Winning the Vuelta
Alexandre Vinokourov has long been regarded as one of the most exciting riders in cycling, due to his all-out aggression. Landing victory in the Vuelta means he is now a fully-fledged Grand Tour champion, as Shane Stokes reports from Madrid.
It seems like an eternity ago, but back on the fifth stage of the Vuelta a España it looked like the race had slipped away from Alexandre Vinokourov. The Kazakhstani had come into the Tour short of racing kilometres and the first day of the mountains exposed that lack of sharpness, with the Astana leader struggling with the pace of the other overall contenders.
He finished back in 21st place, 2'13 down on stage winner Danilo di Luca (Liquigas) and conceding over a minute and half to riders such as Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre (CSC), José Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and his own team-mate Andrey Kashechkin.
Day seven was somewhat better, with Vinokourov unleashing some strong attacks on the final climb to Alto de El Morredero, but being overhauled by a blistering fast Valverde and four others inside the final 500 metres – and losing a further 12 seconds to Valverde – was doubtlessly hard for his morale.
From there, though, things improved. Consecutive stage wins at Lugo and Alto de La Cobertoria on days eight and nine showed that he was clicking into a higher gear, spurred on no doubt by the presence of Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov at the race. And while Valverde continued to fight on, wearing the maillot oro for eight stages, it became clear towards the end that one rider's form was on the ascension while the other was starting to run out of steam.
"I came to the Vuelta with only 30 days of competition," Vinokourov told the press on the eve of his final victory, explaining how things worked out. "The third week of the race was very hard and I think that perhaps missing the Tour has helped me here.
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