|Vinokourov puts his dodgy knees to the back of his mind [AFP]|
Alexandre Vinokourov shook off the injury woes that have plagued his quest for this year’s Tour de France title in fine style by winning the race’s 13th stage.
Vinokourov, one of the pre-race favourites, is nursing injured knees after falling in the fifth stage but showed he was coming back to his best by winning Saturday’s individual time-trial in and around the town of Albi.
In doing so the Kazakh rider moved up to ten places to ninth overall and by completing the 54-kilometre course in 1 hour, 6 minutes, 34 seconds and reduced the deficit to race leader Michael Rasmussen to 5 minutes and 10 seconds.
However the Danish Rababobank rider was happy with his own stage ride. Widely expected to relinquish the leader’s yellow jersey during the stage, he instead finished 11th after riding what he called the time-trial of his life.
Rasmussen shrugged off recent doping suspicion to finish 2:55 behind Vinokourov on a course which saw plenty of rain before drying later in the afternoon.
The Tour now moves on for three tough stages in the Pyrenees and the mountains are Rasmussen’s speciality. He was the Tour’s best climber for the last two years, and he first put on the yellow jersey this year after winning the second stage in the Alps last Sunday.
But the Dane will expect a tough challenge now from a rejuvenated Vinokourov and his Astana team.
“It was important to me to show myself and to the other riders who had counted me out that it was too early for the general classification to be decided,” Vinokourov said. “It’s not at all over. For us, the Tour starts today.”
No one else came within a minute of Vinokourov on Saturday.
Cadel Evans of Australia trailed 1:14 behind in second, while time-trial specialist Andreas Kloeden of Germany was 1:39 back in third after crashing on a road slick from rain to scrape his right leg.
|Vino says the tour starts here [AFP]|
While the stage was a boost for Vinokourov and Evans it was the opposite for Alejandro Valverde, who had begun the day 2:35 back in second place, and Iban Mayo who had been third, 2:39 behind. The two Spaniards struggled, each falling 5:28 back.
Evans, a well-rounded rider, climbed to second overall, one minute behind Rasmussen, while the Discovery Channel rider Alberto Contador of Spain moved into third, 2:31 behind.
“I am surprised to keep the jersey with that much of an advantage,” Rasmussen said. “I guess this was the time trial of my life … I was in better condition than some of my competitors.”
He also avoided the pitfalls. Kloeden and his Astana teammate Andrey Kashechkin were among many riders who crashed.
The three-week race returns to the mountains Sunday, with the 197km, 14th stage from Mazamet to Plateau-de-Beille, the first of three punishing rides in the Pyrenees.
Rasmussen has been facing a flurry of questions about his removal from Denmark‘s national team, which was announced publicly on Thursday.
The decision was made because he was not available for surprise doping tests, and new claims that he had tried to take doping materials into Italy five years ago.