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Vinokourov soldiers on

Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) grits

Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) grits (Image credit: AFP)

After finishing stage five with his shorts ripped open, his knees dripping blood and his backside missing skin, Alexandre Vinokourov's bid for the final general classification in the Tour was as bruised as his body. With just one flat stage before the Alps and two days until the daunting mountain top finish in Tignes, Vinokourov's fall came at the worst possible time. The steely Kazakh is determined, however, to soldier on. "I'll be back," he told "I must continue, I haven't broken anything."

Vinokourov spent the evening at the hospital in Dijon where it was determined that he had no fractures, but had two deep contusions on both knees, his elbow and abrasions on his hip and buttocks. It is expected that he will take the start for stage six, but the decision will be made Friday morning.

Vinokourov blamed the crash, which came on a fast descent with 26 kilometres left in the fifth stage to Autun, on a mechanical, explaining, "I think that my chain skipped, and as a result I lost my balance." His long, tense chase to the finish was made more difficult by the category three Côte de la Croix de la Libération just 8.5 kilometres from the end. "If the finale of the stage had been flat there would have been no problem [getting back -ed]."

His Astana team sent six riders back to assist with the chase, pulling Vinokourov back within one minute of the peloton by the final climb, but when the Kazakh reached the narrow roads of the ascent his progress was slowed by a road block of dropped riders and team cars. "With that hill and the fact that the commissaires made a 'barrage', a return was impossible. No sooner had I crashed than the race burst open.. Otherwise I would have certainly returned to the group."

Andreas Klöden had slightly more luck following his crash. He was initially feared to have a tailbone fracture, the same injury that forced him out of the Tour in 2003. After some more X-rays and additional tests, however, the German is cleared to ride with 'just' a hairline fracture. According to sid Astana's directeur sportif Mario Kummer reported that "it's not as bad as initially feared." Everybody is aware, though, that the injury is quite painful for a cyclist and it remains to be seen if Klöden will be able to finish the Tour, in which he is currently ranked second.

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