By Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown
Alexandre Vinokourov has long had the reputation as a scrappy, determined and driven competitor and the Astana team leader underlined that on Monday when he soloed to victory in Loudenvielle-Le Louron. Monday saw 'Vino' bounce back to a emphatic stage win just one day after the disappointment of a disastrous stage 14, where he lost nearly 29 minutes.
The Kazakh was in the action from the drop of the flag and infiltrated a strong break which pulled over eight minutes clear of yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen and the other overall contenders.
Vinokourov used the break as a platform to launch his attacked on the final climb of the day, the Col du Peyresourde, where he shed breakaway companions such as Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel – Euskadi), Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval – Prodir) and Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) and hitting the summit well clear.
A fast descent took him down into the finish, where he hit the line 51 seconds ahead of Kirchen and Zubeldia. Cobo was a further seven seconds back, while maillot jaune Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and the Dane's closest challenger Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) came in 6'27" down.
"I was very motivated to show I have good condition and I also wanted to motivate my team," he said after the stage. "I was here to win in Paris but the first week was very unlucky for me [due to his bad crash – ed.]. I made a lot of effort to recover and then I changed my plans. But it is life and I don't have any regrets."
Vinokourov's strong time trial gave him an outside chance of taking yellow but his body didn't co-operate with his ambitions on Sunday. He was asked about that experience. "Yesterday was a very bad day," he said. "I was dropped quite soon and then in my head something went. So I decided to be quiet, knowing my Tour was over. Then in the last climb I crashed because of a fan who touched Ivanov, when I was behind him. I avoided crashing on my bad knee, though."
He felt much stronger on stage 15 and was determined to chase a stage win. "When the break started with 20 riders I knew it was a lot," he said. "I knew the final climbs from the past. Then, when there were riders clear ahead on the Col de Port de Balès, I was calm because I knew it was possible to catch them. I believed that if I was alone on the Peyresourde that I could win. I know the last kilometres from there. I think I won with courage and panache today."
Team-mate Andreas Klöden finished 17th on the stage, coming in with most of the other GC contenders at 6'17". He is now fifth overall, 5'34 behind Rasmussen's yellow jersey, and 1'34" off the third podium place which is currently being held by Cadel Evans.
Vinokourov was asked what tactics the team will follow on Wednesday as regards boosting the German's chances. "It is too soon to give out the tactics," he stated. "I will talk with him tonight and tomorrow. I will try to help him to take him on the podium.
"I know the Col d'Aubisque is very hard and difficult, especially after the rest day, but it will be our main target to get him on the podium in Paris."
Klöden has also been injured in this race, and had the disappointment of riding below his aspirations. However Vinokourov's two stage wins and determined spirit can serve as an encouragement for him, showing that it is possible to fight back despite misfortune.