By Jean-François Quénet
Alexandre Vinokourov has had a quiet start to the year, leading to speculation on whether he could challenge for the Tour de France. However, the Kazakh rider has given the signal that his form is coming in the time trial of the Dauphiné.
Alexandre Vinokourov has changed some of his plans since he spoke with Cyclingnews at the end of March prior to the Critérium International. At that time during the 2007 season, he had finished 3rd in Tirreno-Adriatico despite riding in support of his teammate Andreas Klöden, and he knew he would compile only twenty days of competition before going to the Tour de France for which he is clearly now the hot favorite after he won the stage three time trial.
Vinokourov's next important test will be the stage four finish atop the giant of Provence. "Climbing the Mont Ventoux at the Dauphiné will be another interesting test for me," said 'Vino', I'll try to win that stage." He has a chance to get further confirmation of his form penultimate stage from Gap to Valloire, one that includes the Col de la Croix de Fer, the Col du Mollard and the Télégraphe. "This is my last step towards the Tour de France," he told L'Equipe before the French alpine event. "I have the feeling I have done an enormous amount of work during the past few weeks, the physio tests that I just underwent have proven that I'm on the right track."
After winning the time trial ahead of his companion and compatriot Andrey Kashechkin, Vino seemed even more convinced of what he said previously: "We are both on the right track," he concluded after stage three. "I didn't need this result to become the hot favorite for the Tour de France. Everyone said I am. I can only say that I have prepared myself at 100% for that goal since December. The Tour de France is my only dream."
He repeated what he has already said a number of times, "At the age of 33, for me, it's this year or never." He has even thought of imitating Lance Armstrong and call it a career on the Champs-Elysées should he win the Tour de France next month. "But I haven't taken any decision like that. I think I'll be riding again next year and I'll quit after that. It would be ideal to win the Tour and do one last season just to enjoy the feeling of being a Tour de France winner."
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