By Jean-François Quénet in Charleville-Mézières
After finishing 3rd in Tirreno-Adriatico, Alexandre Vinokourov would be a logical favorite for the Critérium International in the French Ardennes this weekend. But he doesn't put any pressure on himself: "There's only one race I want to win this year, it's the Tour de France," he said on Friday. "I've already won everything else I wanted - except from the World Championship."
Vinokourov says he'll use the French event as a test. "I hope to do a good time trial on Sunday afternoon. I did some testing in a wind tunnel and I know that I have to improve my position yet. Maybe I'll do the hill climb stage with the best riders. With the condition of Tirreno-Adriatico, I can make a top 10 here."
Vinokourov says that although he'll share his team's leadership role for the Tour, "for me, winning the Tour is this year or never. Here at the Critérium International, I have the opportunity to race against Damiano Cunego, Alejandro Valverde or Luis Leon Sanchez but they might be in a different state of form as me because everyone has a different programme. Cunego might be in form earlier because of the Giro. I only focus on building my condition and my team for the Tour de France."
The politicians and businessmen behind Astana have asked for 9 or 10 team members to take part in the championship of Kazakhstan, after which Vino and Kash will fly directly to London for the start of the Tour de France. "It's this year or never ", the boss repeats.