Rider updates: Alberto Contador, Alexandre Vinokourov and Nicolas Roche

I’m following the progress of three stage racers in 2012: arguably the greatest of his generation, Alberto Contador – currently taking an extended break – Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov – enjoying his swansong season  and AG2R’s Nico Roche – hoping to build on his promising 2010 results. One of my riders finally has some UCI points though it’s the rider who’s not been competing who’s been generating the most column inches. Here’s a quick summary of what they’ve achieved in the past couple of months.

Alberto Contador (back with Saxo Bank)

Results: None

WorldTour ranking: Not ranked.

Alberto might not have been part of the professional peloton for the last few months but he’s still been a busy boy, generating just as many headlines and column inches as when he was racing. Here’s a short recap of how he’s been whiling away his time.

He’s been revisiting pastures old – reliving his 2010 Tour de France battle with Andy Schleck – with a trip up the Tourmalet, to record a television commercial for a Spanish mattress manufacturer. And here’s the advertisement:

At the end of May, Alberto  – the main attraction of the day – rode his motorbike alongside 700 cyclists in the second edition of the Marcha Alberto Contador. Sadly, former team mates Jesus Hernandez and Sergio Paulhino were forbidden by those spoilsports at the UCI from taking part.

Alberto riding with some disadvantaged youngsters (image courtesy of Alberto Contador)

Alberto riding with some disadvantaged youngsters (image courtesy of Alberto Contador)

Alberto continued his good works the following Monday, when he inaugurated a number of penguin statues decorated by artists and presented as part of a campaign in support of people with mental disabilities, an issue close to Alberto’s heart on account of his brother.

But the big news was the continued teasing as to which team he’ll be riding for come August 5th, the date his suspension ends. After the very public falling out of Frandy [Frank and Andy Schleck – Ed] and Johann Bruyneel, there was much speculation that they’d return to the Riis stable at Saxo Bank in return for Contador going to RadioShack-Nissan. Interesting that people thought one Contador equals two Schlecks. However, everyone was forgetting Albert’s nightmare 2009 Tour de France with Bruyneel – no way, Jose!

Finally, confirmation that Alberto will return to Saxo Bank for the remainder of 2012 and three years subsequent. Alberto was happy to confirm:

The decision to return to Team Saxo Bank has actually been pretty easy, and my first priority was always to rejoin the team and to continue working with Bjarne Riis, and the rest of the team. The support I have experienced from them in a very difficult situation is extraordinary. I’m really looking forward to getting back on the bike, and my aim is to repay that support, hopefully with some great results.

I should add that any ‘great results’ will count for nought for a further two years according to the UCI.

Alberto’s next goal will be the Vuelta, where he’ll be able to reignite his battle with Andy Schleck, though he’s likely to take part in some races in the run in to its start on August 18th in Pamplona. In addition, the Spanish national cycling coach has indicated that Contador will be a member of Spain’s team at the World Championships in Limburg.

Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)

Results: 17th at Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey and 119th at Critérium du Dauphiné.

WorldTour ranking: Not ranked.

Alex has continued with his role of mentoring the younger riders in the Astana team while simultaneously trying to get himself in shape for his final Tour de France. We even saw vestiges of the Alex we all know and love in one of his trademark attacks on the second day of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. Alex’s work is bearing fruit as young teammate Aleksandr Dyachenko was runner-up in the event, while Astana scooped the team prize.

Astana: Top Team in Turkey (image courtesy of Astana)

Astana: Top Team in Turkey (image courtesy of Astana)

After heading over to the Giro to check on his team’s progress, he participated in one of the traditional Tour de France preparatory races, the Dauphiné, where he was, by and large, anonymous though teammate Janez Brajkovic, Astana’s main man for the Tour de France, finished seventh, before going on to win the Tour of Slovenia. Interviewed after the race Alex confirmed that he knew what he was capable of and that he was looking forward to three weeks at the Tour:

My main objective is the Tour de France. It’s important to be ready for the Tour, not the Dauphiné. I came to the Dauphiné to work on my condition and that’s exactly what I’ve done. And I’m rather satisfied because I feel that I’ve improved day by day. There’s still three weeks to go before the Tour and it’s enough to continue to work. I know myself well, I know how to get into form when I need to. And then one can always reckon on a few days at the start of the Tour, as one never starts in the mountains, so there’s still a little more time to get into shape. I’m not at all worried.

While it would be unreasonable to expect Alex to figure prominently in the general classification, expect him to try and win a stage or two, particularly in the first week of the Tour when he might also be able to seize the leader’s jersey. Here’s a little reminder of what we might see:

Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale)

Results: 26th overall in Giro del Trentino, 19th overall in Amgen Tour of Colifirnia, 10th overall in Tour de Suisse.

WorldTour ranking: 133rd, 4 points.

Looking at his recent results, it could be said that Roche is quietly building his form ahead of the Tour de France – where he’s aiming for a top ten finish –  and Olympics, where he’ll be representing Ireland. He’s then looking forward to the Vuelta, a course which suits him far better than the Tour and which he claims is his favourite Grand Tour, and the Worlds.

Nico prepares to accompany riders in La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev (image courtesy of RDW)

Nico prepares to accompany riders in La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev (image courtesy of RDW)

Prior to the Tour de Suisse, where he lost time on the difficult, long time trial but would have been pleased to climb back up the order with his performances in the mountains on the last two days, he’d ridden in a local sportive with his Dad [don’t tell the UCI – Ed] and taken part in some altitude training with his team AG2R La Mondiale. Interviewed during the camp, before the Tour de Suisse, he’d confirmed his return to form:

I admit that there’s been times when I’ve not felt so good. Paradoxically, I’m back from the beginning of the season but I feel there’s still some time before I’m feeling really strong, particularly in my head. You know, I struggled so much last year that it couldn’t be any worse. More importantly, our team has recorded it’s first win of the season with Sylvain Georges in the Tour of California, when I was there. Then, on the same day, Sebastien Hinault did the same at the Circuit de Lorraine. This has lifted the pressure and we’re all feeling good and confident. Frankly I feel good and I cannot wait to see what will happen in this race. I’m just crossing my fingers that all goes well, that’s it!

However, Roche too has fallen foul of the UCI party poopers:

Previous update: April 10th, February 22nd

Rider profiles: Alberto Contador, Alexandre Vinokourov, Nicolas Roche

Websites: Alberto Contador

Twitter: @albertocontador, @nicholasroche

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