Alexandre Vinokourov confirmed he’ll ride the Tour de France at the service of Astana teammate Alberto Contador, but at the age of 36 is viewing the Giro d’Italia as one of his last chances to win another Grand Tour.
"This has been the first real quiet day," said Vinokourov with a smile, after finishing the first stage of this year's Giro to take place entirely beneath sunny skies. "I had to pay attention to avoid the crashes. That gives me one more day in pink. Our team profited from the work of the sprinters’ team. As usual, the finale was a bit nervous."
He had waited 24 hours to comment on his aggressive tactics in the last 15 kilometres of stage nine on Monday. "I attacked because I’m a rider who likes to attack," he said. "If I have lost some energy there, my rivals like [Cadel] Evans, [Stefano] Garzelli or [Michele] Scarponi have also spent energy. They spent even more than me, I guess."
Ten days into his first Giro d’Italia, the 2006 Vuelta a España winner said he now has a clearer picture of the corsa rosa. "I heard in the past that the Giro is quiet, but it was never quiet until today," he said. "It’s even harder than the Tour de France! And the mountains that await us are more difficult than those of the Tour."
Vinokourov believes it won’t be a handicap for him to not have reconnoitred the crucial stages of the Giro, starting with the Wednesday's stage 11 from Lucera to L’Aquila. The 262km stage features terrain similar to that of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which Vinokourov won for a second time last month.
"It’s gonna be hard with 260 kilometres to cover," he said. "I think my team will control [things]. I can’t say that I want to win that stage but I know that after 230 kilometres, it’s a different race, it becomes like a Classic. I don’t exactly know the course. I presume it’s like in Tirreno-Adriatico. I also didn’t check the course of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and I still won the race. It all depends on the legs."
The Kazakhstani already has the mountains in mind. "There are still three or four riders who can win the Giro: Evans, Nibali, Basso…" he continued. "Any of us can have a bad day, myself included. I race peacefully. It would be a mistake to think that Evans is my only rival. Nibali is also motivated and Basso even more. Nibali came here to help Basso but he might try and win himself."
He said he is ready for the mental game. "I’m 36 year-old but my friends tell me that I’m physically and mentally five times stronger than five years ago," he said. In 2005, he finished fifth in the Tour de France while riding at the service of third placed Jan Ullrich.
"For now, I’m 100 per cent focused on the Giro," he added. "After that, I’ll take ten days rest and I’ll prepare for the Tour de France. I’ll do it to help Alberto Contador win. Even if we don’t have the best team on paper, we’ll have a very good team at the Tour as well."