Alexandre Vinokourov cheated. Maybe. At least that's what the headlines have been blasting all day. According to Swiss magazine L'Illustre the Astana rider paid Alexandre Kolobnev 100,000 euro to take victory in the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège uncontested. As you may remember, Vinokourov attacked Kolobnev in the final 800m of the Classic and rode to a solo victory. At the time, Kolobnev said he simply could not respond to the final acceleration of the Kazak rider. (If you want a visual reminder, video is here)
Reports that began surfacing Wednesday morning revealed a series of emails between Vinokourov and Kolobnev that contained the Russian rider's banking details and a promise by Vinokourov "You have done everything properly, do not worry." Emails appear to be hacked from Vinokourov's personal email account, prompting him to promise legal retaliation against the publication.
Initially, much outrage about the incident emerged. The UCI has promised to investigate the matter; if collusion between the riders determined the result of the race, it contravenes UCI rules. While most of us have heard stories of races being bought and sold - notably on the Belgian Kermesse scene (read A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Betrayal, and Beuaty in Belgium by Joe Parkin) - it sits uneasy to have one of the five Monuments of the sport decided by something less than strategy and strength.
But, should we rethink the situation? There area a few interesting points to consider. First, as Joe Lindsey points out, this incident may hurt Kolobnev much more than it helped Vinokourov. Not only does Kolobnev now face the prospect of a doping suspension and having to pay five years' salary to the Katusha management, he also is less likely to receive the support of the Russian Cycling Federation in a legal tussle with the UCI over his positive test for a banned diuretic in this year's Tour de France.
Second to consider is what it really means if Kolobnev did accept payment in return for not contesting the win. Is it as repugnant as it strikes us? After the race, we knew 2nd in a Classic was a good result for the Russian rider. He was the only one with the reserves and tactical nous to follow Vinokourov's attack after Astana teammate Alberto Contador lit up the race with a searing acceleration. And if Kolobnev wanted the victory more than Vinokourov, he wouldn't have accepted the payment. At least, this is what Mike Creed thinks.
Me? I tend to agree with Creed. It sucks... a lot. But it doesn't change 99% of the race, and what we talk about is not the final 800m but how Vinokourov and Kolobnev went on a daring raid with 17km to go in the race. It was a bold move, especially with then World Champion Cadel Evans, Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde, and the Schleck brothers still in the front group of the race. But, that's just me and what I'll remember in three years. What about you?