Since Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) and Cadel Evans (BMC) bravely battled elbow-to-elbow on the Monte Zoncolan on Sunday at the Giro d'Italia, the Italian media have been focusing on a duel between the two riders personally coached by the same man, Aldo Sassi. With the spotlight on how much time Basso (2:27) and Evans (3:09) have to recover to take the GC from current leader David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) has been almost forgotten.
The Kazakhstani had the pink jersey for five days but lost it when he gave up the chase behind the large breakaway on stage 11 to L'Aquila. At the start of stage 18 in Levico Terme, Vinokourov was very relaxed. He was happy to receive the handshake of UCI president Pat McQuaid who warmly greeted the Astana rider after conducting serious discussions near the teams' busses with Jim Ochowicz and Matt White, perhaps about the doping-related allegations of Floyd Landis'.
"I like my current situation in the Giro d'Italia," Vinokourov told Cyclingnews after hearing that many media outlets had forgotten about him. The Astana rider is seventh on GC, 5:12 down on Arroyo.
Evans is only 2:03 ahead of him and Vincenzo Nibali is just 19 seconds ahead. In Italian media, "the shark from the strait" is mentioned as a possible winner of the Giro d'Italia and gets interviewed accordingly, so what about Vinokourov?
"My health is good and my form as well," Vino said. "I hear that bad weather is expected on Saturday. If so, we'll have some fun. There could be some damage. When the weather is bad, half of the riders are automatically out of contention."
This doesn't apply to Vinokourov, obviously. The harder it is, the better it is for him.
Regardless of the weather, Vinokourov has been enjoying the freedom from the responsibilities of the Giro d'Italia race leadership.
"My goals have remained the same since the start in Amsterdam: to win a stage, to wear the pink jersey and possibly to finish in the top three at the end," he said. "This latter one is still attainable."
Two hard mountain stages and a time trial, including the Torricelle hill in Verona are inspiring the captain of Team Astana.