Like many cycling fans the world over I spent a number of hours glued to the TV yesterday watching the final Ardennes classic of the year Liege Bastogne Liege . The highlight of the race for me was Philippe Gilbert’s attack on the Cote de Saint Nicolas when he rocketed away from a glass-cranking Alejandro Velverde and mid week winner of Fleche Wallone , World Champion Cadel Evans , whilst the low point was when Alexander Vinokourov crossed the line first .
Why is it that the sight of the super aggressive , super motivated Vino taking such a monumental victory is such a huge disappointment to cycling fans the World over ? The easy answer is that he was caught doping , served a two year suspension and is now back racing as good as ever . But there’s more to it than that .
Since January he has been doing seven hour training rides with over five thousand meters of climbing , more than probably any other rider . He is in superb form winning the Giro del Trentino mid-week , a race where two other riders returning from doping suspensions Ivan Basso and Ricardo Ricco also performed well on the bike . They have all done the crime and served the time .
Vino is responsible for the whole Astana set up as the Kasak sponsorship deal is built around their national sporting hero and only winner of an olympic medal , and will line up alongside Alberto Contador at the tour in July . This just doesn’t sit right .
Vino has always denied all doping allegations , although he did say in the post race press conference yesterday that he wanted to prove that he could race clean by winning .
David Millar is held up as an example to all as a rider who experimented with doping , admitted it ( after epo was found in his home ) , and is now on the board of WADA . He is looked upon similar to a reformed smoker , someone who used to smoke forty a day but now that they have given up can’t stand to be in the same Town as a smoker .
Vino gets booed , but Millar is a Hero , why , because he admitted that he cheated , but there are still many cycling fans who will never forgive him .
Tiger Woods cheated on his wife with fourteen other women , went on TV gave a plastic apology and was treated like a hero upon his return to the US Masters last month . At the end of the day , a cheat is a cheat . Whether it’s cheating on your wife or taking drugs to win a race or a competition it all shows a weakness of character and lack of respect for others .
Sportsmanship was always seen as a badge of honour , no attacking through a feedzone , no attacking the yellow jersey if he suffers a mechanical or crash . No short cuts , on or off the bike . It shows a strength of character and honesty , a sign of someone we can all look up to . A hero !
Watching a cycling race , whether it be on TV or on the side of the road can be a fantastic experience for any fan . Your pulse races when a rider puts in a possible race winning attack , you subconsciously push your foot into the floor as if it were you trying to squeeze that extra ounce of power into the pedals . You lean into the corners with your rider and throw your arms up into the air when he crosses the line . It’s personal .
If you hear a few weeks later that he has tested positive , that’s personal too . You are gutted and feel betrayed and let down .
That’s what makes cycling fans different . It is personal . And that is why there is hope for cycling above all other sports . People talk about drugs in cycling as if it were the only sport with a problem . It is one of the only sports doing something about the problem ! Young riders see how vilified the likes of Vinokourov are , even when they win races . This is a great thing . It is not a case of hear no evil , see no evil , lets all welcome back our hero . It is more like ‘ you cheated on us , we don’t care about your money or fame , now pack your bags and get out ‘ .