Vino and Contador join forces for Criterium International

Astana leaders ride together in Corsica

This weekend's Critérium International race sees Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov on the same start list and in the same team for the first time since the 2006 Tour de France in Strasbourg, when both riders were unable to start the race after several of their teammates were implicated in Operacion Puerto.

At the time Vinokourov was team leader and Contador just a talented young rider. Now their roles have changed drastically, after Vinokourov failed a blood test in the 2007 Tour de France and Contador went on to win the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España.

"Contador used to be at my service and now it's the opposite," Vinokourov told Cyclingnews before lining up with the Spaniard at the Critérium International on the island of Corsica on Saturday. "Vinokourov and I have an excellent relationship," said Contador, as they got set to ride together and take on new rival Lance Armstrong in the two-day, three-stage race.

Contador recently won Paris-Nice while Vinokourov had a pretty quiet Tirreno-Adriatico. The Kazakh was tenth on stage two but crashed the following day and hurt his left elbow. "The injury affected me a bit," he said. "I couldn't pull on the handlebar on steep climbs. But I've recovered and it hasn't delayed my training since the end of the race. It hasn't changed my schedule. Milan-San Remo wasn't part of it anyway because there are a lot of risks that don't make it worth it for me."

The Critérium International was always on Vinokourov's race schedule even before Contador changed his. "It was great news when Alberto said he wanted to do this race instead of the Tour of Catalunya. It's our first race together this year and it's a good opportunity to work on our team tactics," Vino said. "It's a very difficult race with big teams competing. It's perfect for testing our legs. It's very, very good to be here together; otherwise we probably wouldn't have been on the same team until the Tour de France."

Contador and Vinokourov now also have Liège-Bastogne-Liège on their common agenda, where the Spaniard intends to put himself at the service of the Kazakh. "I'll go to the Ardennes to get experience because I'd like to win one-day classics in the future. Unfortunately, that time of the year isn't very favourable for me because of my allergies," Contador said. After the Ardennes classics, Vinokourov will captain the Astana team at the Giro d'Italia before working for Contador at the Tour de France. "This has always been our plan and it won't change," Vino added.

No message for Armstrong

Contador obviously gets on better with Vinokourov than he did with Lance Armstrong last year although he insists that he's got "no message for anybody" when questioned about his rivalry with the American.

As Vinokourov is instrumental in the running of the Astana team, as well as being a rider in it, he's "very happy" with the results of the squad so far this year despite the departure of the eight teammates Contador had alongside him at the 2009 Tour de France to Armstrong's RadioShack team. "Astana is second in the world ranking behind Caisse d'Epargne," Vino said.

Indeed, the Kazakh squad has 195 points whereas RadioShack is in 24th place with only seven points at the same level as Footon-Servetto and Française des Jeux. Vino also underlined with pride that "Kazakhstan is in the top 10 (seventh) in the nations ranking. I'm delighted to see some of my compatriots like [Strade Bianche winner] Maxim Iglinskiy doing so well," he said.

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