Friday, July 16, 2010

Alexander Vinokourov Meets the Real Alberto Contador

I've not yet seen any post-stage coverage of Alexander Vinokourov's response to what happened today in the TdF, but I'd be very interested to know how he feels. Today, Vino got to know the real Alberto Contador, the same all-for-me-and-me-for-me kind of rider that Lance Armstrong & Co. got to know so well at last year's TdF. Vino was off the front on his own within sight of a stage win, when Contador took advantage of an opportunity to take time back on Tour-leader Andy Schleck. After Schleck failed to respond to a non-threatening attack by Joaquin Rodriguez (Team Katusha), Contador jumped, taking Schleck by surprise. Contador then pulled Rodriguez past Vino, his own teammate, to the finish line, where Rodriguez out-sprinted Contador for the victory. Contador closed the gap on Schleck from 41 seconds to 31 seconds.

What Vino learned today was that Contador is a totally self-centered rider, willing to deny a teammate a probable stage win just to gain a few seconds for himself against a rival - reminiscent of Stage 9 last year, when Contador attacked his own team to deny his intra-team rival Lance Armstrong the yellow jersey.

I am assuming, of course, that Vino have won today had Contador not gone on the attack. But it's not at all clear that Rodriguez could have closed the gap on his own; and Contador was the one making the pace after the attack. With Vino up the road, most other teammates would have simply followed Rodriguez's wheel, and only attacked if and when he passed Vino. But, as we already know, Contador is not "most teammates."

From Contador's point of view, he was able to put time into his chief rival, and time is everything in the GC. But it was probably not a good move from the perspective of the team and team chemistry. Vino, himself, is known to be a self-centered and temperamental rider. Having announced that he would ride for Contador in this year's Tour could not have been easy for him. How hard will he work for Contador after this? And if he doesn't, will it make any difference? (Contador proved last year that he can win even riding in a splintered team.)

I'm no great fan of either Contador or Vinokourov (at least Contador is not a known drug cheat). I'm just fascinated by the potential for a repeat of the same kind of inter-personal and intra-team conflict that we saw on Team Astana last year, and wondering whether the outcome would be the same.

UPDATE: Here's what Vino is saying, publicly at least (see here).
“I wanted to be up the road to help Alberto if he needed it and to try to win the stage. I can understand why Alberto attacked – he needs to get time on Schleck,” Vinokourov said after finishing third. “Alberto is very strong and he will be even better in the Pyrénées. We are confident about Alberto in the coming stages. The GC is complicated for me. I will ride to help Alberto win the Tour with Astana.”

5 comments:

  1. Nah - I disagree. Excellent Astana team tactics executed by Vino the whole day to set-up Contador for the last climb. Did Vino deserve the victory as a thank you? Maybe, but Alberto's attack was in my mind an even more important physiological win for team Contador. He needed to prove to himself and others that he had the kickLance would have done the same thing, i.e. sending up a rider ahead to work as a spring board to gain time, which probably was the Astana plan for the day. The only diff this time around was that Vino didn't really fall back much to help...

    The commentators on versus keep saying that Andy needs at least 3-4 min advantage to win over Contador who is the stronger rider against the clock, but I'm not so sure Contador can count on having this in the end. I think it will be a tight race to the line especially after seeing the strength of Andy Schleck in the high mountains.

    Just for the record, I'm a fan of Vino's brave attacking racing style and hope he get's a victory before the tour is over. I neither like or dislike Contador, but I think he has received some really bad (and undeserved) press in in the US media over the last two year.

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  2. At least one other commentator agrees with me. See http://bicyclespokesman.com/why-did-contador-attack-in-stage-12/. Cyclingprof.

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  3. Contador is NOT self centered. He raced against the entire field AND his entire team last year. If you want to see self centered, look no further than Lance PHarmstrong, who now that he is out of contention for the overall, has dropped back and done nothing to help Levi. Instead, Pharmstrong is seeking only his own stage win.

    Last year when Contador took yellow it was because the overall was his to lose and he was the strongest man in the race, even against an entire field, plus his own team. This year, Astana is working for him and he HAD to take that time out of Schleck. Any team wants the overall victory first and foremost regardless of individual stage wins. Contador's move Friday was the right move and Vino understood that.

    Bob

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  4. Here's what Jens had to say (at Bicycling.com) about the stage: "I've been thinking about the stage to Mende and his attack. I mean if he hadn't attacked, his teammate Alexander Vinokourov would have won the stage after being out all front all day. But instead he attacked, which killed Vinokourov's chances, and Alberto still only picked up 10 seconds on Andy that day. I just think that if he was really confident that he would have let Vinokourov win and then attacked much harder today."

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  5. Jens of course got it right as always - Contador is scared, but who wouldn't be scared of a contender like Andy. I kind of wish his brother Frank was still in the race - it would have been fun seeing them go at it together

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