How, Exactly, Does One "Come Back"?

Aug 24 2009

vinoI wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it from so many sources: Alexandre Vinokourov, aka Vino-4-Ever, is not only back racing, he’s riding for the same Astana team that Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador struggled for control of this summer, under the very same same director that struggled to control them.

Not only that, but Vino’ will be present at the Vuelta, and from the looks of Astana’s line-up, leading the team in the GC hunt.

How exactly does this happen? How do two riders, ejected from the very same race and subject to very similar suspensions, end up at such dissimilar places once their punishment is up? Moreover, how is it that the rider who actually tested positive is the one back at the highest level?

How does it happen that other riders, never convicted of anything—though inextricably linked to a very prominent case—end up bouncing around the minor leagues, limited to some respectable wins from time to time, while those caught red-handed a year later are already back trying their luck at the biggest events?

What about the riders who never make it back? Is it really just lack of desire? Of good connections? Even after hip surgery, Landis was as strong against Dave Weims as Armstrong a year later—but the stark contrast between their 2009 seasons suggests something more may be at play.

It’s tempting to attribute failure to bounce back as the obvious result of clean riding in place of dirty. But if all it took to jump from a middling US Pro and a guy capable of putting 6 minutes into the entire TdF field was a skewed epitestosterone ratio, every athlete in the world would have a quack script for androgel.

In a sport so focused on nailing-down sea of objective, milimeter-level details—aerodynamic drag, power-to-mass ratio, co-efficients of friction—could the age-old attributes of being hard-headed and well-connected still be the biggest determinant in predicting success?

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