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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Kazakh shock at cyclist scandal
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Almaty

Alexandre Vinokourov, who has tested positive for blood doping
Alexandre Vinokourov is a national hero in Kazakhstan
It seems that Kazakhstan is in denial, after the cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov was forced to withdraw from the Tour de France for failing a blood test.

There has been no word in the Kazakh media that Mr Vinokourov has tested positive for blood doping.

Neither is there any mention of the fact that his team, Astana, has withdrawn from the race.

However many Kazakhs have heard the news from foreign media. They say they are in shock and cannot believe it.

One of the cyclist's former trainers told the BBC he is heartbroken that his student will not achieve his dream of winning the Tour de France.

He also said he was worried that this blow would undermine the future of cycling in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh symbol

For this young nation, Astana's withdrawal from the tour goes far beyond competition.

Alexandre Vinokourov is a national hero here.

It is widely believed that Astana was created to promote the country's image overseas and to give Kazakhstan the international recognition that the government here is trying so hard to achieve.

Ever since British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen ridiculed Kazakhstan in Borat - a film about a fictitious chauvinistic, anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist - the government has spent millions of dollars on a counter campaign.

Alexandre Vinokourov and his team became an important vehicle of that message.

State-controlled newspapers and TV stations would often talk about the cyclist's success as proof that their country was far from backward.

And so this is not just an ugly end to a remarkable cycling career, it is also a serious blow to the government's efforts to boost the country's image.

Vinokourov takes Pyrenean stage
23 Jul 07 |  Cycling


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