Alexandre Vinokourov's Liege-Bastogne-Liege win has left many cycling fans conflicted and confused and unable to enjoy any winning performance, writes Philip Gomes.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

"Drain a litre of blood from that bastard and run every damn test in the
book," @nicodonnell via Twitter.

The above quote, in response to
Alexandre Vinokourov's win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege (LBL), culled from
thousands of similar responses on Twitter, pretty well sums up fan
reactions to the Kazakh.

To say Vinokourov is unpopular is an
understatement. Even among his colleagues in the professional peloton
the silence has been deafening, with few congratulatory remarks directed
his way.

Indeed, my redoubtable colleague Mike Tomalaris took a
straw poll on Twitter asking "does anyone like Vino?" which resulted in a
resounding result. No: 24 votes. Yes: 1 vote.

Only surprising
because I didn't realise Vinokourov's mum was on Twitter. Today the
Kazakh is the Bond villain of the professional peloton.

For the 'tifosi',
this years LBL podium has two sets of faces, the official winners - a
troika of Alex's - Vinokourov, Koloblev and Valverde replaced by the
'peoples podium' of Kolobnev, Cadel Evans, and Phillippe Gilbert.

All
of this follows a week in cycling where a rash of doping suspensions
were announced and where the Giro del Trentino saw it's general
classification dominated by riders who have returned from high-profile
suspensions of their own - led by Vinokourov, who won the race.

The
reactions to 'Vino's' Trentino win was similarly visceral and included a
bonus dose of caustic comment directed at the runner-up, Riccardo
Ricco.

Scanning the social media commentary, clearly there is now
no room left amongst the fans for redemption and rehabilitation of
dopers, with many calling for life bans for proven offenders.

But
to me much of the comment resembles the tabloid 'law and order'
beat-ups employed by politicians and media alike - "lock 'em up and
throw away the key!" bays the inflamed mob.

I see this very
differently. Every rider deserves at least one return from a doping
suspension. It's called natural justice, or law.

The Wikipedia definition states that man is basically good, that a person of good intent should
not be harmed, and one should treat others as one would like to be
treated.

That Vino, and a host of other riders in his position,
broke the rules of the game is irrefutable. But it is also true that he
has served his time and is entitled by those rules to return to racing.

Nowhere
does it say he can return but is not allowed on the podium. Nowhere
does it say that he must display an appropriate amount of contrition
before winning back the fans' love.

Indeed the matter of fact
Kazakh could not have put it more succinctly when he said: "I've turned
the page, I've returned stronger than before and I've shown everybody
that 'Vino' is back.

"This team was created for and also thanks
to me. I've completed my punishment so I don't see why I shouldn't come
back."

Years ago Vinokourov had the fans love, with many lauding
his swashbuckling take-no-prisoners style; where he would launch himself
on one seemingly suicidal attack after another disrupting the cosy hegemony of a well ordered peloton.

So maybe it was
that love which has resulted in today's reactions - betrayal always
seems greater when the love is stronger.

Important too is this.
Vinokourov would have to be one of the world's most watched and tested
sportsmen, today he probably looks like a pincushion with a bad haircut
now that the sport has a comprehensive system for rooting out the
cheats.

The anti-doping officials will have taken blood, hair and
urine and have probably included Vino's mum and any pets he may have
just to make sure.

With intense media, fan and official scrutiny
now the norm for any rider returning from a doping suspension we now
have a situation of 'trust but verify'.

Vinokourov says he won
LBL clean so I'm prepared to cut him some slack and enjoy his unpopular
victory in the great race.