The Moment The Race Was Sold

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Vinokourov Kolobnev 2010 Liege

The UCI is investigating allegations that Alexandr Kolobnev sold the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège race to Alexander Vinokourov after an apparent chain of emails between the riders was past to them by judicial authorities in Italy.

Fixing the result of a sports event is a criminal offence in many countries and Russia is due to pass a law on the matter soon. But in cycling there’s a different attitude, a cultural tolerance that can allows riders to trade results and agree deals in a race. Is this acceptable?

To recap, Kolobnev and Vinokourov were in the lead of the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, riding as a pair into the finish to dispute the finish but rivals on the Katusha and Astana teams respectively. The allegations come from apparently leaked emails that show the two corresponding after the race and discussing payment of a sum of €150,000 in order to ensure Vinokourov won. This is against the rules.

Old story, new context
This story is not new, it first appeared in a Swiss magazine in 2011 with excerpts of the emails. The UCI enquired but the journalist did not want to give up his source and so the investigation went nowhere whilst Vinokourov denied everything and even promised legal action although I can’t find evidence of this being launched. Later the Swiss magazine published the email exchange in greater detail. So what’s changed now? Well the Italian judiciary has the emails too and has been looking into the payments too, meaning it is a lot harder for the likes of Vinokourov to say the story is a journalist’s fantasy.

1.2.081 Riders shall sportingly defend their own chances. Any collusion or behaviour likely to falsify or go against the interests of the competition shall be forbidden.

For now we’ll put aside this one case and look at the wider subject: trading races is expressly forbidden but it happens. In fact it occurs more than we might care to admit and more than we might notice. In some cases it is harmless and in some cases it is questionable.

Contador’s Gift
Let’s take a harmless case first. On Stage 19 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) was alone at the front of the race, having attacked with 5.5km to go on the final climb and wins the stage. But the others were closing in fast, in particular Contador. Here’s the video:

Contador has words with Tiralongo and then the Spaniard takes a long pull and is “outsprinted” by Tiralongo. In fact Contador was team mates with Tiralongo the previous year and with six kilometres to go he told Tiralongo to attack and then helped him win. Many acknowledged the gift, headlines said this aloud. In cycling this was seen as a great thing, noblesse oblige as Contador shares the spoils of the race after he’d already won several stages. But two athletes conspiring to fix the outcome of a race? Isn’t this illegal?

And that’s just a case of generosity. There are less obvious examples, for example during the Olympic games road race last summer we saw Belarus rider Vasil Kiriyenka and Austria’s Bernhard Eisel working to help the British team. In a way this was so obvious, these riders have contracts for employment with Sky and were apparently putting employer ahead of nation. This doesn’t excuse it, it explains it.

So three examples:

  • the allegations of selling a classic
  • a big name rider letting a little guy win
  • additional team help from those outside your team

Is any of these cases permissible? We can review this twice. First the hard rules and their black and white text and then second under the softer subject of culture and tradition of the sport. Here’s the rule again

1.2.081 Riders shall sportingly defend their own chances. Any collusion or behaviour likely to falsify or go against the interests of the competition shall be forbidden.

So any collusion that could change the race is forbidden. In this sense all three examples fall foul of the rule. Selling a race obviously changes the result, gifting a stage is also an act of collusion between two riders and the same for two teams working together although we could argue that when a rider like Contador gifts a stage there’s no overall change in the race.

Accepted practice
Now for the softer side. Collusion might be forbidden but it is essence of bicycle racing. When two riders escape the pack they share the pace and even if they are fierce rivals they co-operate and conspire to stay away from the peloton. This is what makes cycling so intriguing, the contradiction where rivals form a temporary alliance to beat others. Chess on wheels, spandex diplomacy, call it what you want. It is all about collusion, no?

Other sports do it too
Sumo wrestlers can conspire to lose. In Formula 1 a driver can ease up to let a team mate pass. But few other sports see collusion so essential to the result. Perhaps this is why gifting wins in cycling is tolerated and at times celebrated when it could cause outrage if, say, a football team let a rival win?

You can only sell what you’ve got
Plus the season is long and a good deed done one day can be returned later in the year. A rival team car might happily pace a rider back to the bunch, this is what sport is about sometimes. Also you have to be in a winning position to start gifting or even selling wins, the race is only yours to sell once you’ve almost won it.

Nobody is going to sell Liège-Bastogne-Liège before the race starts, it is only after 240km when, say, two riders have a certain advantage that the trading can begin and indeed in the alleged Vino-Kolobok deal the pair finished over a minute ahead of third place Alejandro Valverde*… although this is like saying you can’t sell a tennis tournament until the two finalists agree a deal in the locker room with two sets remaining.

For me the difference is when this crosses from a sporting alliance into a fix. Two rivals can exploit each other as they near the finish of a big race, taking turns to share the work. They can probably even talk about how to ride, maybe agree a pact to ride to the final corner and then the best rider wins. But going any further is against the rules because we quickly start to falsify the results.

Cosy tradition?
Many will see the idea of riders agreeing deals on the road as tradition and part of cycling culture. But that’s like saying doping is a tradition so we should put up with it. Plus if you think it’s tolerable, imagine being a sponsor of the Katusha team who for years has generously funded a team but with few wins and then find allegations that one of your riders sold the biggest win for the team so far, and worse he sold it to a team backed by rival companies who compete against you in the international energy markets.

The trouble is we cannot test for race-fixing. There can be obvious examples for TV viewers but turning that into a sanction is something else. That’s why the public emails in print and with the Italian police mean the UCI has to investigate but it can’t invites to explain each bizarre turn they do on the front or interrogate a rider who sprints like a schoolboy in case they’ve faked it.

Conclusion
The act of riding in a bunch is an example of mass collusion in the sport. But this is accepted and sometimes deals are done which are questionable. But rarely do suspicious emails emerge. In fact the emails are the story here because someone has access to Vinokourov’s email and the police have been tracking his banking activities as part of a wider investigation.

Unlike other sports where match fixing is seen a horrendous scandal, cycling seems to tolerate this. If a classic is sold for €150,000 I seen comments from people saying “hmm, that much?” rather than outraged at the prospect of a deal. But if cricketers or footballers take money in a pre-planned conspiracy which ends up in court, cycling is about circumstantial alliances forged during a race and often in the closing moments. Find riders fixing a race before they’ve clipped into the pedals for the day and you can ban them and jail them too.

The practice of awarding wins and making deals is part of cycling’s tactical sophistication. It is part of what makes a six hour race compelling to watch and nobody is throwing away wins in the classics or the overall of stage race. Most of the time these practices are far removed from criminal conspiracy and corruption.

* Footnote
The results from the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège were as follows:
1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 6:37:48
2 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha 0:00:06
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:01:04
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
6 Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank 0:01:07

In the event of Vinokourov and Kolobnev being banned they stand to lose the race. Valverde would normally inherit the win but he was later banned in the year and his results in 2010 annulled. So this would make Gilbert the winner whilst Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck join him on a hypothetical podium.

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{ 79 comments }

Mo November 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Great article but thats usual – I think the issue here is the fact that money changed hands.
A race may be fixed as a favour but do we have any other examples of instances where actual money has changed hands.
Vino should be punished in any case because he’s such an obvious doper.
But then so is Kolobhnev

The Inner Ring November 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I think the difference here isn’t just the story of money changing hands, it is the documentary evidence that stands behind the tale. Put another way, the two have a lot to explain whereas normally these deals are kept quiet.

Jace November 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

I agree with Mo. Money exchanged hands, with evidence of a pre-existing deal that was struck between the two riders. This is very different than the Contador/Tiralongo example. Perhaps Contador sacrificed (or gifted) the stage win to Contador, but he also was thinking strategically with regards to the overall race standings. That’s not falsifying the overall results, rather thinking about the larger competition for the overall standings.

That’s not to say that fixing races never happens (which is of course wrong and should be punished), but the example of a race leader and another rider in a breakaway is not the same thing.

KB November 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm

There was a cyclist on a podcast a year or two back talking about buying/selling Flemish Kermesse wins.

Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I think it was Deano Downing on the Real Peloton

Mike B November 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I think it was Deano Downing on the Real Peloton

JB November 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Collusion itself isn’t banned by the rule – only collusion likely to lead to a false result (the LBL example) or collusion that goes against the interest of the competition. Collusion in the interest of the competition – teams working together to chase down a breakaway, such as in the Olympics example, makes the finish more competitive, not less.

Ben November 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

From the emails it looks like Vino outright paid Kolobnev to lose, evidence by Kolobnev wondering whether he has done the right thing.

However, the historical approach would be the deal is ride together and the best man wins, and pays the loser some money – an insurance which will prevent the weaker rider from just sitting in when he realises he is unlikely to win a fair fight, perhaps it could be argued that this in the interests of the competition.

Just playing devil’s advocate here, I enjoy the fact that Cancellara can be the strongest in Milan-San Remo and then get pipped at the line, that’s why we watch all the way to the finish.

Gear_Ratio November 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Regarding the 2011 Giro stage and Contador gifting Tiralongo the win. Isn’t there a further installment to this story where Tiralongo repaid the debt by working so hard for Contador on Stage 17 of the 2012 Vuelta for no real apparent reason?

toestrap November 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Beat me to the comment! Tirolongo’s efforts was the main reason Contador stayed away, and won the Vuelta. Good value payback!

Paul Jakma November 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Re the Olympic road race: I find it hard to understand why this is an individual event, with just one medal for each place. It should be treated as the team event that it clearly is.

Steve November 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm

i couldn’t agree more Paul same as World Champs

TW November 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Look at the jaw on Kolobnev…

Requiem November 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Lol – he probably needed the 150KEur getting orthodontic treatment …

Mike B November 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Isn’t there something in Hamiltons book about the Effect of testosterone on jawbone growth ?

Rooto November 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Effect of Human Growth Hormone, shurely?

cilmeri November 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Surely there’s a difference between a one-day race and a stage of a bigger race? You could argue that Contador encouraged Tiralongo to attack, so that when he went after him there was someone to help him on the road, which meant he could put a few more seconds into his rivals. This type of collusion actually defends Contadors chances of winning the bigger picture, and wthout the deal allowing Tiralongo to win the stage then Contador would have less of a lead on his rivals at the end of the stage.

I guess in that respect it’s the definition of the word “competition” in the rule that’s important (is the “competition” the stage or the whole race)

Adam November 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Contador’s lead in the Giro at that point of the race was insurmountable. He looked so comfortable the whole race and seconds gained here where nothing to him.

Q November 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I agree. The most common scenario where wins are gifted are in stage races where one rider is looking to his position in the GC rather than the stage win. I don’t generally have any problem with that, although it can come back to bite you, like when Armstrong and Pantani had their little feud over whether or not Armstrong was making an effort to sprint at the top of Ventoux.

Not contesting a major classic seems in a category of its own, and not something I think very many riders would even consider if they were in a legitimate position to win, but I guess if you have more money than results and having a hard time competing because you’re off the juice, then …

OscarH November 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Tradition and culture aside, regarding the Contador case (or any other similar action in a stage race) one could argue that it WAS in Contadors best interest w.r.t. the competition NOT to win that particular stage as such action may give him long term benefits. At least to me, 1.2.081 leaves a significant grey area when applied to stage races.

It would certainly be harder for Kolobnev to argue that he gained any sporting advantage, long term or short term, byt NOT winning L-B-L.

Ken November 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I agree. The key part of the rule is, “sportingly defend their own chances.” If the GC rider gets to the finish faster by “gifting” the stage, that’s sport.

Steve November 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I’m a recent viewer of cycling (last few years) and whilst i think the habit of “letting/gifting” a win is good and that certain teams will help other teams for help in past or future i think the “selling” of wins is corrupt. Just as corrupt as doping is. In the Olympics which was mentioned as pro team cyclists helping a national sponsor then i think it’s obvious that is what is going to happen, esp if the person/country has no real chance of winning. I was pleased when Uran came 2nd though. It seems to me that there are various different things that happen in cycling that wouldn’t happen in any other sport and i’m trying to come to terms with them, being a newcomer as i am. As i say i EXPECT gifting and helping other teams but not payment in cash on an individual basis. :(

Col November 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Here’s another example where the written rule would diminish the sporting aspect of cycling..

From wikipedia…
2006 Giro Stage 19,…. “Voigt and Julich were in a 20-man break, but as Team CSC was leading the peloton to defend Basso’s first place, Voigt and Julich did not work. Up the last climb, Voigt was alone with Spanish rider Juan Manuel Gárate, but as Voigt did not think he had done enough to deserve the victory, he let Garate take the win”

The story goes that Garate was almost dead on his feet and Jens could have easily rolled over the top of him for the win. Jens then got absolutely reamed by his DS (who I think was Brad McGee?)for not taking the win but he insisted that being a sportsman was more important than any win (and from memory Jensie justified it with along the lines of “to win without honour is no win at all”). Years later the DS came around and agreed that in hindsight Jens was right.

As for Tiralongo and Contador, what is wrong with having friends in the peloton and deciding to help them out? It certainly happens all the time in amateur racing.

I think that if you are not careful you could turn cycling into a greyhound race. Take away the tactics, the nuances and, for me at least, you take away part of the beauty of the sport.

Buying wins is another matter – that’s dirty, although not that far removed from “Going the Chop” which to my mind is fine (The Chop usually being an agreement by members in a break to keep working hard all the way to the finish so as to stay away from the chase pack. The agreement generally involves splitting any prize money equally. This saves getting caught due to any cat & mouse tactics as they approach the finish or where the break stops working because one or more riders are sitting-on)

Rooto November 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Jens was already a hero. You’ve just elevated him to God status in my eyes!

hiddenwheel November 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm

God indeed, but Jens should have won that stage. He was positioned to win by the strength and savvy of his team and did them a disservice in not taking the win. Instead, he played god. Gerrans winning MSR is a good example of how racing is supposed to play out. It is not an erg test that riders should defer to. Gerran played his cards perfectly against a stronger rider. All went for the win. Can you imagine if Gerrans hadn’t gone for it? He would have rightfully been skewered. I do sympathize with Jens POV (he did have an armchair ride all day unlike SG in MSR), but I think he’s taking the hardman cred “the easy victories do not satisfy” a bit too literally and fans let him off the hook. However, these cases are nothing like buying a win in LBL. Reasonable people may disagree about the proper thing for Jens to have done on this stage…but I think we would all agree that if Garate had offerred him cash, Jens would have had no noble choice other than to drop him like a stone and win. That’s what Kolobnev should have done (or tried to do).

Justin November 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm

The race situation of Vinokourov – Kolobnev in Liege Bastogne Liege 2012 is similar to the race situation of Vinokourov – Voigt in Liege Bastogne Liege 2005.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuOztRN_Gyk
I am not saying that Voigt sold the race in 2005, rather, the similarities between the two race situations illustrate inring’s point that the UCI can’t go back and question every tactic in every race.

Still, as a fan one cannot look at 2005 without thinking of 2012 and it is sad that, in hindsight, the actions of 2012 color our memories of 2005.

Justin November 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm

2012 should say 2010.

Solar Sailer November 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Nothing worth having comes easy – or so the saying goes.

Neil November 8, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I think that once large amounts of money start changing hands then a line has been crossed.
The differences between the Vino and Contador examples are the money and the fact that the tactics in a stage race and a one day classic are very different. It was unlikely that Contador would change the overall result of the Giro by not taking the win. There seems to be a tradition of race leaders gifting victories, therefore being seen as sharing the glory/prize money and they are then more likely to have help from other teams when needed later in the race/season.

TomJ November 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm

There’s also the situation where one rider is allowed to take the KoM points (for example) and in exchange, doesn’t contest the stage win. The rule would seem to exclude such agreements.

Ablindeye November 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm

When will people learn that email is an incredibly insecure method of communication?! Hopefully no time soon so we can continue to expose this kind of stuff, though I do still wonder how this was unearthed in the first place.

You make some interesting points, I would also say that cycle stage races in particular are a peculiar beast in the world of sport, whereby riders racing for time aren’t necessarily interested in a stage win, whereas for others it’s the be all and end all. Also, as you point out, the building or maintaining of good relations within the peloton is often vital to secure help down the line. It’s subtleties like this that make the sport of cycling so fascinating.

Raouligan November 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Surely paying for a win or favours is one of the key parts of Kermese racing, I think if you’re going to have this rule then you either allow a degree of ambiguity or you enforce it properly.
At the moment I’m seeing Vino and Kolobnev being guilty of indiscretion which at any other time in the sports history we’d have seen shoulder shrugging at.
It’s not ideal that they were setting the result, but looking at where they were in the race with a decent gap they didn’t cheat any other riders out of a prize. If it suited the conscience of both riders and they were happy with that outcome then why not?
If bookmakers and punters have lost money well it’s a valuable less about gambling…

Doubter November 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Great comment

Chuffy November 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Didn’t the 1985 Vuelta hinge on various teams colluding to help Delgado, while Millar’s team management failed to do any deals that would have bought him some assistance?

All part of the rich tapestry, but when there are six figure sums involved and b/w evidence then it’s impossible for the authorities not to act.

What would be the implications of simply ditching that clause?

MikeB November 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Of course collusion should be fraudulent but I like the noblesse oblige thing .. somehow fraud only kicks in when money changes hands to fix a result whether agreed by teams or by riders. Then there is the cases of DS being paid not to chase down e.g .. but that seems more racing tactic than “result”

Redtryfan77 November 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikOz8uHuKa4

I think that the final of the Olympic Road Race is worth watching again… 400m to go. Very melodramatic looking over the shoulder from Uran Uran and what looks like a very half-hearted sprint.

But he was probably just very tired.

anderson November 8, 2012 at 7:05 pm

With Team Sky’s management wanting to avoid controversy at any cost, it may be time they called Mr. Uran into the office and see what he’d like to say, before something comes out in the press and they’re left saying “he was riding for his national team, blah, blah, blah.”

The SkullKrusher November 9, 2012 at 12:10 am

I read an interview with Uran in a Colombian newspaper days after the race. They asked him about that. Colombia had only had one gold medal EVER. In history, only one (in Sydney for weightlifting). Uran said that anyone suggesting that he’d even consider “selling” a gold medal for Colombia was absolutely insane. As a Colombian I know what he means. A gold medal for Uran would have meant more than any amount Vino could have offered. Uran went on to say that he was absolutely dead and there was no way he could have beat Vino. At that point he was more worried about losing the silver and that’s why he looked back. He was worried the group was coming up on them.

Graeme November 9, 2012 at 1:38 am

+1

BigTexGoingToJail November 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm

+1

rs November 11, 2012 at 12:56 am

Remember what happened to the soccer player Escobar after his own goal at the USA World cup?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrés_Escobar
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAd2brXDD7Q
Yes, I don´t have any doubt that Uran gave all he had on the Olympics.

The Handmade Cyclist November 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm

“So Kelly made Van Der Poel an offer he couldn’t refuse. If a Kwantum rider went clear on his own, Kelly wouldn’t chase. And since most of the other riders in the group knew how much Kelly needed the victory, they’d sit and wait for Kelly to lead the chase. Kelly was willing to use their strength against them. Van der Poel liked what was being offered. But what, he wanted to know, was Kelly asking in return. Just this: in Lombardy the next week, no Kwantum rider would work against Kelly in the finish. A nod and a wink and the deal was sealed”

Some great tales of collusion, deal-doing and ‘the karma bank’ in this podiumcafe piece: http://www.podiumcafe.com/2010/10/12/1746420/tales-from-lombardia-king-of-the-classics

Ablindeye November 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Great story. For me that’s part of the rich tapestry that makes the sport so compelling. There’s often a political angle to proceedings – picking one example I can remember Garmin chasing down Hincapie’s shot at the yellow jersey a few years ago at the Tour (at the death at least and with no hope of catching the break and no racing incentive to do so but much more than Garmin to that particular story I know!).

Apart from potential American team rivalry, if memory serves, this was following a war of words between HTC and Garmin that season linked to criticism over Garmin’s obsession with team time trials over all else – they lost the TTT at the Giro that year to HTC despite having a “disrespectful” focus on the stage with their team selection.

Got to love all the manoeuvring, whether it be gentlemen’s agreement or petty spate!

The Handmade Cyclist November 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm

And which DS was supposed to have been caught on camera passing a suspicious looking envelope over to a rival team car (and that team then started riding on the front)?

Or is that just an urban myth?

bigwagon November 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm

All this outrage comes from naive outsiders who don’t understand the sport. It’s not football. Money has been changing hands in bike races for decades. Read stories about the Belgian kermis races for example, where a group of riders in a breakaway make deals to decide who will get the win.

Rocket November 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm

By that reasoning, one could say doping has also been done for decades so why bother going after dopers.

Doubter November 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I think comparing one to the other is a bit foolhardy…..

Peter November 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Is the issue collusion, money, or us being in the dark?

If I read “1.2.081 Riders shall sportingly defend their own chances. Any collusion or behaviour likely to falsify or go against the interests of the competition shall be forbidden.” literally, then domestiques are in violation.

We don’t have a problem with domestiques or great lead out riders or noble GT riders letting a competitor or a teammate win a stage. We have a problem with the idea that someone is hiding something from us.

That problem, I am coming to believe, is more about us than them.

Peter

Robert Merkel November 9, 2012 at 1:35 am

If “we” have a problem, “they” do too. We pay their wages.

Or, more precisely, the millions of less obsessed spectators do. But my view is that less dedicated cycling spectators would be even less impressed with the idea of race fixing than posters here.

Larry T. November 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Funny how things have changed. This used to be done verbally so it would be easy to deny and the payments were usually in untraceable cash for the same reason. Now emails and wire transfers leave genuine evidence of chicanery for the authorities to track. With so much wagering allowed these days on sporting events, it makes what used to be a common practice a very different situation. Old-school mentality and ethics meets the modern world of big money wagering….as usual these days it’s all about the money and seldom about sporting values or ethics.

TheDude November 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Ahh, yes. I think the downfall of Big Tex would have been less “evidence” based if he had continued fully with his habit of funding his influence on others via bags of physical cash versus the wire transfers to Ferrari.

gary November 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I recall a Giro stage a few years back where Simoni and Basso were off the front. Simoni claimed later on the podium that Basso had offered him a large sum of money to throw the stage. It seemed like sour grapes at the moment but Simoni stuck to his story. Nothing came of it as far as I know and I can surmise that Simoni didn’t take the money.

Malaya November 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm

A number of nice observations by both Inrng and commenters, but I have to say that Ben has a very good understanding of dealings in the peloton when he says:

“However, the historical approach would be the deal is ride together and the best man wins, and pays the loser some money – an insurance which will prevent the weaker rider from just sitting in when he realises he is unlikely to win a fair fight, perhaps it could be argued that this in the interests of the competition.”

If I were Vinokouov, I would play this defence for sure. Imagine you are in a break of two with a group of four very strong riders chasing, while your lead is slim. As soon as one of the two riders in front will start to fatigue, he could give up pulling turns all together, which could give him a better chance of winning the sprint to the line, but at the risk of being caught by the chasing group. To prevent this situation from occuring, the two leaders can make a deal that the winner is going to pay the loser, as long as both have done a normal amount of work in front.

I for one can not see how this would be in conflict with the official rules.

leif November 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Crazy to think that if Vinokourov and Kolobnev gets removed from the list, the victory will go to Gilbert, who initially only finished 4th! (remember, Valverde is already removed due to his delayed doping ban)

Vera November 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Putting rule breaking aside, is a win at LBL worth €150,000? Did Vino underpay, overpay, or get it right (allegedly, of course).

The Inner Ring November 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Hard to say. We can deduct the prize money which is small, no more than €20,000 I think meaning the net cost is €130,000. It sounds like a lot but for many riders winning a classic will earn them an increase in salary of more than €130,000 for the next year alone and the total amount of a career is even more. But the €130,000 is the difference between first and second place and second place is still very valuable.

If this story is true the biggest surprise is Kolobnev sold to Astana. Katusha is backed by the Russian government and carries the name of two large natural gas companies. To see them beaten by Astana and the Kazakhs who compete in the energy market against them is a big deal and embarrassing, it would be like a rider on Team Pepsi selling a race to Coca-Cola Pro Cycling, only more serious.

cgb November 9, 2012 at 7:43 pm

here’s where you have overstepped.

itera is an oil services company, with serious ambitions in north sea recovery drilling and the profit that business would drive to its nascent pipe manufacturing company, but there’s no real advertising or marketing ambition behind the team. essentially the russian sports ministry has large chunks of cash on hand for anybody who can achieve international prestige, and to some extent the executives who administer this cash are also former athletes or have strong ties to the soviet sports machine, as it once was.

more to the point, repurposing your skillset as an administrator in order to bring some badly-needed glory to russia on the sporting field is a really good way to show fealty and acumen to the tsar. which is why rosstechnology (think darpa) and gazprom (think exxon, chevron, shell and texaco all rolled into one) are on board.

in kazakhstan, it’s kind of the same. except here it is the weird little niggling offshoots of ethnic kazakhs and ethnic russians coexisting that makes the central asian country basically subsidize whatever they can at the top level. go check the olympic medal tables.

but kazakhstan’s oil markets are pointed across the border to china, and there’s virtually no return on direct investment in advertising on a cycling team. neither kazakh nor chinese business works that way. the mere brand name astana is what is important.

The Inner Ring November 9, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Itera was an oil trading company that does much more these days but the main sponsor is Gazprom.

For more on the team and its unique sponsors, here’s a long read from last year:
http://inrng.com/2011/12/tinker-tailor-cyclist-spy/

Cgb November 10, 2012 at 5:02 am

Well done. Might like to check out gunvor trading while you are at it.

Raouligan November 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm

I think even Paul Kimmage would have to answer if my reading of a rough ride and the crit racing is recalled correctly?

The Inner Ring November 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm

True but those are unsanctioned races. I remember years ago meeting a one-time top French rider and by chance mentioning criteriums are fixed after having read Kimmage’s book. He was shocked this was made public.

Team Spy November 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm

This is all a bit disengenuous really. Everyone knows that deals have been done. Rightly or wrongly it’s an inherent part if the sport. The only difference here is that through the wonders of technology someone has been tripped up. Perhaps they’ll all go back to brown envelopes now…..

bigwagon November 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Exactly, but that doesn’t stop all the hand-wringing from the holier-than-thou set.

MikeB November 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

So whats the point of competitive sport then ? I prefer to celebrate the winner on the day being actually the best; (noblesse oblige aside). I don’t want some fake type of sport. If that’s disingenuous, I must have read the wrong rule book, and knowing deals have been done, don’t make it right as Rocket says above.

Neil November 9, 2012 at 1:40 am

I hate to be the naysayer on all of this criticism of the riders, but really, what’s the difference with Vino’s agreemend and with team members being paid to be domestiques and teams cooperating to achieve their individual goals. Here it’s just the individual athletes making the transaction and not the managers of the sport. They aren’t throwing the race. They are just acting rationally from an economic perspective and the only ethically suspect behavior is the sponsors claiming it’s supposed to be a “fair” every man for himself sport. Gees, that would be terribly boring and would sterilize a sport whose fame and lore has been the psychological and interpersonal play of egos and physical capacities bound by the realities of rarely winning as an individual. Remember when Bartoli pushed Coppi up the mountain because he made a wrong turn?

Salsiccia November 9, 2012 at 10:35 am

Indeed. The wording of the rule is:
1.2.081 Riders shall sportingly defend their own chances. Any collusion or behaviour likely to falsify or go against the interests of the competition shall be forbidden.

This rule is pretty ambiguous, and probably intentionally so. By the strictest definition a number of ‘normal’ racing situations could lead to the above – a sprinter’s lead out man isn’t defending his own chances; Froome waiting for Wiggins in this year’s Tour could be construed as against the interests of the competition.

Making deals and combining efforts is part of racing, and long may it be so. If Kolobnev sold Vino the race, fine. As long as collusion between different teams and their riders isn’t agreed before the race, carry on.

John Maher November 9, 2012 at 3:28 am

Great article following up in the paragraph or two in Sunday Shorts. Road cycling events are certainly some of the most complex from a tactical and alliance point of view. That being said, splitting the prizes after an honest finish is ethically superior to selling the result. Is selling the result to a competitor any different than selling it to a gambler?

Michal November 9, 2012 at 4:04 am

On one of my rides I’ve met old pro who was racing in late 70s early 80s and apparently “half” of the peleton still “owes” him money for letting them win; some big names there :) Looks like Vino has done “right thing” and paid up :)))

Another one similar case “allegedly” has occurend during national champs a few years ago;
http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2011/09/where-are-they-now-peter-mcdonald/
but in this case offer was refused and great win came out of it.

Glacial Speed November 9, 2012 at 4:06 am

Excellent article as always INRING. Always thought provoking stuff.

I can’t say I have a problem (mostly) with what these guys did. They were good enough to be alone at the head of the race and basically shared the spoils. From a spectator perspective did it matter if it was Vino first and Kolob second or vice-versa? I’m not sure it did. The race was the previous +250km. Also, who’s to say that Vino wouldn’t have won the 2-man sprint in a ‘clean’ fight? We’ll never know. As long as pro-cycling remains interesting to watch (which for me are breakaways trying to stay away which may require money changing hands at the pointy end, rather than just another bunch sprint), I don’t really care. Maybe is one aspect of omerta that adds to the colour and mystique to the sport.

Unethical, questionable but professional, yes (apart from the emails which wasn’t). That said, I can understand if Katusha were/are upset in the absence of subsequent ‘help’ from Astana.

I hope pro-road cycling isn’t pressured to change in to some puritanical show largely to cater for something as grotesque as the moden betting industry.

Bakunin November 9, 2012 at 4:08 am

In addition to helping Contador in the Vuelta, didn’t Tiralongo testify (or was willing to do so) in AC’s dope case?

Abdu November 9, 2012 at 4:32 am

A certain cheeky little Aussie sprinter (only recently retired) ‘allegedly’ bought the national jersey back in the mid ’00′s as well…

He managed to get away with the guy who’d won the ITT the day before (not Dodger) and was driving very hard. The cheeky sprinter offered a contract with his then team in Belgium in return for the ITT guy to work hard and let him win. Just to top it off, the cheeky sprinter didn’t come good with the contract, “sorry mate, out of my hands”… Seems it was a One Way Road for the unlucky ITT guy.

Abdu November 9, 2012 at 4:36 am

Maybe it is a problem because it’s Veinokourov?

The chop has been going on for ever, but in typical Veino fashion he does it with arrogance and stupidity. If it was anyone else, ie. 90% of the rest of the peloton we’d let it slide I reckon.

I love to see the little beast have a crack on the road, but hate everything about his cheating nature as well. Hope he gets fitted up for this but not holding my breath.

beev November 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

The one example i always cite to people who ask me about this phenomena in cycling – ie the deal done on the road – simply because as an example it best represents the many criteria and dynamics that go into a “fix” – and i use the word cautiously as i believe it is “fair” or even “good practice” in our sport

The race is stage 17 of the 2009 TdF. As soon as Contador an the Schlecks reached the summit of the Colombiere (leaving about 14k downhill to go), the 1,2,3 on the day was a nap bet. I’ll not spell out all the whys & wherefores but just leave it to those who view it on youtube to appreciate and enjoy.

Cyclists will understand, even if the vast majority of viewers do not, and for me it represents an esoteric beauty within the sport, rather than something ugly and sinister….

Kasper Sørensen November 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

All three examples are different in context. Vinokourov/Kolobnev can be proven if there has been money involved. The others can’t be proven because their is no evidence, even if it had been discussed openly. It could be tactics. But as soon the money has been transferred, that’s proof.

I’m also often thinking that especially in stage races, there is a fine line because a rider, like Thomas Voeckler in TDf 11′, might make a giant pull just to win seconds, which could in turn look like he’s pulling another rider to victory.

Stephen_M November 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I find it quite hard to view such a deal as race ‘fixing’? I think fixing would allow for dodgy bets to be placed, so once the winning move has been made, it’s way too late for that. The guys in the winning move have also shown themselves to be the strongest on the day (in most racing scenarios).

I always like Alan Peiper’s tactics as a hungry junior in Belgium – get in the break and do a deal with each rider, sprint as hard as you could and if you don’t win at least you’ll get a cut from the winners prize money! Works fine when guys are only splitting prizes to make sure everyone contributes to the success of the break, especially if you have a known sprinter in the break! Nobody’s going to try and tow a fast-man to the finish…

I guess it’s probably the scale of this ‘deal’ that makes the story? We’re all used to favours being repaid throughout a long, hard season; prizes being carved up; and even job offers being granted to riders who’ve worked hard for another rider in a race (eg Robert Millar going to Fagor with Roche and many, many others since then).

Vino should have stuck to the old system of favours paid on the road and in small amounts of cash! Large tax-free bank transfers and electronic communications confirming money laundering is more likely to get you a proper world of trouble!

T-bone November 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Citing freakonomics has given me a good excuse for perusing this site while in ECO-285, thanks!

Brr November 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm

You can only sell what you’ve got
Plus the season is long and a good deed done one day can be returned later in the year. A rival team car might happily pace a rider back to the bunch, this is what sport is about sometimes. Also you have to be in a winning position to start gifting or even selling wins, the race is only yours to sell once you’ve almost one it.

*won ^ (thought you’d like to know)

The Inner Ring November 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Thanks, fixed.

fjorthur November 12, 2012 at 4:18 am

I saw the article about the tweet from Lance Strongarm reclining next to his yellow jerseys.
Let Mr DeMille know that Lance is ready for his close ups.
http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/the-turnstile/lance-armstrong-just-happens-pose-next-tour-france-190124213.html

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