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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