode across the finish line of the prestigious Belgian one-day classic on Sunday.

And after the race he faced down several hostile questions by reporters aimed at unpicking why, less than a year after serving a two-year ban for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, he was riding with such gusto.

While many media were circumspect, debate is also raging among enthusiasts on specialist websites.

However Vinokourov, claiming he was “saddened” by press reports doubting the integrity of his win, said he has faced a battery of dope tests recently and has nothing to hide.

“I can’t do anything about the doubts surrounding me since what happened in 2007, but I totally refute any doubt surrounding me now especially in the absence of proof,” said the 36-year-old.

“Since my return last August I’ve been very obliging to the media, but my victory in Liege seems to have prompted a few old jealousies to emerge.

“I don’t understand the gulf between the reaction to my win and the hundreds of messages of support I’ve received.

“In what other sport are you allowed to participate without the right to win?” added Vinokourov, who rides for the Astana team of Spain’s reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

Vinokourov’s re-emergence coincides with that of Italian Riccardo Ricco, who finished second behind the Kazakh at the Tour of Trentino last week having only returned from a 20-month doping ban for using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) at the 2008 Tour de France.

The fact Vinokourov trained recently in Tenerife, a reputed hideout for professional athletes looking to cheat, has not helped quell suspicion. And neither did his aversion to talking about the doping issue on Sunday.

Vinokourov added that he is complying with all of the International Cycling Union’s rules on doping, including the biological passport programme which all professionals must adhere to.

“I’ve served a two-year ban for the darker years of my career. The reason I don’t want to elaborate (on the doping issue) is because I don’t think it will do the sport of cycling any good,” he added.

“I’ve got nothing to hide. Since I returned to cycling I’ve been subject to over 30 anti-doping tests, all of which have been negative. My biological passport has been stamped, and so I can compete.”

He added: “(In Tenerife) I was subject to two random blood and urine tests in two weeks. What more can I do for the sport’s authorities to prove I’m honest?”