After taking the Giro d'Italia's pink jersey in the Netherlands thanks to the peloton-splitting effects of crosswinds, Alexandre Vinokourov once again put the hammer down on the gravelled roads of Tuscany to assume the race lead from Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo).
“It’s been a really hard day,” the Astana captain repeated a few times after the podium ceremony. “We started the stage flat out, that’s what made it difficult all the way. It was really a surprise for me when we hit the Strade bianche. It was like Paris-Roubaix but without the pavés. It was even harder than Paris-Roubaix, I think.”
Vinokourov finished third on the stage, behind stage winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini). “It’s been a hard day for everyone," Vinokourov added. "In the hills I tried to attack, but Evans was so strong.”
He admitted he had been going for the stage win, but was instead rewarded with a return to the race lead. He described himself as being “satisfied” with the outcome of the most feared stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
He also clarified his position over his behaviour in the race after Nibali’s crash, 32km from the finish, and five kilometres prior to the start of the Strade bianche. “I heard the noise of a crash,” he said, “but I couldn’t know who it was. I got the information later that Nibali was at the back. We’ve spoken a bit in the bunch and we decided to wait a little bit, but that was just before the Strade bianche with 30km-to-go. Some riders from Milram started to accelerate and then the race was on.”
Vinokourov acknowledged the difficult conditions of the race played in his favour. “For me, it’s an advantage to have a difficult race,” he said. “It might have been an even harder battle than in the mountains. In the last 30km, I couldn’t see anything. In these conditions, you have to be careful: if you try to close your eyes, you might never be able to re-open them.
“For the spectators, for sure, it was a great spectacle, but not for us,” he added. “I’m favourable to such a course for a one-day race, but in a Grand Tour?”
Vinokourov now holds a 1:12 advantage over Evans, and a lead of 1:29 over third placed David Millar (Garmin-Transitions). After wearing pink for just one stage last week, he is determined to extend his tenure in the jersey this time around.
“We’re going to defend this pink jersey,” he stated. “There is another hard stage tomorrow. It’s probably better for me to have a climb like the Terminillo at this point in the race than the very steep climbs. Maybe in the third week the climbs will be a bit too steep for me. It will come down to how good the legs are. What’s certain is that you can’t win a Grand Tour without a team. Yesterday we lost Paolo Tiralongo, who was a climber we'd hoped would be with me during the last week. It’s a pity, but this is how the race goes. We’ll defend our position day-by-day.”
When he lost the lead after the team time trial in Cuneo, Vinokourov was a little bit frustrated that he had secured only one pink jersey because his twin sons had asked him to bring home one for each of them. The Vinokourov boys could have more than one apiece in two weeks time.