Alexandre Vinokourov, winner of the Olympic road race less than three weeks ago, has announced his retirement following Tuesday’s Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian. The Kazakh rider, aged 38, is likely to move into an unofficial and as yet unspecified role with his Astana team – a UCI rule introduced last year preludes anyone convicted of a doping offence from undertaking a role as team manager or directeur sportif.
“I am very happy because I rode my last race in San Sebastián and Spain. I tried to do it well and be competitive,” he told the Spanish website Biciciclismo, as quoted on Telegraph.co.uk.
“I wanted to [perform], and my team as well. However, my legs were not like those of the Olympic Games.
“I wanted to enjoy the final kilometres as much as possible, and also this public farewell, to meet everyone and sign autographs and have photographs taken.”
The announcement of his retirement brings an end to a career that was as glittering as it was controversial. Winner of the Vuelta in 2006, Vinokourov also took four stage wins in the Tour de France, although the overall victory eluded him.
In shorter stage races he won Paris-Nice twice as well as the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de Suisse, as well as the Ardennes Classics the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he was victorious in both 2005 and 2010.
The second of those victories in the race known as La Doyenne came a few months after Vinokourov had returned to the sport after a two-year ban resulting from a positive test for an illegal blood transfusion during the 2007 Tour de France, which he had started among the favourites for the overall win.
While the Kazakh often enthralled fans with his attacking exploits, others criticised him for the silence he maintained regarding that doping episode after he returned from his ban.
That 2007 edition of the Tour had begun with a Prologue that took the riders past London landmarks including Buckingham Palace and it was there last month that he achieved possibly the crowning moment of his career when he won Olympic gold after he and Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran had attacked from a big breakaway group on Putney High Street.
Vinokourov’s very presence at the Olympics seemed improbable this time last year after he said that he had decided to retire following a crash during the Tour de France in which he broke his femur. But with his Astana team apparently in need of the ranking points he had amassed, he decided to return for a final year in the peloton.
“In January I still had problems on one leg and did not want to leave cycling like that,” he explained, adding that he had not expected to win Olympic gold last month.
“I did not expect my victory in London. It was the maximum that could wish for and it was very important for my country.
“I want to thank my family and friends for their support after the fall,” he continued.
“All this sacrifice wasn't for nothing, I wanted to stop with a victory in the Tour. That could not be, and finally that happened at the Games.
“I am aware that I am going to leave cycling. It hasn't sunk in yet. It is difficult for me. But being 39 years old in September, I knew that I had to stop. At least I've been able to go leave by the front door and am satisfied with it.
Vinokourov has now returned to Kazakhstan where he and other Olympic medallists will be honoured at a reception being held by the president.
“Also, I will be meeting with the [cycling] federation to speak about my future and talk about ideas. I'll have a special place in the team, so we will see.”
Astana meanwhile is continuing to recruit for the 2013 season with sprinter Andrea Guardini of Farnese Vini and RadioShack-Nissan's Danish GC rider Jakob Fuglsang joining 2010 Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale, third in this year's Tour de France, in signing for the team.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.