Outside of the entire population of Kazakhstan (17.5 million) nobody wanted Alexandre Vinokourov win the Olympic Games road race. And that wasn’t just because the mainstream media had force-fed the British public the line that Mark Cavendish was a bet-your-shirt dead cert – hence the reason we were treated to the dim bulb ‘Cav fails’ headlines in the numbskull press.
The fact it was Vinokourov who beat the Manx Missile to the line made the GB team ‘failure’ all the more galling. Bloody Vinokourov. Vino the doper. The rider who smashed his knees to putty in the 2007 Tour de France but somehow went on to win two stages before being thrown off the race, guilty of homologous blood doping (basically transfusing someone else’s blood). He and his state-sponsored Astana team were asked (politely?) to leave the Tour. Then, after much court action involving WADA, the Kazak cycling federation, the UCI and the Court for Arbitration of Sport, Vino eventually copped and served a two-year ban.
But the man is a superstar in his home country and, since the Astana team is sponsored by a conglomeration of businesses in the oil rich state, Vino couldn’t (or wouldn’t) leave the sport in utter disgrace. So he came back and raced again in August 2009. “I love cycling, I want to come back because I didn’t want my career to end in this way,” said Vinokourov in 2009.
Since then, the Kazak has been riding with the same biological passport as the rest of the pro peloton and written an open letter to the world after his 2010 win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege attracted so much negative publicity. The rock-hard Kazak actually seemed hurt by the coverage his win received. “I can’t do anything against the doubts hanging over me since the 2007 case… I paid two years on suspension for the dark years of my career. If I didn’t want to talk about it, it’s only for the sake of my sport. I don’t think cycling needs to reconsider all these dirty stories to move forward. This is my personal vision of this problem, everybody is not obliged to share it.”
Basically Vino reckons that since he had served his time “for the dark years” in his career, wasn’t he entitled to come back, like so many others and be given the benefit of the doubt?
Well, since he put it like that, you have to ask, why wasn’t he given the benefit of the doubt? Since his return, the rider who twice finished on the podium of the Tour de France and won the 2006 Vuelta has been nowhere near the same level of performance. The rider who won a bronze medal at the 2006 World time trial has been way off the pace in every time trial he’s ridden. In the 2012 Tour he was 30th at 3-47 from Wiggins on stage nine and 60th at 6-09 at Chartres. In short, his performances suggest that he’s riding clean.
So why the opprobrium? Well, since David Millar set the gold standard in repentant ex-dopers, since Bradley Wiggins and Sky have declared loud and proud that they are clean, Vino’s ‘vision’ is clearly not shared by the media. But ask yourself this, if another ex-blood doper (guilty of “attempted doping” if you please), another rider who has served a ban and returned to a high level (third in the 2009 Giro d’Italia, fourth in the 2009 Vuelta and winning the 2010 Giro) had won, if, in short, Ivan Basso had won the London Olympic Games road race, would he have been damned as fiercely as the Kazak, our Borat on performance enhancing drugs? You have to doubt it.
Would it have been better for the sport if Rigoberto Uran had won? Certainly, because the young Colombian’s is a great story. But did Vino deserve the coverage he got? I don’t think so.