Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sangre de Vino

Yesterday I sent a note to my brother about Alexander Vinokourov’s amazing ride in that day’s stage:

Hmmm, had a really strong day, then choked, then rode out in front of everyone and took an incredible stage victory. Remind you of anyone from last year?

The reference of course was to Floyd Landis, who ran the same pattern in 2006: took the yellow jersey in an incredible day of mountain climbing, then completely fell apart the next day and lost several minutes, then came back the day following to reclaim the yellow in what seemed like an impossible ride, what was hailed at the time as a classic exploit that would go down in history.

Except that then he was accused of using testosterone to help recover after the day he blew up.

I wasn’t suggesting that Vino was doping as much as I was suggesting that Floyd might have been riding clean. Is there a chance that a truly great rider can pull a great ride the day after his legs give way underneath him?

Well, apparently Vino’s time trial was artificially enhanced:


The crying shame of it is that Vino didn’t even cheat to win. He cheated to get back into ninth place. (Robert Bolt: “It little profits a man to sell his soul for the world—but to do it for Wales?”)

It still leaves me wondering about his remarkable ride two days later, after he’d fallen apart completely on the day in between. He wasn’t in contention even then, but it will be interesting to see what that stage’s blood tests show.

I suppose the writing was on the wall: Vinokourov had been associated with an Italian doping doctor in the past, though he swore up and down that he hadn’t been involved with the illegal part of his practice. And, even more telling, he was on the Liberty-Seguros squad that had to pull out of last year’s Tour de France because five of its riders had been tied to the huge Spanish blood-doping scandal that cast a shadow on the start of last year’s race. Vino wasn’t accused at the time, but he couldn’t race on a team that couldn’t field the minimum number of riders.

Liberty-Seguros turned into Astana, the team Vino leads today. Apparently he at least learned from what his former teammates had done, even if he did not partake.

What a putz!

With Astana out, Andreas Klöden is also gone from the Tour scene, leaving Contador, Evans, and Leipheimer as the only real challengers to Rasmussen’s riding, with Carlos Sastre a dim fourth. Leipheimer and Evans have been looking as if it’s enough of a challenge for them to ride along on Rasmussen’s wheel lately, so my hunch is it’ll fall to Contador tomorrow to attack early on and see if he can wear out the big Dane.

It would be nice to have kept Klöden in the running, but even without him, it should be a great stage to watch: Two hors-categorie climbs, two Cat 1 climbs, and a Cat 3 to add insult to injury. Even on the flat it would be no fun, at 135 miles. My bet is that Johan Bruyneel will unleash Contador on an early climb, leaving Rasmussen to decide whether he wants to risk his stamina and try to contain Contador, or let him go and take the chance that Contador will gain a couple of minutes from him and take the overall lead.

Watch for more surprises!

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