Disgraced Tour de France star Alexander Vinokourov has announced plans to return to professional cycling, with the Astana team of Lance Armstrong, according to reports in Brussels Saturday.
The 35-year-old from Kazakhstan was handed a one-year ban after testing positive for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, from which his former team Astana, then under different management, was thrown out.
According to Belgian television channel Sporza, Vinokourov is aiming to return in 2009. But he said the Giro d’Italia, held beween May and June, would be his first priority before an eventual return to the Tour de France in 2010.
“My first objective will be the Giro,” Vino said in an exclusive interview to be aired by Sporza on Sunday.
Vinokourov believes he would manage to rejoin Astana, which since his ban has undergone a management overhaul with the arrival of Johan Bruyneel, the man who helped steer Armstrong to seven straight yellow jerseys.
“I think I would be able to return to Astana, the team I launched after Liberty Seguros folded,” added Vinokourov, who according to Sporza is due to speak about the doping controversy which has surrounded him.
Vinokourov (l) and armstrong in the 2005 tour de france.: vinokourov (l) and armstrong in the 2005 tour de france. JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
It remains to be seen how those intentions are welcomed by Bruyneel, and his latest recruit, Armstrong, who has recently come out of a three-year retirement and will race for Astana next season, with a view to winning an eighth yellow jersey.
On Saturday several leading newspapers in Europe carried reports about Vinokourov’s return, although Bruyneel – according to Dutch paper De Telegraaf – said he is “unaware” of the Kazakh’s intentions.
However, if the Kazakh owners of the team sanction Vinokourov’s return – Vinokourov personally knows the Kazakh Minister of Defence Danyal Akhmetov, who is also the president of the Kazakh cycling federation – to the team, Bruyneel could be in the privileged, but frustrating position of having three star riders on his payroll.
Bruyneel signed Armstrong to Astana despite the team’s current leader, Alberto Contador, winning his third Grand Tour within 15 months two weeks ago when he added the Tour of Spain trophy to his 2008 Giro d’Italia and 2007 Tour de France crowns.
Cycling’s world ruling body, the UCI (International Cycling Union), may also be prompted to react to the news.
After being handed just a one-year ban by the Kazakh cycling federation, a stunned UCI said in June – after Vinokourov had hinted he might participate at the Olympic Games – it reserved the right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to increase the sanction.
The only reason the UCI did not immediately appeal the length of the ban – which began in mid-July, 2007 – was because the Kazakh retired almost as soon as it was officially confirmed.
Now Vinokourov is planning to return, the UCI’s appeal to CAS – for a possible year’s extention – may be reactivated, meaning the Kazakh would be sidelined until July 2009.
Vinokourov announced his retirement from cycling after being handed a one-year ban by the Kazakh cycling federation.
The blond-haired all-rounder claimed his first three-week stage race victory when he won the Tour of Spain in 2006, adding to successes in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2005), the Amstel Gold Race (2003), Paris-Nice (2002, 2003) and three stages on the Tour de France.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008