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Vinokourov takes the Tour of Spain

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MADRID, Spain -- Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the 61st Tour of Spain on Sunday, 72 seconds ahead of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde.

Vinokourov's victory was his first in a major stage race. His Astana team mate Andrey Kashechkin was third, three minutes 12 seconds further back.

The final stage, starting and finishing in Madrid, was won by German Erik Zabel.

Second in the bunch sprint was Norwegian Thor Hushovd with Swiss rider Aurelien Clerc in third place.

"It was complicated to win this race, very hard indeed to beat a rival as tough as Valverde," Vinokourov told reporters.

"But I gradually got better and better as the race went on."

Vinokourov, 33, seized the yellow jersey on the mountainous 17th stage to Granada, when he attacked overnight leader Valverde on a fast descent.

He increased his lead on the race's last summit finish at La Pandera, won by Kashechkin and again in the final time trial, when Vinokourov took a third stage win.

"This is my revenge for when my team couldn't start in the Tour de France," said Vinokourov, whose Astana squad were forced to pull out of cycling's top event after five of his team mates were implicated in a doping scandal.

"It's the first major stage race win in my career and it's going to motivate me even more to go back and win the Tour next year.

"My first week was not good here, but I gradually got stronger and stronger.

"Now I'll take part in the world championships road race (on September 24 in Austria) and see if I can win there, too."

Zabel was delighted with his stage win.

"I've finished eight times second in the last stage of a major Tour, so it's great to finally be able to win one," the German said.

Vinokourov claimed the yelloe jersey on the mountainous 17th stage.

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