Despite getting booed as he crossed the finish line Sunday in victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a repentant Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) said fans and journalists should believe him when he says his win was clean.
Vinokourov’s victory Sunday made more than a few people uncomfortable, including some fans who jeered and whistled when he crossed the line in Ans to win Liège in his first major win since coming back from a two-year doping ban last summer.
“I condemn doping and I am working hard to prove that my victories are clean,” Vinokourov said Sunday. “I always had class as a rider and I worked very hard during my two years’ ban to be able to come back and be productive at a high level. Last year, I was already winning races and this year I am even better. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. We are here to talk about my victory. I paid two years and now I want to show I can win without doping.”
Most journalists during Vinokourov’s post-race press conference were more interested in his doping past than in his recent racing success. Vinokourov defended himself against media inquiries, especially one pointed question on whether fans or journalists should trust him.
“I am a fair winner of this race today. I am here to win back the trust of the press and the public,” he said. “After 2007, I was stopped two years for doping, two years that were very hard for me. I am here without doping and to show that I can win big races. I have worked hard and people can have confidence in me. I also have my experience. I have worked very hard to return to good condition. Today is a beautiful revenge for me.”
Vinokourov was one of the biggest names to go down for blood doping, testing positive for homologous blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, just months after the Operación Puerto doping investigation revealed a large-scale blood doping ring within cycling.
Vinokourov was never linked directly to Puerto, but the scandal was especially troubling to Tour organizers, who had decided to trust in Vinokourov and Astana despite the team’s links to the Puerto scandal with many of its former riders and staff.
He returned to Astana last summer and promptly won a stage at the Tour de l’Ain and rode well in late-season races. On Friday, he secured the overall and the opening prologue at the Giro del Trentino in Italy, his first stage-race victory since his comeback.
On Sunday, Vinokourov showed glimpses of the form and aggressive riding that once made him one of the most feared forces in the peloton.
Vinokourov said he is no longer working with his former doctor, the controversial Michele Ferrari.
“After my ban, I realized I could not work with Ferrari any more. I have not worked with any special trainer since then. I have more than 10 years experience, so I train alone and sometimes get advice from our team trainer,” he said. “I prepared before this race at Tenerife, but that’s only because it’s good weather and the mountains are high. There were other riders there, too.”
Vinokourov will next race the Giro d’Italia and then likely the Tour de France. So far, Tour officials have not said much on the prospect of a Vinokourov return, but Sunday’s win proved that he will be a factor.
“Today was a dream fulfilled. My dream now is to start the Tour and win the Tour with Alberto, to be on the Champs-Elysees with him,” he said. “After the Giro. I will rest as much as possible. It’s an objective to win the Tour with Alberto. I am working hard for that. He’s young and he deserves our support. It’s different to win a classic to win a three-week tour. Alberto is the captain now.”