Vino wins L-B-L and has lots to say to his critics

Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) won Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, dropping Katusha’s Alexander Kolobnev inside the final kilometer and crossing the line alone.

It was the second victory here for Vinokourov, who first won in 2005. He and Kolobnev escaped an elite lead group with some 15km to race, and the two rolled under the red kite together with more than a minute’s advantage on a disorganized chase. It was an uphill finish, and in the final 500 meters the Kazakh attacked up the right side of the road and opened an insurmountable gap.

“It is a beautiful victory for me,” he told Belgian TV afterward.

Amstel Gold champion Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) launched a desperate solo bid in the final kilometers, but fell short, being swept up under the red kite by world champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne). They in turn were swamped by what remained of the peloton, and Valverde took a chaotic bunch sprint for the final place on the podium. Gilbert had to settle for fourth.

Chris Horner (Team RadioShack) was the top American, crossing in eighth spot.

Liège podium

Top 10

# 1. VINOKOUROV Alexandre Astana in 6:37:48
# 2. KOLOBNEV Alexandr Katusha Team
# 3. VALVERDE Alejandro Caisse d’Epargne at 01:04
# 4. GILBERT Philippe Omega Pharma – Lotto at 01:04
# 5. EVANS Cadel Bmc Racing Team at 01:04
# 6. SCHLECK Andy Team Saxo Bank at 01:07
# 7. ANTON Igor Euskaltel – Euskadi at 01:07
# 8. HORNER Christopher Team RadioShack at 01:07

Riled by the negative impact of his victory, Astana’s Vinokourov took the unusual step of writing an open letter Monday in a bid to convince his detractors that his win was untainted.

Vinokourov, one of cycling’s big names of the past decade, was booed and jeered by some fans as he rode across the finish line of the prestigious Belgian one-day classic on Sunday.

And after the race he faced several questions by reporters who demanded to know why, less than a year after serving a two-year ban for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, he was riding with such gusto.

Vinokourov, claiming he was “saddened” by press reports doubting the integrity of his win, said he has faced a battery of dope tests recently and has nothing to hide.

“I can’t do anything about the doubts surrounding me since what happened in 2007, but I totally refute any doubt surrounding me now, especially in the absence of proof,” said the 36-year-old.

“Since my return last August I’ve been very obliging to the media, but my victory in Liège seems to have prompted a few old jealousies to emerge. I don’t understand the gulf between the reaction to my win and the hundreds of messages of support I’ve received.

“In what other sport are you allowed to participate without the right to win?”

Vinokourov’s re-emergence coincides with that of Italian Riccardo Ricco, who finished second behind the Kazakh at the Giro del Trentino last week, having recently returned from a 20-month doping ban for using the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) at the 2008 Tour.

Courtesy and Agence France Presse
Images Courtesy Graham Watson