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Vino rules out coalition to beat Gilbert in Liege-Bastogne-Liege

24 april 2011, 11:07
Astana cycling team
Astana cycling team
Defending champion Alexandre Vinokourov has ruled out a concerted effort in the peloton to stop race favourite Philippe Gilbert from winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege, AFP reports.

However the Kazakh said he would not turn the Belgian down if prompted to go on the attack late in the 255.5 km epic.

"If he goes, I'm not going to sit in his wheel. I will ride with him and at the end may the best man win," said Vinokourov, who is set to compete in his final edition of 'La Doyenne' as he heads towards retirement.

Gilbert saddles up Sunday with a rare chance of securing a Grand Slam of victories in the tough 'Ardennes Classics' after his Fleche Wallonne win Wednesday followed victory at the Amstel Gold race a week ago.

Man to man Gilbert has shown the past week he is a notch above his rivals, claiming victory in both races with unrivalled kicks in the final few hundred metres of uphill finish lines.

However the Omega-Pharma rider, bidding to become the first French-speaking Belgian since 1978 to win in Liege, will have to be extra vigilant in the crucial final 20km of the 10-climb race.

Last year Vinokourov took advantage of the favourites marking each other to ride away from the pack with Russian Alexander Kolobnev inside the last 15 km to go on and claim his second career victory on the race last year.

And while Vinokourov believes rival teams won't collude and gang up on the fancied Belgian, the Kazakh said it's in their best interests to make the race as hard as possible.

"Gilbert's team is strong and they are well capable of controlling the race, much better than they did last year," he added.

"But it's in the interests of other riders, like the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank) and teams like Katusha to make the race as hard as possible.

"A lot of guys don't want to come into the finale with Philippe on their tails."

Vinokourov, whose second Liege victory last year provoked controversy -- coming a year after he had served a two-year ban for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France -- knows what he is talking about.

He is one of many professional riders to base himself in Monaco, where he occasionally trains with Gilbert.

"He's a nice guy, on and off the bike," added the Kazakh. "He is serious about his career, works hard and is a great champion.

"I would love him to join our team Astana.

"But you don't want to come to the finish line with him -- he has unbelievable power."

Vinokourov meanwhile says he would love to cap what should be his final season by achieving one more dream.

"I've never worn the yellow jersey of the Tour de France," he added.

"Normally, it's my final season as a racer. There's not a lot of things that could change my mind -- although I feel I could easily go on for another two years.

"I still have the legs, and the motivation. I will decide after the Tour (de France)."

The 97th Liège-Bastogne-Liège edition is running today Sunday April 24 2011.

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