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I'm composing part of this journal entry in the middle of the day to register my shock and dismay at Astana rider Alexandre Vinokourov's positive result for a donor blood transfusion following his stage win in the first time trial of this year's Tour de France.
My initial impression of Vino came during the last few stages of the 2005 Tour. It was Lance Armstrong's seventh, and the first I followed live via the cyclingnews website. I watched with growing admiration as, finding himself stymied by T-Mobile's single-minded focus on fulfilling Jan Ullrich's aspirations in Paris, Vinokourov shopped himself to potential teams by ascending the leader board largely through his own strength, ingenuity, and explosive speed. He capped this astonishing performance with an unlikely stage win on the Champs-Élysées, beating the world's top sprinters at their own game and simultaneously climbing a final place in the overall standings to finish just above the hapless Levi Leipheimer.
For me, his tour performance epitomized the traits I have found most admirable in tour riders; the same traits that Floyd Landis displayed on Mt. Morzine (diminished afterwards by his own doping drama) and Armstrong displayed seemingly on demand.
Vinokourov seemed ready to top the tenacity of his previous performance this year, winning two late stages after suffering an early crash that would have ended the tour of many riders. This is why revelations of his doping have so affected me, more so than if tour leader Rasmussen were proven to have cheated his way to the yellow jersey. Contador would fulfill Rasmussen's role as race leader just as well in his absence, but Vinokourov served as this tour's heart; not an official position, but crucial nonetheless, and far more difficult to replace.
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