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With Alexandre Vinokourov now almost certain to confirm at the end of the Tour that he will be leaving T-Mobile at the end of this season, L'Equipe has suggested that the Kazakh may not end up signing for Discovery Channel, as is widely expected, but for a French team.
Frustrated by his lack of freedom at the Tour, Vinokourov is apparently determined to move to a team that will both be competitive at the Tour and allow him free rein. Discovery seemed his most likely option until team manager Johan Bruyneel said earlier this week he doesn't think the Kazakh "is capable of winning the Tour de France".
Potentially, that allows some other suitors into the frame, bearing in mind, however, that Vinokourov has said that he won't sign for a team that offers him a reduced chance of being in contention at the Tour. L'Equipe's reasoning is that Crdit Agricole could well fit the bill because team leader Christophe Moreau's contract is not being renewed, while Vinokourov's compatriot and close friend Andrei Kashechkin is already on the roster.
Another less likely option is for Vino to sign for Vincent Lavenu at Ag2r. It was Lavenu who brought the Kazakh through into the pro ranks at Casino. But, as a continental team, Ag2r are not even guaranteed a place at the team let alone the likelihood of contending.
Another option not mentioned anywhere, and that basically comes straight off the top of a calculating procycling journo's head is that Vinokourov's representatives might be well advised to have a word with Liberty Seguros boss Manolo Saiz. He wants a rider who he can guarantee will be in contention at the Tour, while Vinokourov could certainly count on Liberty's strong team keeping him in contention. Stranger things have happened.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Juan Antonio Flecha and Rabobank are reported to have reached a verbal agreement for the Spaniard to spend the next two seasons with the Dutch team. And more bad news for T-Mobile as Andreas Kloeden's broken wrist has forced the German, currently lying 11th overall, out of today's 17th stage.
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