The fat lady in France, the one dressed in yellow, she’s singing.
Short of something catastrophic, Chris Froome will win the 100th Tour de France. I said it after Stage 8 and all he did in the time-trial today is add to his lead.
Froome’s closest rival Alejandro Valverde, is 3:25 down. That isn’t time Valverde is likely to make up on him. Sure, there is still a battle for the top 2-5 spots, with only seconds separating them. There is also more exciting racing and courageous individual efforts still to come, but no story of the Tour is as compelling as the race for Yellow.
Instead of that tight race for the yellow jersey we were hoping for, the biggest question floating around Tour de France fandom is whether Froome and Sky in general are clean or have their “marginal gains” – which aren’t marginal at all in reality – come as the result of performance enhancing drugs?
I’ve stated how I feel previously – to me the data – past and present – speaks for itself. People much more knowledgeable than me have written extensively about it so I’ve decided to post excerpts from a couple of excellent articles I’ve recently read.
Anti-doping expert Dr. Michael Puchowicz (@veloclinic on Twitter) wrote at Outside Online:
“The simplest place to start the analysis is with Froome’s time itself. He took 23:14 to cover the 8.9 km distance at an average gradient of 7.46 percent. AX3 has been included in the Tour five times, three times during the doping era (2001, 2003, and 2005) and twice in the “new generation” (2010 and 2013). With this context in mind, we pulled the top 10 times from cycling archivist @ammattipyoraily‘s AX3 Domaines All-Time Top 100 List:
1. Laiseka 22:57, 2001
2. Armstrong 22:59, 2001
3. Froome 23:14, 2013
4. Ulrich 23:17, 2003
5. Zubeldia 23:19, 2003
6. Ulrich 23:22, 2001
7. Armstrong 23:24, 2003
8. Vinokourov 23:34, 2003
9. Basso 23:36, 2003
10. Armstrong 23:40, 2005
Aside for Froome’s time, every single performance in the top 10 has come from a rider during cycling’s known doping era. With the 3rd fastest ever, his time beat the top efforts from Jan Ulrich and Ivan Basso, and even beat two of three times for Armstrong.”
I also recommend reading Ross Tucker’s blog “The Science of Sport” and following him (@scienceofsport) and Puchowicz (@veloclinic) on Twitter for their insights.
It is encouraging to know that there are fans and journalists studying and analyzing available data on riders in an effort to identify performances that appear to be “enhanced” i.e., “not normal”.
When organizations charged with performing the watchdog function don’t, citizens and journalists must do what they can to shine the spotlight when and where it is needed. That is precisely what Puchowicz, Tucker and others are trying to do.
Just like many of us, they love the sport of cycling and want to see it get beyond the culture of doping so prevalent in its past and to whatever extent it still is.
Tucker on Science of Sport put it more eloquently when he said:
“Cycling is where it is, in part, because too many people who might have added value early were silenced or cast aside as being problematic, unwanted because they ‘spat in the soup’. The result, to paraphrase a piece by Paul Kimmage, is that the denial of doping hurt cycling more than doping. And the easiest form of denial is not to openly deny doping ("It doesn’t happen"), it’s to distract from the debate by diverting questions and pointing to others, which seems, in my opinion, to happen too often. We all hope, even the most cynical, that the riders we watch today are clean, or at least cleaner than those of ten years ago. The mere existence of ongoing debate is, I hope, indicative that people want change and want to believe. Few are maliciously cynical, even if they have by now forgotten their real purpose of becoming vocally anti-doping.
And so I would hope that those who defend the sport will at least find it possible to recognize the origins of the skepticism, and why they should not be trying to silence or divert the questions and allegations, but rather encourage them and heed the solutions they may reveal. The mistrust of cycling can be turned into constructive feedback, unless it is diverted through defensiveness.”