Best and worst
Vinokourov's impressive year overshadowed by tragedyPosted: Monday July 14, 2003 12:46 PM
GAP, France (Reuters) -- The year 2003 will remain the best and the worst for Alexander Vinokourov.
The 29-year-old Kazakh has enjoyed by far his best season as a cyclist, winning a Tour de France stage in Gap on Monday after previous victories in Paris-Nice, the Amstel Gold Race and the Tour of Switzerland.
But 2003 will forever be the year when the Olympic bronze-medalist in Sydney lost his best friend, Andrei Kivilev, killed in a crash during Paris-Nice.
"From one point of view, it's a good season, even if it's a bad year because of Andrei's death. It's thanks to him that I won today.
"I'm sure he is pushing me when I'm on the bike, he gives me his form and his strength," the Telekom team leader said.
On top of winning a stage in the most prestigious race in the world, the Kazakh, who had already taken second and third places in previous Tour stages, made it back to second place overall, only 21 seconds behind Lance Armstrong.
But the softly spoken rider refused to be seen as a threat to the four-times Tour champion just yet.
one less rival
"It's easier to say you're going to challenge Armstrong than to really do it. Of course, I'm in second place and I hope to at least finish on the podium.
"We'll see how I feel in the Pyrenees," he said.
The finish to Gap was the last stage in the Alps and the Tour will not tackle the mountains again until it hits the Pyrenees next week.
Vinokourov found himself the leader of the Telekom team a little unexpectedly after Italian Paolo Salvodelli and Australian Cadell Evans retired injured before the start while Colombian Santiago Botero lost ground in the Alps.
"It's a pity Santiago is not on form, but maybe he will be able to help me out in the Pyrenees or even to win a stage.
"I'm confident he will be back at his best level in the Pyrenees," Vinokourov said.
Vinokourov is now Armstrong's main challenger, especially after Spain's Joseba Beloki, second last year and third in 2000 and 2001, crashed out of the race.
"It's one less rival for Lance. Beloki attacked yesterday in l'Alpe d'Huez and he tried again today. He looked in great shape.
"But Lance looked great too," Vinokourov added.
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