'The doubts about him were completely dehumanising him': Mark Padun finds respect in midst of Ukrainian war

The 25-year-old won a race just four days into the Russian invasion in his country

Mark Padun
(Image credit: Getty)

There is no upside or no positive to the war in Ukraine.

But if there are some consolations to be taken from Russia's invasion of its neighbouring country, it's in the world's empathetic response to the situation, the realisation that if people in eastern Europe can be victims of a war, we all could be too.

Compassion and outrage are our two shared pre-eminent feelings these days, the former especially helping to reshape a public perception of Mark Padun, Ukraine's best male cyclist.

After winning two mountain stages back-to-back at last year's Critérium du Dauphiné, suspicions arose around Padun, accusations that he himself hit back at at the turn of the year after swapping Bahrain-Victorious for EF Education-EasyPost. "I'm not a cheat," he insisted, adding that the claims were "unpleasant" and "sickening."

At the Gran Camiño in northern Spain, his first race for his new team, Padun won the final stage time trial which lifted him to third overall, his victory coming on day four of Russia's incursion into his country.

The scepticism from some quarters has been replaced by empathy. His team boss Jonathan Vaughters told Cycling Weekly: "The doubts about him were completely dehumanising him, and based on what people were saying who didn’t know him and had never met him. ‘Ah, look, you went fast at the Dauphiné’.

"Now that he can put a human face on who he is as a person, that’s only just and fair. I would have liked it to have happened in a different way, but I’m just glad that it [the public perception] does seem to have changed for him. That’s also a sense of relief for him."

Padun is from the city of Donetsk, part of the region of Ukraine that has been subject to war for eight years. His family now live in Seattle in the United States and thus his immediate family are safe from the horrors of day-to-day life in the country.

The war, however, is obviously at the forefront of his mind, but his personality has not been hidden by the events in his country.

"Mark is a great kid, he is very kind and has a big heart," Vaughters added. "And all of the guys are saying the same.

"Lachlan Morton is a guy who has strong opinions about doping in sport, and he went out of his way after the race in Spain to send me a text message saying that this guy is a monster on the bike and the nicest bike rider I have ever met. Lachlan doesn’t send me messages like that. That shows the guys really like him."

Padun is racing this week's Tirreno-Adriatico and has asked for his planned racing schedule to be respected, saying that the best way for him to deal with the news is to continue racing. "He just wants to focus on his racing," Vaughters confirmed.

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.