By Jean-François Quénet in Tignes with assistance from Steve Medcroft
When the 2007 Tour de France started, race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) was riding under a slightly tarnished image when it was revealed that he worked with controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. But there's nothing better than a spectacular crash and the grace of a rider gritting his teeth and performing while injured to bring about a sympathetic response from the fans.
Not to say that Vino's crash on stage 5 (Chablis - Autun) wasn't serious; Anyone who saw him exiting the hospital of Beaune at 11.45pm on Thursday with bandages on both knees couldn't have thought he'd be able to go far in the Tour de France. Vino himself was just happy that nothing was broken. The next morning, he could hardly walk from his hotel room to the Astana team bus.
Vinokourov received between 15 to 30 stitches (according to different sources inside the Astana team) applied loose enough so the Kasakh can still pedal correctly.
Stage 6 to Bourg-en-Bresse was a crucial test for Vinokourov. He spent most of the race at the back of the bunch with three of his team-mates and managed to stay with the peloton to the end of the day. He also kept pace with the contenders in stage 7, the first mountain stage of the 2007 Tour. When he arrived in Le Grand-Bornand, he said: "Maybe I gave the impression of climbing well, but don't get it wrong, I was suffering a lot. Finishing with the best guys is like a victory for me."
Read the entire Alexandre Vinokourov feature here.