After destroying the peloton en route to victory in Stage 15 of the Tour de France, Alexandre Vinokourov made a surprising admission during his post-race press conference on Monday. When asked how he was able to bounce back from disastrous days to earn wins in Saturday's time trial and Monday's mountain stage, Vino stated in simple, yet slightly accented English, "I am a Cold Blooded Super Freak."
At first, the largely European crowd of journalists were unsure of what the Kazakh rider meant. A moment of awkward silence was then broken by an American journalist who exclaimed, "You mean, like...Rick James?"
"Of course like Rick James. Who else could I possibly be referring to?" responded Vinokourov incredulously. "I owe everything to legendary Motown funk artist Rick James. Without him I would be nothing."
At this point, the normally stoic rider from the southern steppes of Kazakhstan launched into a remarkable account of clashing cultures that resulted in the creation of one of the world's best bicycle racers.
"I first met Rick when he came to my hometown of Petropavlovsk in Kazakhstan back in 1995, three years before I turned pro and right after he had been let out of jail. You remember, for the whole crack pipe deal?" began the 33 year-old leader of the Astana team.
"Anyway, I remembered hearing 'Can't Touch This' by MC Hammer back in the day and recalled that the sample was actually from some guy named Rick James. Someone told me that the original song was called 'Super Freak' and I immediately thought that was the best nickname in the world. I tried to get people to call me 'Super Freak' but it never really stuck. I'll always just be 'Vino' I guess."
The former T-Mobile rider continued, "So he comes to town and I'm as excited as if I had just beaten Levi Leipheimer for 5th place in the Tour. And then I end up scoring back stage passes to Rick's show. I really can't tell you what I saw back there but...yeah, I thought about some of that stuff during the time trial on Saturday."
"I mean...just the excitement of it all, you know?" clarified the winner of the 2005 Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic. "RJ, that's what he wanted me to call him, was actually a pretty big bike racing fan and was always like 'Yeah, motha#!%#in' Vino! You my main man Vino!' He used to always say that right before he asked me to smoke with him or burn someone with his pipe. Yeah...Rick was the best."
It was then that the man known for his attacking nature got slightly choked up as he recalled his final days with the popular funk musician and songwriter. "You know...I have had some people that we're very close to me lose their lives too early. The first was my dear friend and fellow Kazakh professional cyclist Andre Kivilev and the second was my main man Rick James. It was difficult to lose two people that I had so much in common with in such a short period of time. But it made me strong for the 2005 season and I silently dedicated my victories at L-B-L and the Champs to him."
The room had grown quiet in solemn respect as the Astana team captain slowly unzipped the collar of his sweater to reveal a string of gold chains with various crosses and medallions hanging from them. "Some of you may have noticed that I and my teammate Andreas Kloden have been rocking some pretty hefty bling during this Tour. In fact, the reason I crashed was because my necklaces moved and caused me to lose my balance. But that's cool, these are Rick James' chains man. I'm talking 'bout Rick James b&%$!, you know what I'm sayin?"
"He gave them to me when we hooked up after the San Francisco Grand Prix in 2003. I think that weekend took a few years off my career but I have to say that Rick's spirit has been with us this Tour. Doing sweet early on...eating it and losing almost all hope...then a mild resurgence and now who knows? Hopefully we won't be found dead of cardiac arrest with a bunch of pharmaceuticals and other drugs in our systems. But there's a lot of racing left so...you never know man."The reporters had begun to murmer amongst themselves at this point and a French journalist asked what we should expect from Vinokourov and his Astana team in the final week of the Tour. The blonde Kazakh pulled the microphone from the stand and began to seranade the crowd with the following lyrics from Cold Blooded and Super Freak by Rick James.
"If we try
To get to know each other
You might find
You couldn’t trade me for another
She's a very kinky girl
The kind you don't take home to mother
She will never let your spirits down
Once you get her off the street, ow girl"
Then Vinokourov dropped the microphone on the stage, pointed to the crowd, then to the left and walked off the stage as we all looked on in silence.