Stephens: Vino likely to go again

"I think it will be necessary to attack again," said Astana directeur sportif Neil Stephens this...

"I think it will be necessary to attack again," said Astana directeur sportif Neil Stephens this morning in Granada, when asked if race leader Alexandre Vinokourov would be content to leave his fight with closest challenger Alejandro Valverde until Saturday's time trial.

"The gap is small and you have got to take every advantage. Vino is a cool character, he is a bit of a calculator and he will sit back and observe the situation. Valverde is probably going to have to attack, but who knows - Vino or even Kash might go on the attack again. If I was in Vino's shoes, what he did yesterday is important but today is even more important.

"Really, they are nearly both in the lead still, there is really no difference. And Valverde is capable of getting up in the bunch finish on Sunday for the bonuses. So Vino wouldn't want to go into the last day with just nine or ten seconds."

Stephens said that if it comes down to the gallop on Sunday, the money would be on the Spaniard. "Valverde is quicker in a sprint finish and normally Vino is better in a time trial. The only thing at the moment is that of the favourites at the moment, the guy who seems to have more fuel left in the tank is Vino. Everyone else is getting tired, even Kash... you can see his alternator lights are lighting up. So too Sastre the other day and Valverde yesterday."

Stephens said that the mood was very good in the team after yesterday's success. "Last night when the bike riders were finished their dinner we got champagne and toasted a good day's work and a job well done. Not to the jersey, not to the chance of winning the Tour of Spain, but to a job really well done.

"You have got to have luck, but the boys did everything possible to give us all the cards. Everything went our way. We had to ride aggressively, we have to be in all the moves. We didn't actually start the aggression yesterday, we were going to wait until the climb. But the other teams started to light it up so we just had to be present in all those moves. In fact, by the time we had planned to light it up, there was already a move of more than 30 riders up the road and we had three or four riders in it.

"The boys were really, really good yesterday. Although you pick up the paper and it says Vino was fantastic and it was thanks to Kash, but you have to say it was thanks to all of them. There are eight riders left out of the nine starters and they were all really good yesterday."

When asked if he was surprised by how much time Vinokourov got back on Valverde, Stephens says that he was. "The gap opened very quick yesterday. Vino really only attacked once, but when he attacks he doesn't play around. Other guys attack and they do this and that. I spoke to Vino about this after the stage the Euskaltel guy won [referring to Igor Anton's win in Stage 16 - ed.]... he attacked really well a couple of times there, but after that, there wasn't much fire left in his attacks. I think Vino reflected on that and only went once yesterday, when it was the right moment."

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