As “Vino” rolled over the line as the winner of Liége-Bastone-Liége, he looked nervously over his shoulder. At the time I thought that maybe it was to see if one of the most aggressive riders so far this year was coming back to him. Like Vino, I couldn’t believe he had dropped Kolobnev either. Or was he looking over his shoulder because he couldn’t quite believe what he just heard, the crowd booing him? This is something I have never heard reported before (although I am told it happened to Rasmussen before he got the boot from the Tour). But why did Vino get booed over any of the other returned dopers?
There was something about Vino’s doping offense that stung me more than the others. He was a universally liked rider, with a style that appealed to every nationality of fan. He was a fans rider. He was an outside bet, and we all love an underdog when they win, well at least when they do it clean. The press grilled him after the race, after all he is the only cyclist to have doped, and come back so quickly to such emphatic wins. So yes, when you drop a field of the quality that amounted to the best in the world at L-B-L it could be perceived as somewhat suspicious, especially given your history of being a little liberal with the truth.
In a series of post race comments that really didn’t amount to much, other than the expected clichés from press and rider, one in particular stuck in my throat “Of course I’m clean now. To win without doping you have to work, I’ve always done it this way.” Obviously all that altitude training in Tenerife has given him a dose of short-term memory loss. Sure, we could just take his word for it and believe him, but we have done that in the past. Just like the organizers of the Tour who allowed in the Astana team when they were linked to Puerto, but denied all involvement. When they were essentially the Liberty Seguros team and had five team members later accused of doping.
I have no problem with Vino coming back. In the same way I have no problem to see David Millar back, and Ivan Basso. The sport put a rule in place that says you get banned for two years (despite his local racing body trying to reduce it) and he served his ban just like everyone else. So if he has indeed trained like a demon, continues to race and win clean, then good for him. But it seems like it is going to take a little more than that to get the fans back on his side, and me. Just saying you are now clean obviously isn’t enough, especially when in the past that has been said, and not been the case. I am afraid this time around it is going to take a long time for this wound to heal. So I wonder if I had been standing there amongst all of the die-hard fans would I have booed him as well. Not because a doper is back and winning (that is what the sport has deemed is ok), but maybe because one of my favorite riders duped me, lied in the process, and still refuses to admit that he did it when the evidence is as plain as day. I probably would, because yes legally he is allowed back, but I don’t have to like it. Maybe some recognition of what he did would help us all “accept” him back, and a sign that he doesn’t take us all (the peleton, the press and the fans) for fools. We know it goes on, you just got desperate and got caught.
Maybe Vino doesn’t actually give a damn what any of us think. Maybe for him it is all just about the win, by any means necessary, but I doubt it. He seems like a proud man, probably the reason why he never owned up to the weakness of doping in the first place. I wonder how it will play out if he gets invited to the Tour, and there are no barriers between him and the booing fans. I have been on those mountains and watched booze fueled “fans” spit on Lance Armstrong 2ft from his face. He might want to swallow a little of that pride and show that he actually gives a damn before he gets there. It might actually keep him on the bike.
Perhaps Chris Horner’s comments sum up the situation best, on being informed of Vino’s victory he said “Oh, well there you go”.
Photo by Roberto Bettini