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Alexandre Vinokourov celebrated his 33rd birthday with an impressive time trial win in the Vuelta - and with just one easy stage left to go, barring major disaster, he is just hours away from taking the first major Tour of his career.
In the 27.5 kilometre time trial Astana pro finished six seconds ahead of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and 19 of his arch-rival Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne-Illes Balears).
Following victories on sprint stages like in Lugo and on mountain tops like at La Cobertoria, a time trial win was all that was lacking to confirm the Kazakh as the strongest on all the terrains in the Vuelta - and on the technical course on the outskirts of Madrid, Vinokourov proved he was no slouch against the clock, either.
Vinokourov?s third stage win of the Vuelta came after making a slow start on a course which proved far more complicated - with turns and short climbs - in reality than it appeared to be on paper.
Three seconds down on Valverde after 11.3 kilometres, Vinokourov set the fastest time at the second checkpoint - 9 seconds ahead of Sanchez - and then opened up the throttle on the last part of the course for a hat-trick of victories.
Britain?s David Millar failed turn in a repeat peformance of his time trial win in Cuenca. The Saunier Duval-Prodir pro finished a below-expectations 12th on a course which had looked good for him.
Barring major disaster on Sunday?s easy 142 kilometre stage starting and finishing in Madrid, Vinokourov is now home and dry for the first major Tour of his career.
?Winning on my 33rd birthday is great, and taking a major Tour is a big step forward for my career.? Vinokourov said. ?I had a lousy first week, but got better and better as the race went on.?
But that is not the end of the Kazakh?s season by any means: VInokourov has said he will be challenging both Millar for the World?s time trial and Valverde for the road-race.
?I?m feeling very ambitious.? Vinokourov warned.?If i can recover well from this, I?ll be up there in Salzberg as well. After that, my season's over."
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