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Vinokourov says Sanquer's Astana exit not his decision

Alexandre Vinokourov today dismissed the suggestion that he helped force French manager Yvon Sanquer out of the Astana team. Speaking to Cyclingnews from Astana’s first training camp of the winter in Tuscany, Italy, Vinokourov claimed that reports to that effect were the result of a mistranslation.

“I was quoted as talking about ‘a problem’ with Yvon, but that was a mistranslation from a Russian website,” the Kazakh said. “I wasn’t aware of any issue with Yvon. In any case, it’s not me that makes the decisions. Everyone’s always going on about ‘Vinokourov deciding this, Vinokourov deciding that’, but it’s not my team. We have a general sponsor, the president of the Kazakh federation and, now, a new manager in Giuseppe Martinelli. They make the decisions. I might give a bit of input if asked but that’s it. We’re very grateful for what Yvon did. He took on the team in difficult circumstances last year and led us to Tour victory. There was no ‘problem’.”

The Tour victory to which Vinokourov referred of course came courtesy of Alberto Contador, and the 37-year-old has already spoken out in support of his embattled former team-mate. On Thursday, Vinokourov also revealed that he had called Contador at the end of October to offer “whatever help he needed”.

“I told him that he could count on me for whatever he needed,” Vinokourov commented. “Kazakhstan was very proud of what he achieved in Astana’s colours. If he’d needed a team, we would happily have had him back, but we’d made him a good offer in the summer and he’d decided to go elsewhere.”

Vinokourov also reiterated his earlier statements that the Contador case was a “hard one to judge”. “I don’t know if the substance came from meat or not,” he said. “I just hope that it turns out well for him. He made a lot of sacrifices to win the Tour de France, and it’s best for everyone if he’s found innocent – for fans, for the Tour, for ASO and for Astana.”

Looking to the Tour de France

Contador’s presence at next year’s Tour would of course make life considerably more difficult for Vinokourov. Sixteenth in France last year and third in 2003, Vinokourov has indicated that he intends to make one final push for the Tour’s general classification in 2011. Whether he can win a race he infamously left in disgrace after a failed dope test in 2007, however, remains a moot point even for the former T-Mobile man.

“It’s always going to be very hard now,” he admitted. “With Contador and Andy Schleck, and me turning 38 next year, I’ve got my work cut out. That said, I think I can still make the podium, perhaps wear the yellow jersey for a few days and also target the polka-dot jersey. With the team time trial on stage 2 and the strong team we should have in that discipline, there could be an opportunity in the first week. As far as surprising the favourites and winning is concerned, it’d be nice to think I could get three or four minutes in a break one day, but we know that’s not really the way the Tour works these days. The lack of bonus seconds doesn’t really favour an attacking rider either. We saw that last year with Schleck and Contador on top of the Tourmalet.”

Vinokourov spoke finally of his newly-formed partnership with the Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, who has moved to Astana from Liquigas. Ninth overall in each of the last two editions of the Grande Boucle, Kreuziger seemed the ideal candidate to lead Astana’s challenge in the Tour, but has decided with Martinelli to focus first on the Giro.

“We’ll see how Roman gets on at the Giro, but I don't know yet whether he'll be at the Tour,” Vinokourov commented. “The Giro is his main target next year, then he’ll switch it to the Tour the following year. For me, the Tour is the most important stage race next year, then I’ll perhaps do the Vuelta. If I can be in good form, as I was in this year, I definitely think I’ve got one great Tour left in me.”

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