Don’t call it a comeback

Now Alexandre Vinokourov wants back in on the top flight of cycling. Is there anyone, apart from Jan Ullrich, who hasn’t served a ban or banishment from the pro peloton who doesn’t want to seek redemption on the road?

You’ve got Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis all confirmed as returning to the elite somewhere or other, bringing with them the clamour of the arguments on both side as to the rights and wrongs of their being allow back into the sport. It’s an empty noise but one which I can’t help but add to.

Cycling tends to mythologise its great characters, as heroes and other archetypes found in epic tales. Myth, and in particular epic mythology, has as part of its paradigm the notion of redemption.

Yet, if you believe the hardline opponents of these returns there should be no redemption in the sport – life bans and eternal condemnation are all these riders should face. I totally disagree with this view. What point is there in a world without the possibility of redemption?

The trite clich� is that “to err is human, to forgive divine”. People fuck up, or as Jack Lemmon would have it “nobody’s perfect”.

I’m entirely in favour of riders being allowed redemption after a ban. David Millar has walked that path as have others. We’ve long since redeemed the reputations of Mexckx, Anquetil and Coppi by inventing relativism in doping,

This is fundamentally where my problem lies with the movement against the modern generation. The credos runs that “EPO/modern doping is so much more effective” and therefore deserving of greater disgust because of the way in which it distorts the sport.

I don’t buy this for one minute. You cannot simply reduce the sport down to a bunch of physical symptoms such as haemocrit or power output because there is so much more to it. More often than not it’s still the smartest rider who wins the race, not the strongest.

Is the effect of EPO or blood doping any worse than that of the Palfium taken by Roger Riviere which first took away his sensation of pain, allowing him to ride on beyond what his mind and body would otherwise allow, before robbing him of the sensations needed to control his bike on the descent of the Col Du Perjuret? All those riders driven into the blackness and beyond reason by barbiturates, cocaine, opiates, strychnine, a never ending list of medications and madness.

Incidentally, when he crashed, Riviere was chasing Gastone Nencini, a rider who was caught trying to indulge in autologous blood doping back in the 1960s. Hardly a new technique then is it?

I can’t accept that the “old-fashioned” doping is any less effective in deciding the course of cycling history than modern pharmaceutical invention. Both allow riders to go beyond the limits of what their being would otherwise sustain.

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