Veteran cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov announced on Friday that 2011 will be his last season as a professional rider, but he is determined to wear the yellow jersey again at some stage in the summer.
"It's my last season in cycling and I'd like to wear the yellow jersey for a few days. It's a dream that I can achieve even if each year it gets harder," said the 37-year-old as his Astana team staged its 2011 launch.
"I can't race until I'm 40. Now it's time to leave all the work to the younger riders. I could continue to ride on my reputation, to win for the money. But what I want is to win races," added the Kazakh, who won a stage on the Tour de France in 2010 and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.
Astana, who celebrated Tour de France victory last year courtesy of Alberto Contador, have high hopes for the new season in the shape of 24-year-old Czech Roman Kreuziger, who has targeted a Tour of Italy triumph. Kreuziger, ninth on the Tour de France for the last two years, has joined after five years with Liquigas.
"After five years with the same team, I wanted to rediscover some stimulation. With the experience of "Vino" and Giuseppe Martinelli (new team manager), this was the best choice," he said.
Vinokourov has no doubt about Kreuziger's potential and has tipped Astana, the only Pro Tour team from Asia and with a 15-million-euro budget for the season ahead, to keep succeeding once he has retired.
"It represents a dream for all the young riders in our country," he said.
Astana leave Contador out of picture
Embattled Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was wiped from the record when his former Astana team staged their 2011 launch on Friday.
Contador, who was provisionally suspended after failing a drugs test on the 2010 Tour, did not feature in Astana's video presentation to showcase the 27-strong team for the new season. Neither was he mentioned by name despite having been responsible for Astana's leading triumphs last year before leaving to race for the Saxo team.
"We decided to do it like this because it's a new season that is about to begin," said team leader Alexandre Vinokourov, who also took the opportunity to announce his retirement from cycling at the end of 2011.
But despite Contador's mounting problems, which have seen him facing a one-year ban handed out by the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC), Vinokourov is standing by his former teammate.
"No decision has been taken. Contador is still the winner of the Tour de France," he said.
Earlier Friday, Contador, on the edge of tears, denied taking performance enhancing drugs and vowed to appeal a ban.
"I will appeal wherever necessary to defend my innocence to the end," he told a news conference at his Saxo's team hotel on the Spanish Balearic island of Majorca.
The RFEC on Wednesday informed Contador of its recommendation of a one-year suspension for his positive drugs test from the 2010 Tour de France.
But it left it to the discretion of the three-time Tour de France champion as to whether he made it public.
The 28-year-old rider has 10 days to appeal, but faces becoming only the third Tour de France champion to be stripped of his title, after American Floyd Landis in 2006 and Maurice Garin in 1904.
The rider denies any wrongdoing and says he unknowingly ingested trace elements of clenbuterol from beef brought from Spain to France during the second rest day of the Tour.
© AFP 2011