Kazakh cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov said Saturday he will fight the accusation that he took an illicit blood transfusion during this year's Tour de France -- a charge that led to his expulsion from the race, in which he was the early favorite.
Vinokourov, 33, said he has hired Maurice Suh and Howard Jacobs, the Los Angeles attorneys who are representing 2006 Tour champion Floyd Landis in his challenge to a doping charge, to defend him.
Vinokourov denied the charge. "I have always raced clean," he said in a written statement released by Suh's law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "Given all the attention paid to doping offenses," he said, "you would have to be crazy to do what I have been accused of, and I am not crazy."
Vinokourov's blood sample from the Stage 13 individual time trial on July 21 was declared positive for blood doping by the Paris-based Laboratoire National de Depistage du Dopage, or LNDD. The same French government-owned lab declared Landis positive for testosterone use during last year's Tour de France.
Allegations that LNDD mishandled his urine samples and botched his tests are at the heart of Landis' defense case, which is awaiting a ruling by a three-member arbitration panel. Suh suggested that similar shortcomings may be found in LNDD's work on Vinokourov's blood samples.
"As of now, the public has only heard one side in these test results," he said from Paris. "We encourage everyone to keep an open mind about the test results and not to assume that the LNDD has done everything correctly or has achieved accurate results."
Vinokourov exercised his right to have a backup, or B, blood sample analyzed before witnesses. Under World Anti-Doping Assn. rules, the B test must be performed by the same lab that performed the original test, in this case LNDD. The results have not been officially released. But the French sports newspaper L'Equipe, a frequent recipient of leaks from LNDD, reported within hours of the test's completion on Saturday that it was also positive for doping.
Suh questioned whether LNDD has adequate experience with the blood transfusion test, which was developed by Australian scientists and requires specialized equipment and training.
Vinokourov's ejection from the Tour, followed by that of his entire Astana racing team, is one of several doping-related incidents afflicting this year's race, which is scheduled to conclude today in Paris. His departure was followed by that of Danish rider Michael Rasmussen, who was fired by his team Wednesday -- while holding the race's overall lead -- for having lied about his whereabouts during the off-season when he missed a drug test.
Astana said in a statement Saturday that it had been "pressured to withdraw" from the Tour by race officials, even though it was leading the race in team standings and no other team member had been accused of doping.
The team said it would participate in the rest of the pro cycling events this year.