Vinokourov still hasn’t lost hope of winning the Tour de France
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Monday, October 4, 2010

Vinokourov still hasn’t lost hope of winning the Tour de France

by Conal Andrews at 12:59 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Astana team leader talks about Contador, Menchov, Schleck brothers and Kashechkin

Alexandre VinokourovThirty-seven years of age and 16th in this year’s race, Alexander Vinkourov still believes that he can aim for victory in the Tour de France. The Astana leader knows that it won’t be easy and he won’t start as the main favourite, yet he is not willing to let go of the ambition just yet.

“It is a dream, and one that remains,” he told Kapital.kz. “I will fight in 2011 for overall victory. But in the presence of such strong opponents as Contador and the Schleck brothers, it is very difficult to expect to win.”

Even thought he accepts it’s a tough task, he’ll do what he can to aim for that goal. The Astana team recently signed Roman Kreuziger, one of the most talented young riders in the sport, and Vinokourov seems clear that the Czech rider will ride in his service next July.

“I think Roman Kreuziger is the strongest addition,” he said, speaking about the new signings. “He is young but a very promising racer. Perhaps Roman will be the main striking force of Astana in the Giro and will be my principal assistant in the Tour.”

In order to ensure that he is in the best possible condition for the race, Vinokourov revealed that he is likely to try a different racing programme to this year. The Tour of Italy will most likely be absent from his schedule. “Probably not the Giro,” he said, when asked if he’d do another Grand Tour than the Tour itself. “And I think it’s too early [to decide] about the Vuelta.”

Vinokourov has shown in the past that he can time trial with some of the best riders in the peloton. Accepted, his stage win against the clock in the 2007 Tour de France was aided by a homologous blood transfusion, but in this year’s Giro he was third, fifth and eighth in the time trials. He’s likely to limit his losses in races against the clock in 2011, but one area where he will find it difficult to match the top Tour de France contenders will be the high mountains.

In view of this, he was asked if there was the possibility that he could lose some weight in order to be stronger on the climbs. He ruled that out, saying that he is built the way he is and there is nothing he can do to change it. “If I [already] have a body fat of four percent, what can I do?” he asked. “I can’t cut a piece of meat off.”

Vinokourov returned last autumn from a two year ban and spent the months following that regaining his top condition. Netting fourth in the Tour Méditerranéen showed he was on track, then winning both the Giro del Trentino and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April confirmed he could fight for major victories once again.

He led the Giro d’Italia for several days, taking the Maglia Rosa at the end of stage three to Middelburg, losing it again, then recapturing it on stage seven to Montalcino. He held it until the end of stage nine to Cava de’ Tirreni, collected five more top-ten stage placings and finished sixth overall in Verona.

He also performed well at the Tour de France, even if it was ridden mainly in support of Alberto Contador. He won the stage to Revel and took sixteenth overall in the race, then went on to finish second in the Clasica San Sebastian.

After winning the Tour for Astana, Alberto Contador had been expected to stay with the team. In fact, he gave Vinokourov and others the impression that he was doing so, only to turn around and announce that he had signed for Saxo Bank. His former team-mate said that that there were no hard feelings between then.

“There were discussions. Our team made an offer to Contador, he thought it over. But in the end he chose another team,” he said. He felt it wasn’t a question of money. “The previous contract [with Astana] was very lucrative for him. I don’t think that his new team will pay Contador more. Simply, he decided to finish this stage of his career and to take the next step. We cannot blame him.”

He was asked if they remained friends; it appears that things are at least civil between them. “In general, yes,” he answered. “We will probably not have dinner together and visit each other. But we support good, friendly relations. Alberto visited us in Almaty [he went there in September – ed.] and that confirmed that we are parting well.”

He was not asked about the most recent positive case involving the rider.

Looking forward to next season:

Alexandre VinokourovVinokourov will be one of the big leaders for 2011. Another could have been the Russian rider Denis Menchov, who was in talks with the team but then opted for the new Team Geox setup. “Menchov was one of the main candidates we checked out,” he said, according to the Astana Fans website. “But there was not the fight between us and Katusha as was written everywhere. Yes, of course, Menchov is one of the best riders, he was on the podium of Tour de France, but these days we aren’t desperate for only him. He’s got plans for next Tour de France, but I’ve got such plans as well. I don’t think that Menchov is much stronger than me.”

He confirmed that the team did indeed try to attract the Schleck brothers, who subsequently announced that they would go instead to the new Team Luxembourg. “We tried [to sign them],” he stated. “But it wasn’t really serious, there were no detailed proposals, because we saw they had great plans for their own team. They’ve already got a strong team and want to fight for it.”

The Schlecks’ new squad is being set up to boost the sport in Luxembourg and to help it develop. Ditto for Astana, which was founded with the partial goal of helping cycling in Kazakhstan. Vinokourov aside, the strongest rider from there was Andrey Kashechkin, although he too was banned in 2007 for a blood transfusion and is similarly controversial.

He’s been trying to get back onto the team and it appears that there may be a slot there for him at some point. “In future it’s possible,” confirmed Vinokourov. “If Andrey proves his strength, his ability to fight at a top-level and to get results, then why not – he could come to Astana.”

However, he doesn’t envisage that happening in 2011. “It’s most likely not next season,” he said. “I personally don’t need him to help me on the Tour de France.”

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