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Vinokourov plays it low

Vinokourov and Saiz at the team's official presentation on February 17, 2006

Vinokourov and Saiz at the team's official presentation on February 17, 2006 (Image credit: Team Liberty Seguros)

Instead of sticking to his habits and riding Paris-Nice, where he has always performed very well, Kazakhstan champion Alexandre Vinokourov has started his season at the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain this year. By leaving T-Mobile behind, the new leader of Liberty Seguros opted for a different team management, another race programme, a new language and a new position within the team directed by Manolo Saiz - but he is also less exposed.

"He [Saiz] wanted me to change my programme, to be less present in front," the Tour de France podium aspirant explained to L'Equipe at the Vuelta a Murcia. "He's certainly right: even if had gone [to Paris-Nice] only for training, I would have wanted to be up front. I feel much more free this year, as if I had no pressure at all. The Spanish journalists are not really interested in me, so I tell myself it's not too bad if people forget about me before the Tour..."

Vinokourov is also happy with his new director. "Manolo is incredible," he continued. "He takes care of everything in this team: the rider's programme, the choice of handlebar tape and organising each rider's travelling. He doesn't delegate anything."

Liberty Seguros has taken on not only Vinokourov, but also fellow Kazakhs Andrei Kashechkin and Sergei Yakovlev - and the three are now integrating into their Spanish surroundings: "I think the Kazakh clan has been accepted; it is now part of the team. It's normal, we were the new ones. We responded to them in our own way: with vodka and caviar which we brought from Kazakhstan. They loved it!," Vinokourov added, explaining that all three had taken Spanish courses this winter in Monaco, where they live. To top it off, the three newcomers not allowed to share rooms while at races, and 'Vino' has been staying with teammate Joseba Beloki.

"He is obliged to talk to me in Spanish, and if I don't understand a word, he'll translate it in French," Vinokourov said. "Manolo refuses that we share rooms with 'Kash' or 'Yako' as he fears that we'd only speak Russian."

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