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The scarlet letter D and those that bear it

This may or may not make the slightest bit of sense.

For a period of three days, Alexander Vinokourov was probably my very favorite pro cyclist.

July 2007. School was out for summer, and this was the one year I didn't take any summer classes or go away for a job. I was working fast food at the time and arranged for the night shift for this month, because I wanted nothing to stand in my way of getting up far earlier than any sane person should to watch the world's most popular annual sporting event - the Tour de France.

(That's actually a statistical fact, by the way. Only the quadrennial FIFA World Cup gets higher worldwide viewing numbers. Not even the Olympics beat the Tour!)

And what a race it was. I've several fond memories of it (really, quite a few of my favorites ever) - Gert Steegmans winning stage 2 basically by botching the leadout for Tom Boonen. Yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara sort of smugly winning what's still the only mass-start Tour stage he ever has the next day. Linus Gerdemann's brave solo effort to take the stage and the yellow jersey, and Cancellara's vow at the beginning of that day that it was "all about [his] teammates now." Gerdemann paying the price the next day, and Michael Rasmussen seizing control of the race afterward. Alberto Contador's feisty, but ultimately ill-fated chase of the spirited Mauricio Soler. Boonen's second actual win pretty much sealed the green jersey for him (Robbie Hunter was poised if Boonen missed a sprint, but that was never likely).

Then the wheels fell off the bus.

Well...not for three days, actually. Stage 13 was a time trial, and the heretofore disappointing Alexander Vinokourov (he came in as the betting favorite) turned in an amazing ride! He shattered the time set by the stage leader Bradley Wiggins (riding for Cofidis at the time -- doesn't that just seem weird as hell now?) and won the day so dominantly that he moved up 12 places on GC (21st to 9th). Maybe he would be an actual overall threat after a...no maybe not. Thirty minutes down the next day.[*] Suffering from the effort, surely! The next day he shook off those demons to solo away from a morning breakaway (which he only got in because he was in 30th place), top a cat-1 climb alone, and take an incredible win! What a narrative! How inspiring! I sure bought it.

[*]This was the stage where Contador and Rasmussen traded punches on the way to Plateau-de-Beille, with Contador taking the stage win but Rasmussen the (at the time) moral victory of not losing any time on the road to him. Another memory that was so cool at the time that I have no clue what to make of now.


It never happened.[*]

It's kind of amazing how vividly I remember the stage 16 broadcast. Most days, the OLN (as it was then known) crew would start the show with some clips of the previous stage, with a Phil Liggett voiceover to whet the appetites for what was to come. Not that day. It began with a cold open on the stonefaced Al Trautwig (though that's really not a description of his mood, it's more just a physical fact) relaying the shocking news that perhaps the Tour's biggest star had failed a doping test and that his entire team was being removed from the Tour.

[*]Trautwig used this phrase repeatedly when talking about Vinokourov's remarkable results, and the failed test. It's kinda stuck with me.

Liggett excoriated him, though his rage was more borne of the fact that Vinokourov had used such an easily detectable method[*] of cheating, rather than simply cheating itself. Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll spoke of how Vinokourov had toyed with everyone watching the race, getting them to believe a lie. And I don't know - maybe it's because I was told to, but I started to feel that way, too.

[*]Yet wasn't what Vinokourov did (autologous blood transfusion) what Danilo Di Luca was merely suspected but not proven to have done at the Giro just months earlier? Pipi degli angeli? So if it was so easily detectable from Vinokourov, why does Di Luca still have his Giro?

So the villain was gone from the Tour, and the overall classification was mostly decided, but at least there would still be a triumphant, hopefully incident-free, ride to Paris to complete the Tour. Except no. The next day's telecast started exactly the same way, with Trautwig coming on after a cold open to deliver shocking news - Rasmussen was now gone from the Tour as well. The reasons weren't as clear-cut, but rest assured, it related back to doping as well. The dominance that Rasmussen had asserted over the race? That stage win atop the murderous Col d'Aubisque to seal the deal? It never happened either.[*]

[*]Strictly speaking, it still did, since Rasmussen never had any results stripped. Would it be awkward to consider Levi Leipheimer the winner of this stage? He was 9 seconds the better of Contador.

I was left in a state of shock. The whole Tour felt like a farce in a lot of ways. These two villains, these two heels, had ruined everything (and Cristian Moreni would be on the list, too, if he ever made headlines for any other reason and if he ever again took a competitive pedalstroke - both of which would be 'no'). The awkwardly-crowned Contador still made for a good show holding off teammate Leipheimer and Cadel Evans, by the thinnest of margins in Tour history, but it was all more than a little overshadowed by the circus that took place before it.

To those saying VINO4EVAH today, let me pose this - how would you feel if you found out tomorrow that he failed the post-race doping control?

How did Davide Rebellin fans feel four years ago?

There's an old saying - let sleeping dogs lie. This, coupled with that downright infamous 2007 Tour, sure seems to govern how I've come to feel about convicted dopers:

*David Millar - his doping infraction and his return from same both happened before I even knew who he was. So, but for second and thirdhand accounts and reactions, it's as if it never happened. I can comprehend why people don't like him (though it seems more to be about his contrition than the actual doping {?}), but only in the way I can comprehend how people my parents' age know exactly where they were when the President was killed, or when the moon landing happened. I can comprehend it, but I have absolutely no personal frame of reference.

*Ivan Basso - I certainly remembered him being all but crowned Lance's heir apparent after Tour de France podium finishes in both 2004 and 2005. I wasn't really paying attention to the Giro in 2006, and his Tour non-start was lost in an ocean of them. I felt nothing seeing him "again" in the 2009 Giro, considering it had been so long since I had seen him at all. And I enjoyed the hell out of his 2010 Giro championship.

*Floyd Landis - Oddly enough, I didn't see the 2006 Tour live. I went away for a summer job to a place where cable TV scarcely exists. A family member was kind enough to tape four stages and mail them to me (video tapes, what a concept!), and among them was the flatly ridiculous stage 17 which Floyd "won" solo by nearly six minutes. I couldn't really process what I was seeing. It seemed too good to be true, but I was not yet cynical enough to consider that a possibility. I'm sure everyone here was onto it immediately. It was mostly Floyd's protracted pissing uphill that made me grow to loathe him.

*Alessandro Petacchi - I wasn't following the Giro in 2008 and the case was long since resolved by the time I even read about it. I suppose I can't deny that article titles like Innocently Guilty probably colored my perception as well, but even though Petacchi has had other dogged allegations against him, I've never been anything but a fan.

*Stefan Schumacher - He won both time trials in the 2008 Tour and parlayed the first into a stint in the yellow jersey. It even got him talked up as an Olympic medal favorite. It was all built on lies. So to hell with him.

*Riccardo Riccò - Even though the 2008 Tour was my introduction to the 'Cobra,' and his positive test came from this race, I felt like I was willing to welcome him back in 2010. He sure played me for a fool.

*Bernhard Kohl - My cynicism had grown in just two short years! When the tiny Kohl, a robust climber, finished ninth and basically rode the same as Cadel Evans and in the top ten with riders who should all eat tiny robust climbers for lunch, all despite falling off the goddamn start ramp before taking his ride, it had even me crying bullshit. His subsequent aloofness and claims that "you cannot win without doping" really drew my ire even more.

*Danilo Di Luca - It's not about Oil for Drugs. It's not about Pipi degli angeli. Though those certainly don't help his case in retrospect. No, it's about the spirited, albeit fruitless, battle he had with Denis Menchov at the '09 Giro that, again, never actually happened. That was the first bike race that wasn't the Tour de France that I ever saw, so it meant a lot to me at the time. Having its final standings become a Swiss cheese farce wasn't what I had in mind.

*Franco Pellizotti, Tadej Valjavec - See above.

*Alejandro Valverde - The case annoyed me, particularly for the weird logistics it put on Valverde's riding program for a year or so, but I could never bring myself to seethe too much for a rider that had never actually failed any doping test. I would make a terrible lawyer (and I'll never pretend otherwise), because there's no question that intent follows the bullet. Valverde's blood was found where it didn't belong, well, that very probably means he may have skated a few times when he ought not to have. It just doesn't equate to "YOU DIRTY CHEATER" in my warped head, though.

*Alberto Contador - I just don't feel like I've seen anything that was definitely artificial. And yes, I know that sounds adorably naive to every last one of you. What he tested positive for is generally agreed to have given him no tangible competitive advantage (yet I understand that rules are rules and if you test positive for a banned substance, you lose your results at that race). The fact that his oh so obviously doped ass lost a Giro championship where no irregularity of any kind occurred has never sat well with me. You might say CONTA4EVAH!

And so it goes. But the very same applies to guys like Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, those I grew up watching. I look back on those races now with rose-colored glasses. I have what you might think of as a more forgiving attitude toward those from yesteryear. You may or may not recall that I was very strenuous in my opposition to Ullrich being stripped of his results from the last two years of his career, but the prospect of Armstrong being likewise stripped really demonstrates why it's such a farce, and why we should let sleeping dogs lie (a doping statue of limitations, perhaps?). Consider the 2005 Tour. The podium in Paris was Armstrong-Basso-Ullrich. Is there any reason to believe any of them were clean? Yet Ullrich has already been officially removed from that result, and Armstrong would seem to be on his way to joining him. The riders who will replace them, with "Tour de France champion" Basso (himself a rider who has faced sanctions)? Francisco Mancebo and....VINO4EVAH! Looking at the whole rest of the top 10 is just a series of /facepalms: Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Landis, Christophe Moreau. We're going to lift them up...after "the dopers" are removed? Now consider the 2000 Tour. If Armstrong loses this...it goes to Ullrich! What kind of crap sense does that make? The rider who would join the podium? Moreau. Le sigh.

Let sleeping dogs lie.


Now, I'm aware that not everyone thinks the way I do. I'm gradually coming to accept the fact that mine is not the majority viewpoint ;\ But what astonishes me is how some people feel exactly the opposite. Vino doped? Di Luca on the needle? C'est le travail! It's just these guys making a living. Armstrong did it? LANCE IS THE DEVIL HIMSELF. WE MUST MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF HIM!!!!1111!!!11!!1!

Wow, that's sure been a whole hell of a lot of words. Did anyone actually read all this? It was kinda fun to write, but I'm not sure anyone but me gets anything out of it.

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