By Anthony Tan
Although Liberty Seguros-Würth rider Alexandre Vinokourov has raced little compared to previous years, a determined effort by team manager Manolo Saiz to curb his relentless aggression before the Tour de France, the Kazahstani is nevertheless set to win his first stage race of the year at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, which concludes in Segovia today.
In yesterday's stage that finished atop the Category 1 climb of Puerto de Navacerrada, the 32 year-old finished in third place, behind remaining breakaway riders Marco Fertonani (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Manuel Beltran (Discovery Channel), but ahead of the rest of the GC favourites. "I have done my work very calmly," began Vinokourov in his typically reserved manner.
"I have kept on the wheel the whole day and with a kilometre to the summit, I attacked. This gives me confidence because it indicates that I am doing well for the work [I have done]. Today I wanted to go to the top, to put myself in the red zone, and I felt good."
Asked what it means for his ambitions come July, he said: "I believe that I am on the right track for the Tour de France. Today was a day to see how the legs were and I believe that my condition is good. I am satisfied with the tests I have done in the high mountains."
Vinokourov's schedule up to the Tour de France also includes a slight change of plan: initially pencilled in to ride the Tour of Georgia in April, he will now skip the visit Stateside and defend his title at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 23, a race he holds close to his heart. In 2005, he won after breaking away with Jens Voigt on the Côte de La Vecquée with more than 50 kilometres to go; this year, he says he wouldn't mind repeating that victory under similar circumstances.
"I won it last year and to think of repeating it is very difficult, but of course, it would be something special," he said.