In spite of Philippe Gilbert’s (Omega Pharma-Lotto) domination of the Ardennes classics to date, Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) claimed he was confident that a third win in his final Liège-Bastogne-Liège participation was within his reach. Vinokourov, who won last year, emphasized that his bond with Gilbert could help both riders in the finale, and he also expressed his desire to get the Belgian into his Astana team.
As a double winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Vinokourov is confident that he can do well in the hilly Ardennes race once again. “The new course with the Haute Levée and the La Rouche Aux Faucons makes it a much harder race, and it's unlikely to arrive at the foot of Saint-Nicolas with 60 riders. For me, that's what I like,” Vinokourov told La Dernière Heure.
The Kazakh rider believes in his chances and said he wouldn't mind going up the road with Gilbert, even though the latter is considered to be much faster in the sprint.
“It'll be very hard but I'm not afraid to get in the breakaway with Gilbert,” Vinokourov said. “I'm in good form and I could even beat him in the sprint, especially after 260km of racing. In 2005 I beat Voigt in the sprint while he was the fastest on paper.”
Vinokourov also added that he didn't think that teams would ride against Gilbert specifically, because it was more in their interest to win rather than to see Gilbert lose.
It is set to be the last time that the veteran Kazakh rider will race La Doyenne, in spite of speculation that Vinokourov would add another year to his cycling career.
“It's been decided,” he said. “I could go on for two more years. I have the form and the motivation but you have to retire one day. I don't see what could change my mind. I'd love to win a nice stage in the Tour but I especially dream about wearing the yellow jersey.”
One rider who Vinokourov would love to see follow in his footsteps at Astana team is Philippe Gilbert. Vinokourov has made no secret of his desire to sign the Belgian and he expressed that once again on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I’ve known Philippe for many years now and we train together quite a lot,” he said. “I'd love to see him come to Astana. Whether that's possible or not depends on the sponsors and the people in charge. They have to decide first if they want to emphasize the accent on the stage races or the classics. But there's no better rider for the classics than Gilbert.”
For now, Vinokourov will be aiming to grab the spoils ahead of the Belgian in Ans, near Liège. Only three riders have won the oldest of the cycling Monuments more than two times since World War II: Fred De Bruyne (3), Moreno Argentin (4) and the unparalleled Eddy Merckx, who is the record holder with five victories.
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