I read an article a couple days ago about someone hacking into Alexander Vinokourov’s email account, but didn’t really think much about it other than he might get caught up in some drug scandal. Then Velonews.com had this article from a Swiss magazine about Vino buying the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege from Alexander Kolobnev for 100,000 Euros or so.
I don’t know what to think about the whole thing. Obviously, I don’t want to see classics being bought and sold. But, that being said, I’m not sure I want the media making something out of nothing when they find out that money exchanged hands after a race. I very much doubt that we’ll ever really know why Vino paid Kolobnev the money. I can think of quite a few scenarios where Vino might have agreed to pay Kolobnev that isn’t really unsporting.
I’ve written about this before, but cycling is a very strange sport because of drafting and team tactics. The best guy doesn’t always win the race. And a rider conceding to not win before the race is officially over isn’t “fixing” the results. It is the weaker rider trying to maximize his results. It happens all the time.
Below is an article from the 80’s about me having a similar problem in an important criterium, The Coors Devils Cup, outside of San Fransico, in Walnut Creek. The problem was that our team was trying to secure a Levis sponsorship, so having this article on the front page of the Chronicle’s Sports page was about as bad as it could have been, since Levis’ headquarters is in San Francisco.
If you were reading the article, as a non cyclist, you might think that the race was fixed. But not even close. The guy that finished 2nd, Charlie Holbrook, conceded the race as soon as we were off the front. He couldn’t pull and I was about to shell him when he told me that he wouldn’t sprint.
The race was strange, being a miss and out criterium. We were just about to lap the field, but the problem with that was we could still get pulled. The reward for lapping the field was one free “not get pulled” token. So, when we came up to the back of the field, we just sat behind them as the last 10 guys or so sprinted each time at the finish line and then sat up and rested. It probably looked extremely weird as a spectator. Anyway, after riding a couple laps at 20 mph behind the few riders left, Charlie tells me he is feeling much better and thought he would sprint. I explained to him how it worked when you make deal. I told him I would split the primes I had won while we were off the front, which was a lot, maybe $1500. He said that all he needed was $200 and said sure.
In the meantime, Hugh Walton, my team mate, got away from the field and lapped us in about 3 laps. I told Hugh that we had a deal. Huge wasn’t big on it, but he agreed to get third.
Now, I have a different view of this. When the combination changes, then all deals are off. Now I would have just told Hugh to take off and I would sprint with Charley. But, we didn’t do that. Anyway, Charlie secured his placing, but then went and did an interview the the Chronicle after the race that made the result look fraudulent. The paper didn’t bother to talk to me. I didn’t want to expend the energy to get rid of Charlie early on, so I agreed to pull him around. That was a gift to him, but it caused a lot of grief down the road.
Anyway, I hope that this whole Vino scandal doesn’t blow into something crazy. Like I said above, I doubt that we’ll ever really know the true story, since I can just about guarantee you that neither Vino or Kolobnev are going to talk, so it’s not really that interesting in the long run. Cyclingnew.com just published this that seems to insinuate that Kolobnev didn’t race to win. I’m still thinking that they are not going to talk, but maybe the Swiss magazine has more emails. The whole thing seems pretty shady, from both sides, the cyclists and the journalists.