While the International Cycling Union is preparing to appeal the one-year suspension given to Alexander Vinokourov by the Kazakh cycling federation for blood doping during the last Tour de France, the former Astana rider has turned a page in his career. Back in his home country, 'Vino' is planning new professional projects such as the construction of a sports hotel in Southern France and a restaurant in Nice.
"I didn't imagine to end my career this way," the 2003 Tour de France podium finisher told L'Equipe on Wednesday, December 12, after announcing last week that he would not consider a return to racing next year even if his reduced ban would make this possible. "I've earned a good living and it is time to move on to something else, also because they don't want me in cycling anymore."
Vinokourov revealed that one of the conditions for the 'new' Astana team directed by Johan Bruyneel to obtain the ProTour status was that he would be erased from the structure. "That was the main requirement for Bruyneel to get the license," he said. By making the connection with the Kazakh sponsors, Vinokourov had personally helped to create the team out of the ashes of Liberty Seguros in June last year. But by testing positive for blood doping, the former cycling star has become persona non grata not only at Astana, but also with regard to the European pro cycling scene.
"I have learned that there is no friendship in Europe," Vinokourov continued. "The priority is to make good business on the backs of others. After the scandal at the Tour, I didn't expect any phone call from the other riders. I was right, as nobody called me. But my former colleagues shouldn't laugh too much about my fate, as it could always backfire on them. When I will write my memoirs, some will be surprised to learn that little Vinokourov wasn't so naive after all, even when he first started out in Europe. I've seen a lot of things, even amongst those who want to appear whiter than snow today."
The vice-president of the Kazakh cycling federation, Nikolay Proskurin, went even further, saying that Vinokourov had been a disturbing figure to the Astana team's former management right from the start. "It took us some time to realise that we had been wrong in creating the Astana team last year," Proskurin added. "We gave all the keys to our team to Marc Biver and Tony Rominger, but we didn't understand that it was our country's money that interested the most. As soon as they realised that there wasn't any more money to make, they let us down. With the announcement of the positive control, Vino was put in the trash without trying to find out the truth. As if this affair suited them somehow."
Rather than taking into account the gravity of the doping problem in pro cycling today, Proskurin preferred to see the exclusion of Vinokourov in the light of an anti-Kazakhstan conspiracy. "In Europe, they don't know what to think of Kazakhstan," he continued. "When we arrived in the pro cycling scene, we quickly understood that we scared those who were in it for a long time. There was a rejection of the Kazakhs. But nobody ever dared to reproach us something from eye to eye. Patrick Lefevere, for example, who was the president of the teams' association, never came to shake hands with me. As if we had the lepers, as if we represented the new Genghis Khan."
Vinokourov, meanwhile, is more popular than ever in his home country. Besides posing for fashion magazines, the multiple Tour de France stage winner will also be co-starring in a TV show for Christmas.