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August 6, 2009

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Vinokourov ready for comeback

KAZAKHSTAN cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov will continue his comeback from a two-year doping ban at the Tour de l'Ain, which starts on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Vinokourov raced for the first time since his ban for blood doping ended last month, finishing seventh in the 45km Castillon-La-Bataille criterium race in France.

The Tour de l'Ain should provide a stiffer test as it raced over four days and even features two stages on day three: a climb followed by a time trial.

The 35-year-old Vinokourov will be riding for the Kazakh national team at the Tour de l'Ain, rather than with leading team Astana, which is competing separately.

Vinokourov, whose ban came when racing for Astana at the 2007 Tour de France, has yet to be accepted back to the team. Astana's Alberto Contador won the Tour de France for the second time last month.

However, Vinokourov is hopeful he will soon be racing again for Astana.

"I would like to be sure, to have an official confirmation," he told L'Equipe newspaper yesterday. "Of course some teams can make offers for me, but my dream is to finish my career with Astana."

Before this year's Tour, Vinokourov vowed to return to Astana, even if it meant ousting the team's sporting director Johan Bruyneel, who has overseen seven straight Tour wins with Lance Armstrong and two with Contador.


"This team was created for me and thanks to my efforts," Vinokourov said last month. "I have served my suspension and I do not see why I could not return. If Bruyneel does not want me, it will be Bruyneel who will be leaving the team."

Vinokourov now says he was wrong to defy Bruyneel.

"I have apologized to him for what I said," he told L'Equipe.

"We don't want to be at war with each other."

Also, Tour de France stage winner Mikel Astarloza said he had no idea how he tested positive for the endurance-booster EPO in a sample taken before the start of the race.

The 29-year-old Spaniard has been provisionally suspended by cycling's governing body after returning a positive test in an out-of-competition control on June 26, eight days before the Tour began and nearly a month before he won its 16th stage.

It is currently the only doping case to tarnish the 2009 Tour.

"I know that I have not taken any prohibited substance and I say so emphatically," Astarloza said. "Whatever it takes, I'm going to discover how this supposed positive result happened."


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