By Antonio J. Salmerón
On Sunday in Madrid, Alexandre Vinokourov sketched a timid smile when saying, "this triumph is, without any doubt, a gift for me." Great adversary and entertainer in the final days of the Vuelta, the Astana leader now put his aspirations of success on the World Championships in Salzburg, where he will again have as main rival Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
But Vinokourov already thinks about next year, about his obsessive will to win the Tour de France: "Thanks to the help of my prime minister, we found sponsorship for the next years, and now, this victory is a great celebration for all of my country. Next year, I want to win the Tour to complete my dream. Our exclusion in the Tour was an injustice, because Paulinho and Contador have not had any relation with Operacion Puerto. This Vuelta has been a great motivation for going to the Tour in 2007, with even more desire to win. My rivals? After the strength demonstrated Valverde, and seeing his youth, he is a very strong rival, although I have to take into account Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso, if he is cleared."
The other main goal for Vinokourov is to terminate his contract with Manolo Saiz's Active Bay company, which currently manages the Astana team. His agreement runs through 2008: "Manolo Saiz has all my respect; I believe that he is an intelligent person and he has to take into consideration that I brought this sponsor (Astana). I hope that he sets me free, because it would be very difficult to participate with him in the Tour."
Among the guests invited to the Vinokourov's evening party in Madrid was his teammate Luis Leon Sanchez, who has negotiated a pre-contract with the new Astana squad for 2007 - just in case Manolo Saiz doesn't find a replacement for Astana as sponsorship.