this article originally appeared on The Roar
Eurosport’s coverage of the 2014 Tour de France had a section at the end of each stage that was entitled ‘LeMond on Tour’.
This featured the combustible-looking, three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond chatting to a host of the Tour’s personalities.
One day his French co-host ushered onto the makeshift set none other than Alexandre Vinokourov. Vinokourov is the one-time crowd favourite Kazakh army colonel who is now Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team boss.
El Vino is also infamous for being kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France after he was caught for blood doping, which triggered the removal of all his Astana teammates and their entourage.
His reaction to getting nabbed – to basically skirt around the issue for years and to never fully own up to his breaking of the rules – lost him many friends, leaving the majority of cycling fans decidedly nonplussed when he won the 2012 Olympic road race in his final year of racing.
Whoever decided that it would not be decidedly uncomfortable for LeMond, an avowed anti-doper and long-time Lance Armstrong foe, to exchange pleasantries with a man whose arrogance and nefariousness are the polar opposite of everything the only American winner of Le Tour stands for, must soon have realised their mistake as soon as the Kazakh hero stepped into view.
LeMond’s body stiffened visibly and he had trouble even forcing a smile. Vino was and remains a poster boy for the good old (recent) days, when riders thought nothing of doping up to get ahead.
That he is managing a top-level team is bad enough in my opinion, and the fact that his rider won the Tour is the only blemish on Nibali’s otherwise sterling and hugely impressive win.
Such is Vinokourov’s esteem (and political contacts) in his homeland that some reports say that news of his positive test were never fully reported in Kazakhstan.
That Kairat Kelimbetov, the president of Kazakh Cycling, is now pushing for a Grand Depart in the eastern European nation reflects the growing popularity of the sport there. However it must be noted that the awarding of such a prestigious gift by ASO will be seen as a victory for Vinokourov, something which I hope Christopher Prudhomme, head of Le Tour, will take into account.
Christian Prudhomme reacted recently to the report that several former Tour winners believe that Armstrong’s seven Tour ‘victories’ should be reinstated in the record books with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a definitive shake of the head.
“And the same goes for the public,” he said. “You ask the people along the route. It’s clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period.”
All very well and good, but where does he stand on Vinokourov heading a ProTour team at a race he once disgraced?
In the argument for the special and singular treatment of Armstrong, his sociopathic nature is often trotted out, but it is not up to the rules to define who was the worst cheat.
A cheat is a cheat is a cheat, and, if anyone is asking me, they should all be removed from the books and all be banned from further involvement in professional racing, or, at the very least, in the races they were caught cheating at or during.
Bjarne Riis is another case in point. The career domestique won the Tour in 1996 then in retirement admitted that he had doped during that victory. ASO removed his name then reinstated him, placing an asterisk next to his name to indicate doping offences.
He skulked off for a spell after a successful career as a team boss. He then sold his share to the Russian Oleg Tinkoff, admitted depression as a result of all his troubles, disappeared for a spell then turned up again driving the Tinkoff-Saxo team car in races this year, most noticeably at the Tour.
I’m not the only one who has noticed all this, and indeed the UCI president Brian Cookson touched on the subject in an interview a few days ago in The Guardian, reacting to, I can only guess, the public mood regarding the sight of Vino and Riis at the Tour.
“I would like both of them to come to the [Cycling Independent Reform] commission,” Cookson said. “The commission doesn’t have powers of subpoena, but there is a court of public opinion here which is really important; those two people and others as well need to bear that in mind if they want to continue to operate in our world, opinion in the world of cycling would be much more favourable towards them if they came forward.”
That’s all well and good, but is it enough? The commission was designed to look into cycling’s doping past, but there is a groundswell of opinion that believes that there is no place in cycling management and in the bureaucracy for former dopers.
“We’ve got a rule that says if you’ve got a major anti-doping violation you can’t be involved with a team,” continued Cookson, “but our advice is that it’s difficult to employ that retroactively.”
How so? How about we get rid of the lot of them? To name only Riis and Vino is another example of that old attitude that the apple cart is generally healthy and that there’s just a couple of bad apples in there, but in truth, in the era of Vino and Riis, it was very much the other way around.
This is one reason that any truth and reconciliation hearing would turn up very little truth and absolutely no reconciliation, because so few former pros would have anything to gain from admitting to using drugs. In fact, they would have everything to lose.
Cookson started off well enough and made all the right noises. There is no doubt that the support of women’s cycling has improved noticeably. However, until the UCI decides once and for all to ban all the cheats from management we will continue as a sport to make one step forward and three back.
All the while, Armstrong’s repeated cry that he is being singled out unfairly will gather more support.
We just had a very good Tour with a winner that has no doping suspicion hanging over him and saw several new and young faces emerge, so why are we still seeing the smug Vino center stage?
A shambles. Nothing less.
Bjarne Riis reads from the usual doper script and tells us how ‘difficult’ the decision to first dope was.