Paris: Alexander Vinokourov returned to cycling on Tuesday after a two-year doping suspension looking relieved and relaxed in a low-key race in France.
"This is my great comeback", Kazakh Vinokourov, whose ban ended last month, told reporters before starting a 45km race in southwestern Castillon-la-Bataille.
"It`s a unique feeling," he added. "It`s great to have a bib on again. It`s like being back in the family.”
"My fitness is okay. I need a bit of time to recapture my pace but it`ll come back fast."
Vinokourov was banned for two years after testing positive for blood doping in the 2007 Tour de France. The 35-year-old has denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday he wore a sponsor-free shirt bearing the inscription "Vino for ever".
He said, however, that he should be reunited with the Kazakh-funded Astana team for his next race, the Aug. 9-12 Tour de l`Ain, also in France.
"Normally I`ll be riding in the Tour de l`Ain for Astana," he said.
Vinokourov`s positive test came after he won a time trial during the 2007 Tour de France. He was kicked out of the race and his Astana team were asked by organisers to leave the event.
Astana were not invited by organisers on the 2008 Tour but returned to the race with great success this year, placing first and third through Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong respectively.
American Armstrong has said he will quit Astana to form a U.S.-based team in 2010 in partnership with RadioShack Corporation.
Spaniard Contador has turned down an offer to extend his contract with Astana and wants to leave the team, his brother and agent Fran was quoted as saying last week.
Vinokourov said, however, that he hoped Contador, who has a year left on his contract, would stay with the team.
"The goal is to build a team around Alberto," Vinokourov said. "I`d work for him but the decision belongs to him."