By Shane Stokes in Lugo
Despite earlier rumours that Manolo Saiz was still playing a role with the Astana team, Vuelta stage 8 victor Alexandre Vinokourov insisted at the post-stage press conference that he had made a clean break from the former team manager. The Kazakstani said that there had been no contact between the two since the squad was prevented from starting the Tour de France.
"We have not spoken at all lately," he said. "I have respect for Manolo but considering what has happened, I can't remain with the team [under that structure]," he said. "We will start afresh on our own, with Marc Biver as manager and Walter Godefroot [as directeur sportif], and will create a new team.
"We don't have a ProTour licence yet but with or without that, I don't think that will matter. With myself and [Andreas] Kloden there I think we will get an invitation for the Tour in 2007 and that is why I am not worried. Besides, all of the Grand Tours will split from the ProTour so we will get our invitation in those races, with or without a ProTour licence.
Vinokourov's win came exactly two weeks before his 33rd birthday and both the time bonus gained plus the boost to his morale meant that he believes it is possible for him to be a big factor in this Vuelta.
"It is true that I lost time then [on the first mountain stage], but yesterday I was there. My motivation hasn't been knocked. The Vuelta lasts another two weeks and I don't think two minutes is such a big gap. Of course, I think it is a pity to be a bit behind, but tomorrow will be a hard stage. I recovered well from yesterday and I am very motivated."
Doubtless, he will be further psyched by the presence of the Kazakh prime minister Danial Akhmetov, a man who played a major part in the recent formation of the Astana squad. He arrived after stage 8 and the team will be keen to show what they can do.