Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) has said that he is aiming to finish on the podium of the 2011 Tour de France. He also expressed his hope that erstwhile teammate Alberto Contador does not lose his yellow jersey as a consequence of returning an adverse analytical finding for Clenbuterol during the 2010 race.
Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping at the 2007 Tour and missed the following two editions of the race while serving his suspension. He returned to the event this season and took a stage win, as well as helping Contador to the top step of the podium in Paris. He is now hoping for greater things, in spite of the fact that he turned 37 in September.
“As it stands today, we’re thinking in terms of the general classification, why not?” Vinokourov told Astanafans.com. “Let’s just say that in this year’s Tour, in cycling terms, I could have fought for third place with Menchov [had he not been riding in support of Contador – ed]. So there is always a chance.
“We won’t give up on the battle for the overall before the start. We will fight for the yellow jersey, and after that, the mountains jersey, team classification or the beautiful stages. But today, at least, the aim is to fight for the podium.”
Vinokourov also declared himself pleased with the route of the 2011 Tour, which he believes will suit his aggressive style of riding. The stages in Massif Central are a particular attraction for the Kazakh.
“There are some quite difficult stages there,” he said. “In principle, the route is ideal. Well, maybe not ‘ideal,’ but certainly it is a good Tour.”
The Tour’s novel opening days are also on Vinokourov’s radar: “First up, there’s no prologue, which is something different. Then the team time trial, which is hard but we have good riders.”
The Contador Affair
As well as looking forward to next year’s Tour, Vinokourov reflected on the 2010 race. While he hoped Alberto Contador is allowed to keep the yellow jersey that he won while riding for the Astana team, he admitted that he did not know all the details of the case.
“Nobody needs Contador’s disqualification, not us at Astana, not cycling, not the Tour de France and not the UCI,” he said. “I find it hard to judge, as I don’t know all the nuances.
“I hope he doesn’t get disqualified and that the victory remains with the Astana team.”
During the 2010 Tour, there was thought to be a certain degree of tension between Vinokourov and Contador, particularly after stage 12 of the race, when Contador chased down a seemingly stage-winning attack from the Kazakh on the final climb in Mende. The Spaniard ultimately gained 10 seconds on his rival Andy Schleck, but missed out on stage victory to Joaquin Rodriguez.
“Maybe it hurt a little deep down but I was more upset that he didn’t win the stage,” Vinokourov said. “It’s hard to judge. If he’d won the stage, it would have been great, even if I was caught. Instead, he took his ten seconds with…nothing.
“That evening we had a talk. Of course, he apologised and we settled it.”
The following day, Vinokourov took the stage into Revel and while he was pleased to mark his return to the Tour in such a manner, his victory in April’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege remains the highlight of his year.
“The victory at Liege came when I was facing a lot of criticism,” Vinokourov said, recognising that a great many followers of the sport were not pleased to see him return so readily to the peloton, seemingly without addressing his past. “It was difficult to explain to reporters that there was a new Vinokourov and that they could trust him, and so on.”
Outside of his own ambitions in 2011, the Kazakh is keen to see his Astana team continue to develop, in spite of Contador’s departure. In particular, he is hopeful that new signing Roman Kreuziger can deliver on his considerable potential at the Giro d’Italia.
“I think he can win next year’s Giro d’Italia, or at least finish on the podium,” Vinokourov said. “He has a good team of helpers.”