Chasing the Tour: Vinokourov gets ready

Having won most of the races he wished to in his career, Alexandre Vinokourov is staking everything...

Having won most of the races he wished to in his career, Alexandre Vinokourov is staking everything on the big one this year. The Tour de France is his sole target and he's hoping that this time round, everything will come together. Shane Stokes of Cyclingnews reports from the Astana training camp in Mallorca, Spain.

Alejandro Valverde may be increasingly regarded as being amongst the biggest of contenders for the Tour de France, but the rider who beat him in the 2006 Vuelta a España is heading into the season with the goal of coming out top of the pile once again.

Four months ago Vinokourov bounced back from the disappointment of missing the Tour by producing a career-best ride at the beginning of the autumn. His absence from competition meant that he was a little rusty heading into the Vuelta, losing time on the first big mountain stage, but from that point on he became stronger and stronger as the race progressed.

Valverde's incredible burst at the end of the seventh stage to the top of the Alto de El Morredero (Ponferrada) showed he was by then in peak condition, but his Kazakh opponent was the one whose form was continuing to grow. Vino won stages eight and nine, and then seized the maillot oro en route to finishing second on stages 17 and 18. He then copper-fastened his grip on the race with an impressive win in the penultimate day's time trial, ending the three-week race 1 minute and 12 seconds ahead.

That represented the first ever grand tour win for the Astana rider and, confidence solidified by the victory; he is staking everything on success in France this July. As a result, the former winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège will forfeit the chance to chase a second victory if this means he is going to be in better condition at the Tour start in London.

"I will not go to Liège aiming to do something," he said at a press conference held in recent days at the team training camp in Mallorca. "The Tour de France is my main objective for the season. However, I will take part in Liège-Bastogne-Liège because it's good training for me. I will go there to help Kessler and Kashechkin. I already won this race once so it is not my main objective this year."

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