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Kazakhstan's Favorite Cycling Son
 
By Staff
Date: 11/15/2012
Kazakhstan's Favorite Cycling Son
 
By Daily Peloton Staff Writer Sam Jackson


Alexandre Vinokourov.

His face looks like it is made from leather, and Borat aside, he is arguably the most famous Kazakh export of all time. He’s a rider with a penchant for light blue Lycra. A thrilling rider and a complete rider. A hard-as-nails eats-bad-weather-for-breakfast type rider. A gnarled yet swashbuckling rider. A controversial rider. A former fan favourite. A sporting fraud? A drugs cheat?

Vino.

Alexandre Vinokourov was a rider I admired from an early age. I supported him as a T-Mobile rider in the 2003 Tour de France, the first Tour de France I recall watching. I was nine and I liked him. There was something about him. Liggett and Sherwen liked him. They told me so. I thought yes, yes I like him too. Everything from the attacking style to that endearing grimace when the gradient increased en route to his plucky podium place behind Ullrich and Armstrong, he was a rider you just wanted to support. I knew almost nothing about cycling at the age of 9, so you can call it childish intuition or whatever, but Vino was the man.

A finisseur, a baroudeur, a rouleur, a puncheur, even a grimpeur on his day. Vino had it all. This has proved a double edged sword in retrospect. It earned him fans. Many, many fans. Yet in hindsight,was it all a lie? This is what makes his fall from grace all the more galling. Did he buy his wins? Was he doped when he appeared a plucky try-hard? His fans have deserted him. Those who once loved him have new heroes. All I retain is a slight childhood attachment to my first favourite cyclist. He’shard to trust.

Until 2007 Vino was a hero. That is when the wheels fell off. A positive test after the Stage 16 long time trial at Albi in Le Tour, and Vino’s credibility was down the toilet. Olympic medals, a Tour de France podium, a Dauphine, a Paris-Nice, an Amstel Gold Race and a Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The palmares of a legend. But Vino was a cheat. A homologous blood transfusion, and as a rider from the stable of the now disgraced, but even then highly controversial sports doctor Michele Ferrari, Vino’s career was in tatters. He promptly retired. In August 2009, his doping suspension served, Vino launched his comeback, returning to the ranks of the peloton at the Tour de l’Ain. He won the time trial.

The issue with Vino’s comeback for many fans of cycling was that whilst they welcomed the return of his attacking and unpredictable style to pro cycling, his refusal to repent spoke volumes and left a bitter taste in the mouth, whilst his ability had barely diminished. There is no better example of this than Stage 13 of Vino’s 2010 comeback Tour de France. Attacking in the final kilometres, Vino rode away from the HTC led peloton, whose massed ranks had a bunch sprint in mind. By the finish line the Kazakh had pulled out a 13-second lead in a terrific display of attacking riding. At once many fans were delighted to see the return of the Vino of old, pulling off seemingly impossible feats by attacking hard, attacking fast and not giving up. Pure cycling theatre, right? The theatricals took a shady turn in Vino’s post-race interview. Asked about his doping suspension, there was no apology or recognition on the war on drugs in pro cycling, merely a shrug was offered and a remark along the lines that he had served his time and had now returned.

This in itself is not particularly incriminating or necessarily worthy of note. Yes, it’s judgmental to read into a shrug and a remark that many other pros have offered upon their return from doping suspensions. However, if Vino was doped up in 2007 why had his riding style not changed? Drugs and doping turns donkeys into thoroughbreds, right? Why was Vino still the same attacking thoroughbred capable of the same feats? What’s more, beyond this stage win, Vino had added Liege-Bastogne-Liege to his palmares for the second time in Spring 2010 with another gutsy, attacking display which had distanced the entire field, including his final breakaway companion Aleksandr Kolobnev in the final kilometres.

Recently this particular victory has opened up a whole can of worms for Vino. Aside from the murmurings amongst fans that Vino was just as good as he had been in the days he had doped,it was alleged by a Swiss magazine in December 2011 that Vino had paid Kolobnev off. Paid him €150,000 to not contest the final sprint. Paid him to win one of cycling’s grand monuments. Before I get on my high horse it must of course be remembered that cycling has a tradition of riders bartering and bargaining for one another’s services and help outside the confines of one’s own cycling team. But in a Monument? In 2010? In cycling’s new über-professional cutting-edge-of-technology, sports drinks and marginal gain age? The Belgian authorities seemed to agree with my viewpoint in that Vino made a false representation as to having won the race rightfully as the best cyclist on the day, when in actual fact the supporters were duped. He didn’t really deserve his victory. Vino now faces fraud charges. This is without mentioning the rumours on Twitter that Rigoberto Uran must have been paid off in the Olympic Road Race so poor was his race craft in the finishing sprint. This highlights just how far Vino’s star has fallen, from a rider almost everybody loved to a joke of the sport.

The legions of fans have been scattered.


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