An interview with Alexander Vinokourov, June 14, 2007
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. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet spoke with him after he took the yellow jersey in Anneyron.
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 team-mate 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 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 Andreï 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."
Kashechkin is the logical choice to carry on Vinokourov's legacy since he came third to Vino's first at last year's Vuelta. However, at 27 years of age, the second big Kazakh cyclist will probably not repeat his older team-mate's years of service under a champion from Western Europe. In 1999, Vinokourov was an extremely promising rider when he won the Dauphiné at the beginning of his career, during his second year as a pro with Casino (now Ag2r). But instead of becoming the captain of the team that welcomed him initially, he chose to ride in the shadow of Jan Ullrich at Telekom.
Vinokourov also missed the Tour de France once every two years since he really became competitive for the world's biggest race. He was injured in 2002 and 2004. He was not able to start last year because of the implication of too many of his team-mates in the Operación Puerto, something that hasn't completely gone away one year later.
"I hope this is the right year for me," Vino said in Anneyron. "I can't say I want my revenge because of what happened last year. I already took my revenge by winning the Vuelta. It was my first Grand Tour victory, so now I'm certain that I can do it on a three-week basis. Having missed last year's Tour gives me an extra motivation for this year, that's for sure. It's a special race. I'm confident after this time trial."
Vino has never been a bad time trialist, but he also has never been close to winning this kind of event when he was competing at the time of Armstrong and Ullrich. He knew this would be his weakness against the likes of Ivan Basso before the Italian admitted his involvement in Operación Puerto, and he has worked specifically to improve his times.
"You can't win a Tour, whether it's a small one or a big one, without going well against the clock," Vino stated. "I like the time trials that are around 50 kilometers long - that's where it's possible to create a real difference."
The first time trial of the 2007 Tour de France will not occur before stage 13 this year. It'll be between the Alps and the Pyrénées, which means the favorites will have to show their cards before the time trial. It'll not be a question of keeping in the mountains a position secured by a solo effort.
"I'm looking forward to be back at the Tour," Vino said. "With the jersey in the colors of my country, it'll be even bigger. I like the Tour. I like the atmosphere of the Tour. That's all I have had in mind since I won the Vuelta in Madrid."
The seven year long Tour de France campaign of Armstrong also started with a revival at the Tour of Spain when he came 4th in 1998. Vino might not have many Tours ahead of him but he's definitely ready for the 2007 edition of the Grande Boucle.
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