Vinokourov, back from doping ban, wins Tour stage
REVEL, France – Alexandre Vinokourov did his time for doping. Now, he’s back to basking in Tour de France glory again.
The 36-year-old from Kazakhstan capped his return to cycling’s main event by winning the 13th stage on Saturday with a solo breakaway that said more about savvy and opportunistic cycling than leg power.
It was a far cry from the 2007 Tour, when Vinokourov was kicked out and instantly became an emblem of doping shame after testing positive for a banned blood transfusion.
Police raided his Astana team’s hotel and the squad quit the race. Tour organizers lost the gamble they made by giving Astana a wild card to race a year after it was forced out in another doping scandal.
Vinokourov has since said he doesn’t want to dwell on the past. He wants to regain the trust of fans and prove that he can win with hard work alone.
“I showed I worked hard in these two years,” he said Saturday. It was his fourth career Tour stage victory. It would have been No. 6 – but his two stage wins in the 2007 Tour were nullified after his disqualification.
Cycling’s past with doping lingers at this Tour, especially after recent allegations by Floyd Landis that the use of banned substances was common on the U.S. Postal team when he rode with Lance Armstrong.
The New York Post reported Saturday that three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond has been served with a grand jury subpoena as part of a U.S. federal investigation of possible fraud and doping charges against Armstrong and his associates.
On Saturday, Vinokourov looked back at the trailing pack and thrust his arms skyward at the end of the 121.8-mile course from Rodez to Revel over five low-level climbs and beat the onrushing pack by 13 seconds.
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg retained the yellow jersey, finishing in the pack alongside Vinokourov’s teammate Alberto Contador, who trails by 31 seconds. Samuel Sanchez of Spain is a distant third, 2:45 back.
A showdown between Contador and Schleck looms in the Pyrenees, where the pack heads on Sunday for the first of four stages – one of the toughest sequences of climbing the three-week race has seen in recent years.
The 114.7-mile ride from Revel to the ski station of Ax-3 Domaines will lead riders up two extreme climbs, first the Port de Pailheres – one of the toughest ascents in cycling – and an uphill finish.
Schleck was happy to be able to save up energy Saturday.
“It was a good day for my team,” said Schleck, the Saxo Bank leader. “We didn’t have to work. … Today was calm – tomorrow is the battle. We’re going to have a nice stage tomorrow.”
Contador, after hugging Vinokourov at the finish, was still drinking up Astana’s victory on Saturday: “I am happier than if I had won.”
Vinokourov, who faced a grilling from reporters about doping after he won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in Belgium in April, said being able to ride in the Tour this year was “already a big victory for me.”
On Friday, Vinokourov tried a breakaway attack on the steep final climb in Mende, but bared his teeth in desperation as he couldn’t stay ahead of two lighter, fleeter and younger riders who beat him by 4 seconds.
Seven-time champion Armstrong cruised in a bunch, finishing 4:35 back in 100th place – the fourth straight day that he’s lost time. The 38-year-old Texan says his title hopes are over: he’s 36th overall, 25:38 back.
After the pack had finished, Armstrong was shown on TV smiling and chatting with RadioShack teammate Yaroslav Popovych while leisurely riding under a canopy of trees.
Armstrong didn’t respond to questions from reporters before or after the stage. He has been plagued by crashes at this year’s Tour, coming down at least three times and getting delayed by at least two others.
His latest – and this time, bizarre – crash came during the warm-up ride in the neutral zone on Saturday, before the start line. The Tour pack usually rides a few kilometers before a regular stage officially begins.
RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens said Armstrong believed he simply bumped a teammate and fell, scraping up his left elbow. He returned to the race quickly.
Armstrong, in response to a reporter’s Twitter posting suggesting that he might be planning “a big surprise” for Sunday, replied: “I like the sound of it.”
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