Vino’ has Contador’s back — for now, at least

Alexander Vinokourov remains an enigma for many watching the 2010 Tour de France.

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Alexander Vinokourov remains an enigma for many watching the 2010 Tour de France.

No one quite knows what to expect from the Kazakh attacker, who is back at the Tour for the first time since he tested positive for homologous blood doping in 2007.

If Tuesday’s stage across the cobblestones is any indication, Vinokourov looks like he will live up to his vow to work for Alberto Contador.

“It was a good day for Astana on Tuesday. I was there to help Alberto get across the cobbles. I was caught up behind the crash with Schleck, but was able to get across,” Vinokourov told VeloNews on Wednesday morning. “It was an important day to overcome. We both survived in good position.”

Contador was more than pleased with Vinokourov’s ride on the cobbles, even though some were wondering why he didn’t sit up and help Contador in the final kilometers, when the two-time Tour champ’s back wheel was rubbing and he couldn’t stay with the group.

“Vinokourov did a great job for me today. I am very pleased with how he rode and how the day transpired,” Contador said. “My back wheel was rubbing for the final part of the race and it was simply the fatigue of the effort catching up with me. I felt pretty good on the cobbles today, so I can only be content with how things played out.”

The pair is poised on GC, with Vinokourov in eighth at 1:31 and Contador in ninth at 1:40.

Vinokourov has already proven that he can still race following his two-year racing ban, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, the Giro del Trentino in May, and riding with typical attacking style at the Giro d’Italia to wear the maglia rosa and finish sixth overall.

With Contador bucking for a third Tour win in four years, Vinokourov vows he will ride for his Spanish captain.

“The roles have been clear for a long time. I will ride for Alberto to help him win the Tour again with Astana,” Vinokourov said. “He has confidence in me. We were teammates in 2006 and I am motivated to win the Tour with Astana with Alberto, and he knows I will work for him.”

After his contentious relationship with Lance Armstrong last year at Astana, many are wondering if Contador is swapping the tension with Armstrong for more troubles with Vinokourov.

Vinokourov is known for his attacking style and many think he will be tempted to ride his own race, especially if rumors are true that Contador has decided to leave Astana for another team at the end of this season.

“My relationship with Vinokourov is excellent. We have a lot of mutual trust,” Contador said. “I am sure that nothing will happen like what happened in last year’s Tour.”

That doesn’t mean that Vinokourov will be fetching water bottles and chasing down breakaways.

Vinokourov remains a dangerous, if somewhat unpredictable, attacking rider who is capable of putting other teams on edge if he manages to get up the roads in the mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrénées.

“Alberto knows that he can count on Vinokourov, who will give 100 percent for Alberto, from the first day to last, from the beginning of the stage to the end,” Astana sport director Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “If there’s a stage that he might have a chance to win, he will take his chances. It will be a decision that’s made spontaneously on the road, when the situation favors Alberto and the team.”

Martinelli said he hopes to hold Vinokourov close to his chest, perhaps not playing the Vino’ card until late in the race.

“Vinokourov will be our joker to play,” Martinelli said. “He will be fundamental in the final week. We can send Vinokourov on the attack, the others must respond, then Contador can move behind. We will be good in the mountains, of that I am sure.”

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