Twenty-four hours after what had seemed like a stage-winning attack at Mende had been snuffed out by his own team leader, Astana’s road captain Alexander Vinokourov celebrated what he described as “a victory that ranks among my very best” in Revel.
Like his success in April at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it also assisted in his rehabilitation – although perhaps not in the eyes of all bike fans – after two years out of the sport following his ban for blood doping during the 2007 Tour.
The 36-year-old Kazakh had been extremely disappointed to miss out at Mende, but felt he still had a chance of success in Revel despite his exertions the day before. “I knew I had good legs even after the attack yesterday, but we talked about it beforehand and decided it was best to stay in the bunch because it was a hard stage with lots of wind,” explained the Astana veteran.
“I was very tired but not in my head. But I knew the final climb really well and I also knew that as soon as the bunch caught the break there would be lots of attacks. That was just how it turned out. I chased after and caught Luis León Sánchez initially and then Alessandro Ballan, then I counterattacked and decided to give all I had to the end of the stage.
"I knew it would be difficult but my team protected me. I think it was important after the disappointment of yesterday. This win will give the team huge motivation for the next few stages in the Pyrenees.”
Looking rather more subdued than his words suggested he felt, Vinokourov added that as an amateur rider he had been told that winning any stage of the Tour de France was like winning the world championship, and he felt his Revel stage ably demonstrated that. “This win isn’t only for me. It’s for my family and for my country because I think that the people in Kazakhstan were disappointed yesterday because both myself and Alberto missed out on the stage win.”
Vinokourov acknowledged that Revel was probably his last chance of winning a stage, although he quipped: “There’s always the Champs Elysées, though…” in reference to his cannily taken stage victory in Paris in 2005. But he said his focus will now be on doing all he can to help Contador win the Tour.
“We have to concentrate on the yellow jersey now and I think that with Alberto we are very confident that we can get it and the whole team are feeling very motivated for that goal,” he said.
With the capture of the yellow jersey in mind, the Kazakh described the Astana team as “stronger than Saxo because they have already ridden on the front a lot in this race. The loss of Frank [Schleck] makes their team a lot weaker of course when it comes to providing support for Andy and that may well have an impact in the mountains.”
Vinokourov concluded by saying he will almost certainly keep racing through to the end of 2011 and is likely to target November’s Asian Games Guangzhou, China.