Alexander Vinokourov will go down fighting in what he calls his last big race, the Tour de France. Astana’s Kazakh captain came back from a doping ban and this last year, a broken leg to have his chance. His aim is to go out on high with a stage win.
“I think it’s a bit difficult to have the form like I had last year, but that’s fine,” Vinokourov told VeloNews. “My goal is to win one stage in the Tour de France, which would be a great way to end my career. I won’t start for the GC, just to win a big stage in the mountains.”
The 38-year-old has had his share of ups and downs since turning professional in 1998. He placed third in the Tour de France in 2003, won three Tour stages, the Vuelta a España overall and several big one-day races. Along the way, he pulled together sponsors to start the team named after his country’s capital city.
It all crashed in 2007. He banged both knees early into the Tour de France, but recovered to win two stages, only to be caught cheating via a blood transfusion. He said he’d retire after receiving a two-year suspension.
That pledge didn’t hold, however, and when Vinokourov’s ban ended, he returned with his home team and to the top, winning Liège–Bastogne–Liège for the second time and a stage in the 2010 Tour. However, another crash, in stage 9 of the 2011 Tour, resulted in a broken femur and, it seemed, an end to his career. Vinokourov announced his retirement, but as before, he couldn’t stay away.
Vinokourov explained this time it was harder to return.
“I had a lot of time to give to my family after the crash,” said Vinokourov. “I decided to ride another season and said, ‘OK, start again to aim for a stage win at the Tour de France.’ Maybe it will be impossible to find the condition to do so. I’ll try.”
He raced in southeast Asia and Turkey this spring to help the team’s younger riders and to build his condition. This month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, a race he won in 1999, was his first major stage race back since last July. Vinokourov finished 119th overall.
“The Dauphiné’s long time trial was important for me to test my legs. OK, I gave it my best and it was not so bad. My legs are getting better given that I had broken one,” he said.
Vinokourov passed the time after Dauphiné at a high-altitude training camp, previewing Tour stages and thinking about what is possible.
“It will depend when my legs are feeling good. I’ll try to break away or maybe I’ll attack from the leaders’ group, but I think that is more difficult for me to do,” he said. “You never know, but OK, I think my condition is coming back and I’m finding my top form.”
The London Olympics are on Vinokourov’s horizon and he has said, again, that he would retire afterward. But the Tour will be the last big outing with team Astana. He said that after the race, he’d sit down with the team in Paris and talk about the future.
“I think I’ll stay in the team,” he said. “I’ll find my job.”