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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) attends a press conference prior to making his Giro d'Italia debut.
Kazakhstani to make Italian Grand Tour debut
Alexandre Vinokourov will start the Giro d'Italia on Saturday with the aim of winning the overall classification but he admits he has no experience at the Italian Grand Tour and didn't reconnoitre the tricky mountain stages that include the Zoncolan, Plan de Corones, the Mortirolo and the Gavia climbs among others.
"This race is unknown to me," Vinokourov said in Amsterdam, site of the Giro's prologue on Saturday. "I've got good legs but I want to take the race day after day without any pressure."
The 36-year-old Astana rider's Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory has already taken a lot of pressure off of him. Although he's been jeered by some spectators and given harsh questions by reporters in Belgium, Vinokourov's comeback has proved successful. As he was paired to perfection with teammate Alberto Contador in the Ardennes, Vinokourov has paved the way for his role as a super domestique at the service of the defending Tour de France champion in July. "It has always been the plan that I'd work for Alberto at the Tour and for myself at the Giro," he said.
As Giro d'Italia promoter Angelo Zomegnan welcomed his return, it gave Vinokourov an incentive to give the world's second biggest stage race a try for the first time but there's debate in Italy whether his comeback after suspension is legitimate while Riccardo Riccò remains sidelined by organising company RCS.
"Riccò has showed at the Giro del Trentino that he also had good legs," Vino said about his runner-up in Trentino. "He has paid [for his doping offense] and he could be here but it's a decision by the organiser, and also with [the advice of] the UCI I think. Had he been here, it would have increased the level of the competition but I can't do anything about that."
Vinokourov knows that the climbs in northern Italy are steeper than the ones he is used to at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. However, he didn't feel like going to reconnoitre them prior to the Giro. "I think they are pretty much what I've experienced at the Giro del Trentino but it'll be raced full gas anyway and the recovery will be the most important," Vinokourov said. "Liège-Bastogne-Liège has given me a good sign of my condition but it's different to perform for one day and three weeks. At first I'll try to win a stage or two and possibly wear the pink jersey, then we'll see what happens."