In bicycle road racing favouritism makes it harder to win. To put it another way outsiders have an advantage. Zoetemelk won the World Championship at 38 when the others didn’t take his late attack seriously enough, quickly enough. You can’t chase everyone.
Vino – also in his 39th year – won the the Olympic Road Race with a jump on Putney High Street forcing a gap that he held – with the aid of Rigoberto Uran a non-sprinting Colombian – all the way up the Fulham Road, through South Ken and Knightsbridge, down Constitution Hill and along the Mall.
Churlish commentary followed Vinokourov’s well-judged, opportunist triumph, complaining about his history of blood-spinning. Suppose the race had regrouped on the run-in and Cavendish had won for the Isle of Man who would have carped about Bernhard Eisel working – not for the glory of Austria – but for his regular teamate? At least Rigoberto Uran – another Murdoch mercenary – didn’t wait to see if he could help.
Cycle-sport has no idealised history to draw on. Bike racers had sponsors names on their jerseys, stayed in the best hotels and engaged the best doctors when star soccer players were still travelling to games on the bus, with the crowd. Cycle sport has never been tainted with the Corinthian spirit.
Vinokourov isn’t just a throwback to the glory days of Deutsche Telekom, I strongly suspect he will be the last product of the Soviet Union to win an Olympic gold medal in any discipline that makes you sweat, maybe the last of all? Whatever you think about that, or his conviction for hosting somebody else’s blood, it can’t be denied that anyone still racing at the highest level while looking down the barrel of forty years old must really like riding a bike. The warrior deserves his glorious exit.