By Hedwig Kröner in Nice
A pleasant surprise this morning in sunny Nice was to see Alexandre Vinokourov taking the time to shake hands, support his team, and start his daily training ride - five hours today, he said - from the famous Promenade des Anglais. Living just a few kilometres away along the coastline of the Mediterranean in Monaco, the former Paris-Nice winner hadn't seen his teammate's victory live on TV yesterday, but got a call as his compatriot Andrei Kashechkin passed under the 'flamme rouge'.
"I'm really happy for Kash that he won here yesterday, it's great," Vinokourov said. "Later, I watched the coverage: a beautiful victory. So today, it was a good opportunity to come and say hello to all of my friends here; it's always good to see them all. I miss it, but that's the way it is - this year, it's all for the Tour, and I want to keep my strength for that.
"My preparation is going well," the Kazakhstan champion continued, explaining why he was missing out on this year's 'race to the sun'. "The program is a little different from last year, as the one and only objective is the Tour de France."
One decisive factor in his plan to win the French Grand Tour in July will be the support he will receive from his teammates. What was his impression of their strength so far? "I have confidence in my team to 99 percent, as it's still a young team but they have a lot of motivation," Vinokourov replied. "Like today, there are still seven riders at the start of the last stage - that's good. They all really want to race and work for their leader. And with Kash winning yesterday, it gives them even more motivation."
Asked whether there were many differences between a German-held team and a Spanish one, the 32 year-old laughed, "Well, organisation was big in the German team, but it's also good with Liberty - in Spain, it's just more relaxed! But I don't have a problem at all with the structure of the team, and Saiz being the big boss. I come from a former Eastern bloc country, so it was the same structure there, the same school. It suits me to have somebody giving me a detailed program even for training."