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By Sebastian Moll, and Alexander Heflik
Alexandre Vinokourov has had his fill of T-Mobile. After five successful years with the German communications corporation, the “Kamikaze Kazakh” is looking for a new challenge.
“He wants to ride somewhere as a captain, lead a team in the Tour,” says team manager Olaf Ludwig, soberly. Adds Vinokourov, who is ranked ninth in this Tour, almost 10 minutes behind Lance Armstrong: “I want to win the Tour de France in the coming years.”
At the start of Wednesday’s stage in Pau, Vinokourov said he would make an official announcement in Paris, adding somewhat jokingly, “For me there is either T-Mobile or Discovery.”
But Discovery director Johan Bruyneel sounded a cautionary note regarding Vino’s ambition to become Armstrong’s successor.
“Vinokourov is a very versatile rider, but I don’t see him as the Tour champion of the future,” says Bruyneel. And there is little doubt that Discovery will want to win the Tour, even when Armstrong is no longer riding.
Had he remained another year with T-Mobile, Vinokourov would have found himself the odd man out. His close friend Jan Ullrich has already announced that he will take yet another shot at the Tour in 2006. Ullrich’s personal coach, Rudy Pevenage, is about to sign a new contract with the team. Ullrich has his own team within the team and lots of special privileges. And Vinokourov knows that as a Kazakh on a German team, he would always be the second choice.
Too, Andreas Klöden, who abandoned the Tour with a fractured wrist on Tuesday, has his own ambitions. “The Tour victory is always in the back of my mind,” Klöden says.
Because of this chaotic situation at T-Mobile and the pending decisions about the future of the team, Ullrich’s manager, Wolfgang Strohband, Vinokourov’s manager, Tony Rominger, Walter Godefroot and Olaf Ludwig sat down together during the rest day in Pau. Assessing the various interests within the team, Rominger saw Vinokourov’s departure as the only sensible solution.
Rominger named Ag2r and Credit Agricole as potential homes for his client. At Crédit Agricole he would replace Christophe Moreau, who once again has disappointed the French in the Tour and whose contract will not be extended. A ride with CA would also reunite Vino with compatriot Andrej Kascheckin, and the third Kazakh in the peloton, Sergej Jakowlew, could also make the switch.
At Ag2r, Vinokourov would rejoin mentor Vincent Lavenu, who gave him his start at Casino in 1998. Ag2r has been mediocre at this year’s Tour, gaining admittance only as a wild card because it is not a Pro Tour squad. Vinokourov would give Ag2r a big boost.