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Vinokourov to head to the Tour of Spain with Astana

Alexandre Vinokourov is back, looking trim and fit.

Alexandre Vinokourov is back, looking trim and fit. (Image credit: Isabelle Duchesne)

Kazakh professional rider Alexander Vinokourov is part of Team Astana effective Monday, August 24. He will race for team at the Vuelta a España, which starts Saturday in Assen, the Netherlands.

Team manager Johan Bruyneel and Rinus Wagtmans, the representative for the Kazakh authorities, reached an agreement on the fate of the Kazakh cyclist Vinokourov. His new contract is good through the end of 2010.

"There were hard negotiations as there were some problems between Johan Bruyneel and Vinokourov at the beginning of the Tour de France," said team spokesperson Philippe Maertens. "It took awhile [to reach an agreement] but, of course, the sponsors want Vino on the team. He created the team."

"Vinokourov gave a press conference in Monaco and said that if Johan didn't want to take him then Johan would have to go. Of course Johan wasn't happy with what Vino said," said Maertens, who added that negotiating the contract meant sorting out a financial issue, too. "It's not easy adding a new rider to a team in the middle of the season."

The Astana team faced financial troubles earlier this season when some rider were not paid for a few months. Eventually the situation was resolved, and the necessary bank guarantee, required by the UCI for rider salaries, was replenished after the Giro d'Italia.

The 34-year-old's first race for Astana will be the Vuelta a España, a race he won previously in 2006. Vinokourov will race with Astana teammates Assan Bazayev, Maxim Iglinskiy, Jesús Hernández, Chris Horner, Daniel Navarro, José Luis Rubiera, Michael Schär and Haimar Zubeldia. Sean Yates and Alexandr Shefer will direct the Grand Tour team.

Vinokourov will ride with an eye toward the overall win. "Chris Horner and you never know with Zubeldia, but those two and Vinokourov will ride for the classification," said Maertens.

"Vino has won the Vuelta, but nobody knows how good he is. It's very difficult to say. It's like Lance Armstrong at his first race [after comeback from retirement] in the Tour Down Under. It was his first race in three years and it's not so easy to come back after time off."

It's not Vino's first race back, but he doesn't have many days of racing in his legs since his return to competition following the completion of a doping ban. Riding for the Kazakh national team, Vinokourov won the time trial stage of the Tour de L'Ain in France earlier this month after returning to racing.

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