In defence of Alexandre Vinokourov

The result of the Olympic road race on Saturday was as I expected, totally unforeseen, if you follow my logic. It’s a random, unpredictable event and it was clearly foolish for Mark Cavendish to focus all of his energies this year on winning it. The course didn’t suit him and he would have been far better served in trying to defend his green jersey at the Tour and simply trying his luck in the road race afterwards. It’s a shame for the guy as I know how much it meant to him but that’s cycling. Cavendish’s immense talents are best served by directing his efforts elsewhere I feel.

Anyway, I for one am very pleased for Alexandre Vinokourov, the gold medallist. His attack and sprint finish were extremely impressive and are a great way to round off a great career.

And judging by all the riders coming up to congratulate him after the finish many in the cycling fraternity share that view. Which is weird as if you look at the way the British media responded it was as if Attilla the Hun had triumphed.

It’s fair to say that I have been extremely miffed at the way he has been treated since he won.

But oh yes, I nearly forgot. There are a couple of ‘beefs’ our venerable 4th estate has with the Kazakh rider.

A)     He isn’t British (something that the BBC interviewer seemed to have forgotten as her line of questioning was bewilderingly and quite ridiculously was focussed on the performance of the British riders. Why on earth would he care? He’s just won for crying out loud!) and the winner had been preordained: Mark Cavendish. Our Mark had been cheated out of his rightful title by a conniving foreigner.

B)      He’s is a dirty cheating doper isn’t he. And what’s more he’s an unrepentant one. And we can’t have that. I mentioned the reaction of his fellow pros earlier quite deliberately. They didn’t appear to be too worried about his past (and at the time of writing it is the past. He hasn’t failed a test since.) As in his and their eyes his only mistake was getting caught.

We like to believe that the ‘cheaters’ are in a tiny minority. I hope, and believe that Bradley Wiggins won without doping or taking performance enhancing substances (although what constitutes ‘performance enhancing’ and what is making the most of one’s talent? It’s a bit of a grey area to be honest) but it would be naïve to think that such practises aren’t still rife in the sport (they used to be positively endemic and most of the most successful riders in the history of the sport have either failed tests or retrospectively confessed). The truth is that many riders see it as a necessary evil to be competitive and make a living. They have families to feed, mortgages to pay and probably little else to fall back on if the cycling thing goes tits-up. For them it’s a job, not a vocation. And us casual fans need to bear that in mind. If we were in their position we might see things very differently.

Vinokourov was at one time the poster boy of Kazakh cycling. Huge hope and expectation rested upon his shoulders. His current team, Astana, was built around him and he was expected to win the Tour de France. Can any of us really say that we wouldn’t have given in to temptation under those circumstances and under that amount of pressure?

And there is the issue of hypocrisy. What would the reaction have been from the British media of David Millar, another former cheat, had won? Would they be prefixing his name with “former doper” or “convicted drugs cheat” like they have with Vinokourov?

But of course I keep forgetting. Millar has repented his sins (something he never tires of reminding us). Well he has, now he’s been caught. Bit late now though. Why is he morally any better than Vino, who pointedly refuses to do the same? By his own admission it was only being caught that stopped the Scot in his tracks.

In some respects one could argue that Vino is more principled, as unlike Millar he isn’t sanctimoniously berating people for doing what he was perfectly willing to do himself before he got caught.

So rather we than getting on our high horses (and pretending that what is nothing more than crude nationalism is actually some matter of high principle) we should be saluting one of the most fearless, entertaining riders of his generation for a stunning victory.

Congratulations Vino!    

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