ST FLOUR, France (Reuters) - Alexandre Vinokourov had one last goal to achieve in the race which brought him fame, glory but also disgrace — to finally hold the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey at least for one day.
The Kazakh’s dream ended in a roadside ditch on Sunday when he was involved in a massive pile-up in the descent of a Massif Central mountain pass in the ninth stage between Issoire and St Flour.
Unable to stand, Vinokourov was attended to by the race doctor and two team mates who lifted him off the ground and brought him into an ambulance and away from the Tour.
Only the previous day, on the road to the ski-resort of Super-Besse, the Astana team leader had attacked on his own to try to seize the Tour lead in what he had announced would be his last professional season.
“I worked as a team captain for Alberto Contador on the last Tour but I want to give it another try as a leader,” the Kazakh said on the Tour de Romandie in May.
“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.”
Third in the Tour in 2003, winner of the Spanish Vuelta in 2006, ‘Vino’ was a serious contender in the 2007 Tour as the leader of the team named after Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
Winner of a crucial individual time-trial in Albi, he was disqualified the next day for carrying out a blood transfusion and was handed a two-year suspension.
Such was his stature among cyclists that the scandal was another trauma for the sport.
“Oh no, not him, not Vino! If a guy of his class has done that then we may as well pack our bags and go home,” said Briton David Millar on learning the news during a drama-filled 2007 rest day in Pau.
Vino returned from suspension in 2009 as a simple team mate for Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in the very Astana team he had helped create for his own purposes.
Armstrong left the following season and Contador at the end of 2010, giving Vinokourov a last chance to ride his final season as a team leader.
Following his suspension, his country’s best known sportsman showed he was still a force to reckon with, winning the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic and a Tour de France stage last year.
He also won a Tour de Romandie stage this season before finishing third in the Criterium du Dauphine.
The extent of his injury was not immediately known but it may well force the Kazakh to end his career even earlier than he expected.