Alexandre Vinokourov showed he retains the freshness of a youngster to wrong-foot the peloton and win the 165.7km third stage of the Tour of Romandie on Friday.
While a mass sprint looked unavoidable after a fast ride around Neuchatel Lake, Germany’s Tony Martin surged with 3km to go and Vinokourov immediately took his wheel.
In the final stretch, the 37-year-old from Kazakhstan was too experienced for the Paris-Nice winner and for Frenchman Mickael Cherel, who finished second ahead of Martin, who was third.
The stage win allowed Vinokourov, winner of the Vuelta a Espana in 2006, to move up to second overall, 32 seconds behind Russia’s Pavel Brutt.
“I wanted to keep some strength for tomorrow’s time trial, but when I saw Martin attack, I told myself he would go all the way,” Vinokourov said. “I went behind him and closed the gap.”
A 20.1km time trial between Aubonne and Signal-de-Bougy looks set to decide the race, with some other top names still in with a chance of the title.
Australia’s 2009 world champion Cadel Evans, a time-trial specialist, is fourth in the general classification, 42 seconds adrift.
Martin, the favorite of many after his show of strength in the Paris-Nice in March, lies 1 minute, 18 seconds off the pace.
“The legs respond well and it will be a major bonus to start the time trial behind Evans, aware of his times, but to me, Evans is the main favorite. He looks in great shape,” Vinokourov said. “As for Martin, he beat me by more than 1 minute, 20 seconds in Paris-Nice, but I hope he has tired a bit since then.”
Vinokourov, who finished third in the 2003 Tour de France before being kicked out of the race in 2007 after failing a dope test for blood transfusion, confirmed he would be the Astana team leader in July’s race.
“I worked as a team captain for Alberto Contador on the last Tour, but I want to give it another try as a leader,” Vinokourov said.
“I’m not expecting to win it, but I dream of holding the yellow jersey, as I’ve never had the chance to, and to hold it for a few days. Or go for the best climber’s polka dot,” he said.