Friday, July 27, 2007
Suh, Jacobs in Paris to research Vinokourov's case
By Bonnie DeSimone Special to ESPN.com
ANGOULEME, France -- Alexandre Vinokourov and his Astana team, forced out of the Tour de France after Vinokourov's initial positive test for a banned blood transfusion, have retained the two lawyers defending 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis against doping charges.
Maurice Suh and Howard Jacobs arrived in Paris on Thursday to do preliminary research on Vinokourov's case, Suh told ESPN.com. He said the B sample analysis is currently ongoing at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory in suburban Paris. The lab, formally known as the Laboratoire National du Depistage de Dopage (LNDD), processes all samples taken at the Tour and came under strong attack by the Landis camp for sloppy procedures in his case.
"I think at this point, we just want to encourage everyone to keep an open mind," Suh said. "We only have an A sample, and this is a relatively new test. LNDD only began doing it recently."
Suh's firm, Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, will take the lead on Vinokourov's case. Jacobs has represented numerous athletes accused of doping, including cyclist Tyler Hamilton, who also tested positive for homologous transfusion, the same offense Vinokourov allegedly committed. Homologous transfusion refers to receipt of blood from another person. Autologous transfusion, or banking and transfusing one's own blood, is also considered doping, but there is no reliable test for it.
Vinokourov, the mercurial 33-year-old star from Kazakhstan who was the pre-race favorite to win the Tour, was hampered by injuries suffered in a Stage 5 crash and logged a see-saw performance prior to being suspended Tuesday.
His positive A sample was taken on July 21 after he won the Tour's first long individual time trial. He was still within striking distance of the Tour podium at that point, but fell out of contention in the next mountain stage, only to rebound with a stage win the day before his positive was announced.
Tour officials promptly asked Astana to withdraw from the race, and the Switzerland-based team complied. Race president Patrice Clerc later said he regretted inviting the team to the race.
Astana suspended two riders this spring for doping-related offenses and attracted even more controversy when European media outlets reported the team's riders were training in neutral-colored clothing as part of an effort to evade doping controls. Team manager Marc Biver vehemently denied the charges at a pre-Tour press conference. Suspicions arose anew when Astana placed three riders in the top four of the Albi time trial.
Hamilton challenged the scientific validity of his positive test, which was taken in late 2004 at the Tour of Spain. A similar A sample result taken after Hamilton won the time trial gold medal at the Athens Olympics earlier that summer was invalidated when the B sample was inadvertently destroyed.
A U.S. Anti-Doping Agency-convened arbitration panel upheld Hamilton's Tour of Spain positive and he subsequently lost an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He served a two-year suspension and returned to racing this season, only to be suspended again by the Russian Tinkoff team because of alleged links to the Operacion Puerto doping investigation files in Spain. Hamilton recently posted an entry on his Web site saying he and the team were in the midst of a contract dispute.
A decision in the Landis case, heard by a three-man panel in May, is expected later this summer.
Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.