Alexander Vinokourov, winner of the Vuelta in 2006 plus three classics and a string of one-week stage races, but perhaps best remembered for being thrown out of the 2007 Tour de France for doping, has announced his retirement. The news isn’t entirely unexpected – the 37-year-old Kazakh, who broke his femur in a crash on Stage 9 of the Tour de France last Sunday, had planned to retire at the end of this season.
Vinokourov enthralled fans with his swashbuckling style, including a final day Tour de France stage win on the Champs-Elysées that was the last time, and only the second ever occasion since the race’s finale has been held there, that it didn’t come down to a bunch sprint. His fourth and final stage win in cycling’s biggest race at Revel last year also came after a typical late attack.
However, Vinokourov’s career was overshadowed by doping allegations, with the rider banned for two years after testing positive for blood doping during the 2007 race, which he had started as a strong favourite.
The rider turned pro in 1998 with Casino-AG2R and confirmed his promise the following year when he beat Jonathan Vaughters to win the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
Joining Team Telekom in 2000, he won Paris-Nice in 2002 and retained his title the following year. The 2003 season also saw him win the Amstel Gold Race Tour de Suisse.
He followed those successes up with his highest position in the Tour de France, finishing third in 2003 behind Lance Armstrong and former Team Telekom team mate Jan Ullrich, then racing with Team Bianchi. In 2005, his final year at Telekom, he went on to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Moving to Liberty Seguros-Würth for the 2006 season, the arrest of manager Manolo Saiz as part of Operacion Puerto led to Astana taking over sponsorship from Liberty Seguros after the insurance company pulled the plug mid-season and with a number of riders implicated in the scandal, the team withdrew from the race before it started.
Würth would also end its sponsorship and with Astana, based in his native Kazakhstan, now the sole sponsor, Vinokourov rode the Vuelta, beating Alejandro Valverde to win the overall title, the only Grand Tour win of his career.
Victory in the 2007 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré boded well for that year’s Tour de France, but a bad fall in the opening week saw Vinokourov ride on in pain with bandaged knees and he suffered a torrid time in the Alps.
He recovered to win the Stage 13 individual time trial in Albi, and followed that up with victory by winning Stage 15 in Loudonvielle Louron.
The next day, however, it was announced that the Kazakh had failed a doping control for an illegal blood transfusion following that individual time trial victory, and Astana were invited to withdraw from the race, which they did.
As a result, the team would not be invited to the following year’s race either, meaning that new signing Alberto Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour with Discovery Channel, was unable to defend his title.
Banned for a year by his national federation, Vinokourov initially announced his retirement, but when he changed his mind and said he planned to return to racing, the UCI appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and his ban was increased to two years.
Vinokourov returned to the peloton with Astana in time to take part in the 2009 Vuelta and last year won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, receiving boos from the crowd as he stood on the podium, but despite that stage win in last year’s Tour de France, his days as a Grand Tour challenger were behind him.
The rider known simply as Vino was never destined to wear the maillot jaune, although he came very close on Stage 8 of this year’s race, just 24 hours before his career-ending injury, when he seemed destined to take the overall from Thor Hushovd after launching another trademark attack, but he faded badly in the final 2 kilometres.
New rules introduced by the UCI that came into effect at the start of this month mean that with a two-year doping ban against his name, Vinokourov will not be able to take up a directeur sportif role at Astana, which had seemed to be his initial plan following his retirement, although it is possible that he may work with the team in some other capacity.
Many followers of the sport of pro cycling will miss Vinokourov’s buccaneering style. Few riders in recent years have been able to ignite spectators’ excitement the way he did when he went on the attack. The passing into retirement of a rider at the centre of one of the biggest doping scandals in recent years will, however, be greeted with relief by many others.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.