Leading Tour favourite Alexandre Vinokourov has confirmed to the French media that he is working with the controversial Italian trainer, Michele Ferrari. ?Nobody has forced me to do this.? Vinokourov said. ?It?s a dccision taken as a way of facing the destructive machine that is out to get my team and me.?

Vinokourov was at pains to point out that Ferrari advised him on how to do training, but he was ?not my doctor. They left Lance Armstrong alone until he announced he was working with Ferrari. That was in 2001. He then won five more Tours without anybody being able to say anything.?

He explained that he had not told anybody about Ferrari before because ?I was scared of how people would react. You hear so many bad stories about him. But I have nothing to be ashamed of because I know how he works.?

He added that Ferrari was beneficial for him because ?his training plans are the best. It?s strange, but they remind me of the kind of work methods we used to use in the USSR.?

Vinokourov?s statements will do little to ease the controversy surrounding his team, Astana, after they recently suspended two riders: Eddy Mazzoleni, for his alleged connections with the Oil for Drugs anti-doping investigation in Italy, and Matthias Kessler, for a positive ?A? test for testosterone in April?s Fleche Wallone.

After receiving a year?s suspended sentence for sporting fraud in October 2004, Ferrari was cleared of charges on May 29th. He is famous for being one of the first doctors to discuss banned drug EPO, saying it was no more dangerous than orange juice.

In the same interview, the Astana leader criticised the fact that Kessler?s positive for testosterone had taken two months to be made public. ?Why should that happen if the idea wasn’t to put sticks in our wheels?? He also said that he had signed the UCI?s anti-doping charter.

Third in the 2003 Tour de France, after winning two stages of the Dauphine Libere this June, Vinokourov is one of the top favourites for overall victory in the Tour in July.