It’s a rest day on The Tour de France and yet we still have a doping controversy to talk about. According to this report over at ESPN.com, Alexandre Vinokourov, one of the sport’s premiere riders, has tested positive for a banned blood transfusion, a procedure that can be used to mask the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Vinokourov was amongst the pre-race favorites, but a crash in stage 5 hampered his performance, and caused him struggle in the Alps, where he gave up time to race leader Michael Rasmussen. A fantastic performance in last Saturday’s individual time trial put him back within striking distance however, but he followed it up with an abysmal day in the Pyrenees on Sunday where he gave up more than 29 minutes of time, effectively ending his chances at winning the Tour. Yesterday however, he bounced back with an amazing ride to claim a stage win, and finishing more than 5 minutes ahead of the Yellow Jersey.
Following today’s news, Vino’s Astana team has pulled out of the Tour while they review their options. For his part, Vinokourov denies any doping or attempting to cover it up. I’m sure we’ll see a number of appeals and accusations back and fourth between Vinokourav, his team, and the doping authorities before this is all decided. The one most hurt by this pull-out by Astana is Andreas Kloden, who stood in 5th place heading into tomorrows stage, an while he likely couldn’t win the the Tour, he may have had a shot at a podium finish.
This is another blow for a sport that continues to have issues with doping and one scandal after another. A cloud of doubt surrounds Rasmussen due the fact that he skipped two mandatory drug tests, calling into question how clean of a rider he is. Should he ride into Paris, still wearing the Yellow Jersey, there could be a major controversy surrounding the Tour winner for a second year in a row.
Update: If you would like to know more about how blood doping works, and the benefits it provides to cyclists, check out this article over at VeloNews.com. It’s a well written piece that explains the topic very well.
I mentioned above that the transfusions that Vino was using were likely used to mask his use of performance enhancing drugs, but as this article points out, it’s more about increasing the red blood cell count for higher performance.
Thanks to UltraRob for passing this article my way.
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7 thoughts on “Tour 2007 – Vino! Say it Isn’t So!!”
I’ve believed for a long time that the top pro cyclist were doping but a lot have been caught in the last year. I would have thought they would have been very careful since there’s been so much testing but apparantly they still think they can get by.
I don’t believe blood transfusions are done to mask drugs but is performance enhancing itself. By adding more red blood cells, athletes can uptake more oxygen and perform better. They’d use their own blood which wouldn’t be detectable but having blood drawn causes a drop in performance for a few weeks. It would have to be drawn in the off-season and stored until needed for an important race. Of course that has been done and several riders got caught last year. Soccer and tennis players where also implicated in that scandal but their governing bodies have preventing any names from being released.
Tyler Hamilton was caught blood doping after winning a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics but he got out of that because his B sample was mishandled. His first positive wasn’t announced so they then caught him at the Tour of Spain along with his teammate. I believe they are the only other 2 cyclists to test positive for blood doping.
Hmm… I hadn’t even thought about using a transfusion to try to increase the red blood cell count. So how do the increase the number of red blood cells naturally, and then draw the blood out? Any use of EPO or something similar would still show up in the blood, wouldn’t it?
When I’ve seen the use of blood transfusions in these types of cases they’re used to replace the tainted blood with clean blood following the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.
I’ve also read in this this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2134120,00.html that Vino’s blood had trace elements of another person’s blood in it.
>VeloNews did a good article back when Hamilton got caught. I haven’t seen anything new on the subject. It discuss the advantages of using another person’s blood versus the athlete’s own blood.
As I understand, you don’t want more concentrated red blood cells but more volume of blood with the same number of red blood cells per pint. That’s one thing that EPO does that isn’t natural. It does increase the number of red blood cells and not the volume. More acurately it’s hemoglobin they’re after. Checking the concentration was one way to test for EPO before better methods were developed. Going to altitude causes increased EPO production but it also causes blood volume to increase. Red blood cell concentration may go up slightly from spending time at high altitude but not nearly as much as using EPO injections. When EPO was first used, some cyclist died because their blood got too thick and their hearts couldn’t pump it.
Hmm… that is a great article. It really breaks it down and explains how it all works. I’m going to add that link to this article.
It’s scary the lengths that these athletes will go to get an edge on their competition, and every time a test is developed to detect the latest methods of cheating, someone comes along with something new that can’t be detected.
I’m not losing faith yet…
The spirit of the Tour is more important than those who would make it otherwise…
Well said DSD. It’s still a great event, and one that I look forward to every year. I would just like to see everyone competing on a level playing field.
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