Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Alexandre Vinokourov takes it
Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov, of Astana stunned a host of bigger favourites to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege, cycling’s oldest one-day classic, for the second time Sunday.
Vinokourov, the winner in 2005 who returned to the sport last year after a two-year ban for doping, crossed the finish line just ahead of fellow escapee Alexandre Kolobnev to finish in a little over six and a half hours.
Russia’s Kolobnev, of Katusha, finished second with Spain’s former two-time winner Alejandro Valverde, of Caisse d’Epargne, finishing third.
“I’ve turned the page,” claimed Vinokourov, who was kicked off the 2007 Tour de France for blood doping after a second stage victory, prompting his team Astana to pull out of the race.
The Kazakh, who has always proclaimed his innocence, added: “I’ve returned stronger than before and I’ve shown everybody that ‘Vino’ is back.
“This team was created for and also thanks to me. I’ve completed my punishment so I don’t see why I shouldn’t come back.”
Vinokourov came into the race in good shape having just won the Tour of Trentino in Italy. And when he escaped alongside the ever-impressive Kolobnev in the final 15 km of the race it looked like they had the race sewn up.
Together they opened up a crucial 30-sec lead on the chasing trio of Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert and Valverde.
Gilbert, who lives near one of the race’s most difficult climbs, La Redoute, then counter-attacked Valverde on the 10th and last classified climb at Saint Nicolas and gave it his all in a bid to close the gap.
Vinokourov and Kolobnev’s gap only increased, however — perhaps as a result of Vinokourov being condemned to attack due to having appeared to have lost radio contact with the team car that would normally inform him of time gaps.
On the final climb into Ans, a suburb of Liege where the race finishes, Gilbert was rejoined by Valverde and Evans and despite taking the Spaniard’s wheel the Belgian finished off the podium.
Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, who was 10th, was happy to see teammate Vinokourov take the honours.
“It was impressive, I’m happy that Vino won, it’s as if I had won,” said the Spaniard, who was 1min 07sec off the pace. “It was the result of team work.”