An interview with Alexandre Vinokourov, July 13, 2005
Alexandre Vinokourov showed his guts and class by attacking a long way from home to win the 11th stage of the Tour de France. For the Kazakh champion who lost five minutes the day before, it was the best way to bounce back as Cyclingnews' Anthony Tan reports from Briancon.
When the winner of the eleventh stage of the Tour de France was asked if his victory today was a 'gift' from Lance Armstrong, the softly spoken Kazakh was a little taken aback.
"Well... I think you have to ask that to Lance," muttered Vino, who told French sports newspaper L'Equipe a few days ago that the only other team he'd consider riding for in 2006 would be Discovery Channel.
Armstrong's response: "Our main concern was to keep the team together. He was six and a half minutes behind on GC and we can't chase down everybody who's at 5, 6, 7 minutes - we have to prioritise. And he was not on our list of priorities, so we let him out there and controlled the pace. If his objective was to win a stage - mission accomplished. If his objective was to blow up the Discovery team - mission not accomplished."
In that case, it was mission accomplished for Vinokourov.
Yesterday, on the stage to Courchevel, the 31 year-old was experiencing a very off day on the bike, and when he came in at the finish line, he didn't even know who won. "I lost a lot of time on GC today, but I hope I will be better tomorrow. I will attack again," he said. "It's hard, but I don't think we've lost the Tour now."
But in reality, after such a bad day and losing almost five and a half minutes to Armstrong and stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), no-one actually expected him to attack. T-Mobile's team doctor put it down to hunger-flat but Vino immediately denied the suggestion, providing his explanation today.
"I think that it's because of the rest day, because it really broke my rhythm. The Tour started very fast; we had nine days with an average speed of about 50 kilometres per hour and during the rest day, I only trained for two and a half hours; I think that was not enough. Of course I was disappointed, but yesterday, I already said I would attack today, and that's what I did on the Madeleine."
Whatever happened to him the day before, this and Vinokourov's early actions less than 50 kilometres into the race only compounded the element of surprise.
"I had to do that today, because if you don't attack, you will never win the Tour - it's impossible," he said. "If you wait for the last climb, it's the same - it's impossible to win - because Lance's team are so strong at the finish, even if you want to attack, it's impossible."
In the final kilometres of today's stage, Vinokourov said he was thinking about a similar set of circumstances he found himself in at this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which he still regards as his finest career win to date. On the Côte de La Vecquée and with more than 50 kilometres remaining, he and Jens Voigt managed to hold off a chase group containing most of the race favourites, before Vino comfortably outsprinted his German companion at the finish line in Ans. "I knew that I was stronger than Botero in the sprint, but you never know what can happen, even if I trust myself," he said.
Vino's faith - and strength - paid off, outsprinting Botero to take his second Tour stage win and move himself into 12th place overall, and not surprisingly, it's given him renewed hope for the stages to come. However, he's still maintaining a certain sense of caution about what is and isn't possible.
"I think so...I hope so," he said about whether he'll have the strength left to attack in the coming days. "You have to risk something, which is what I did today. It was a beautiful stage win for me, and also good motivation for the team to keep on attacking in the Pyrenées."
Added Vinokourov on his future motivations: "Concerning the stage win, it's done already. For the general classification, I am now about five minutes behind Lance [4'47 - ed.]. It will be very hard [to beat him], but in the Tour de France, anything can happen - and you never know, Lance can have a bad day too, like he did in 2003."
And just like the question as to whether he received a gift from Lance, Vino was equally annoyed when asked - rather stupidly, mind you - if he is now the leader of team.
"It's the third time you've asked me that, but this changes nothing. We are three leaders in the team, and today was my turn to attack; maybe in the Pyrenées, it will be Jan or Klöden. We still are three leaders, and I think that Jan is feeling better and better every day."