An interview with Alexandre Vinokourov, April 24, 2005
The truth lies - if not in wine, then in the first Kazakh winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Alexandre Vinokourov, who scored his team's first victory this season and finally took the pressure off the entire T-Mobile squad. Although 'Vino' is not a man of great words or exuberant emotions, one could tell that he was still touched by this achievement as he received his award on the podium in Ans, close to Liège, on Sunday.
"I wasn't sure about winning until I reached the finish line," Vinokourov said after his victory asked by Cyclingnews. "I was thinking that we might get our chance if we still had one minute in Saint Nicolas [the penultimate climb before Ans, where he and Voigt led by 1'13 at the bottom - ed.]. Then, I thought it was feasible."
Asked about his co-leader, Jens Voigt, who was also very strong, Vino replied, "Yes, of course I feared him. I tried to drop him on the Saint Nicolas climb, but he wouldn't let go of my wheel. Then, my directeur sportif told me to wait for the sprint, so I did, and then gave everything I had. And I succeeded, so I'm happy."
For the Kazakh, it was a dream come true. "I dreamed about winning a classic like Liège-Bastogne-Liège ever since I became a pro," he said. "And I knew I could do it! When we saw on Friday that the course had changed, I told myself 'why not this time?' - the changes made the course harder, it suited me better. The race parcours unfolded like 15 years ago, so it would be different racing. So when I saw that Voigt jumped, I decided to try it with him. If I had waited for the last climb, Rebellin, Boogerd, Di Luca would all have been there, too. The break was the right decision."
Vinokourov also paid respect to his breakaway partner Jens Voigt, who missed the victory by a hair. "He's a great rouleur, that's why I jumped with him. It was even hard to join him at first! We didn't talk much during our ride, as we understood each other without words: We had to give our maximum to reach the finish before the chasers. It was great; he rides like a Boeing - we already saw that at Flèche Wallonne. Incredible! He would have deserved the victory too, but...I was stronger in the end."
Asked if he had felt a particular pressure to score a victory for his team, Vinokourov replied, "No, there was no pressure on me. I prepared for the classics with Paris-Nice as an objective. Amstel was a hard race; at Flèche, I felt a little better; and today was magnificent. But the team put no pressure on me. Of course, I did it also for the team, as this will give boost our confidence. I wanted to show that T-Mobile can win races again. But I also wanted to prove it to myself: a classic win feels good before the Tour de France."
The first win for T-Mobile thus in 2005 thus was an important event, just as Vinokourov had predicted to team manager Walter Godefroot. "As we didn't win even in the smaller races, I said to Walter 'maybe we are waiting for a bigger victory instead of winning at the less important races'. I stayed calm, and waited for a another day. It had to pay off at one point, because the team always gave its very best. I also told Walter, 'even if we win only the Tour this year, it covers our whole season', so I wasn't worried."
The one and only goal for Vinokourov as well as for his T-Mobile team being the Tour, Vinokourov felt the victory boost his morale not only because of it being the La Doyenne, but also in view of the big event in July. "It's important for me because I didn't get a podium placing this year yet. And it gives me some morale for the Tour. When we rode these climbs today, especially the longer ones, I did think about the Tour a bit. It's still two months away, but I'm looking forward to it very much."
Then, the winner left the press room to celebrate with his teammates. "I hope there'll be a glass of champagne waiting for me at the hotel," he said. "We waited a long time for this victory."
During the next weeks, Vinokourov also planned to rest and train, pausing from races. "I'll skip racing for the next three weeks," he said. "I'll go back to Kazakhstan to stay with my family for a while. Then, I'll start again at the Bayern-Rundfahrt [Tour of Bavaria], then the Dauphiné and the Tour."
Bearing in mind this impressive victory, Vinokourov is definitely back on the list of predators for the biggest stage race in the world, the Tour de France in July 2005.