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2013 Stage 15-Unbelievable

15 Jul


I could end my post about Stage 15 with the title: Unbelievable.

What Chris Froome of Sky did on Mont Ventoux, after the peloton had ridden 220k at a record-breaking pace (1 hour faster than predicted), was beyond belief.

Yet, after all that he was able to climb the Ventoux with the 2nd best time (for the last 15.6 km) ever. Blowing away past Tour winners and the newest climbing sensation Columbian, Nairo Quintana.

There are more than a few names listed below that have confessed they were doped when they recorded their times on Mont Ventoux.

Yet he beat them?

On the longest stage ever that included ascending the Mont Ventoux?


Top 50 List

-1. Lance Armstrong ______ USA | 48:33 | 2002
             –2. Chris Froome _________ GBR | 48:35 | 2013
3. Andy Schleck _________ LUX | 48.57 | 2009
-4. Alberto Contador _____ ESP | 48:57 | 2009
-5. Lance Armstrong ______ USA | 49:00 | 2009
-6. Marco Pantani ________ ITA | 49:01 | 2000
-7. Lance Armstrong ______ USA | 49:01 | 2000
-8. Frank Schleck ________ LUX | 49:02 | 2009-
         9. Nairo Quintana _______ COL | 49:04 | 2013
10. Roman Kreuziger ______ CZE | 49:05 | 2009
11. Franco Pellizotti ____ ITA | 49:15 | 2009
12. Vincenzo Nibali ______ ITA | 49:17 | 2009
13. Bradley Wiggins ______ GBR | 49:22 | 2009
14. Joseba Beloki ________ ESP | 49:26 | 2000
15. Jan Ullrich __________ GER | 49:30 | 2000

A person would have to ignore past history and logic and science to believe that what Froome did, he did without performance enhancing drugs. If we’ve learned anything from the past decades of doping in cycling – it is that if it seems unbelievable – it is.

Stage 16:

Stage profile

TDF Stage 11-Yellow

10 Jul

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.”

TDF Stage 8–Déjà Vu

6 Jul

Well my fellow Tour fans, we have another Tour outcome decided on the first day of real racing among the GC. Makes me long for another sprint stage.

The first of 3 weeks of the 100th Tour de France is behind us and the race for yellow is effectively over. I closed my post yesterday with the desperate plea, “please don’t let Sky get yellow”. So much for that hope.

People way smarter than me, through calculations, formulas – math and science – are highly suspicious of what Froome, and Sky in general did today, with some indicating they don’t think Froome/Sky did it clean.

Neither do I. If you feel differently more power to your ability to suspend logic.

I’ve never been able to be one of those people. You know how I figured out there was no Santa? When I was 6 I came to the conclusion it wasn’t possible so I quit believing and then later my older brother confirmed it.

My belief in Lance Armstrong went much the same way. Initially I was a believer than I came to the conclusion that with all the evidence it simply wasn’t possible he did what he did without doping. Confirmation didn’t come until much later.

Believers (myself included) explained Postal/Armstrong’s dominance away, much like Sky and Froome believers have done today.

We wanted to believe so we did. We thought it was unfair to accuse them without proof. Unfortunately the science of testing (and more importantly, the lack of true desire by the powers that could clean up cycling to do so) lags and therefore the proof isn’t available until well after the races are won, the money made and the records put into the record books.

Many still want to believe so they do, despite the déjà vu of it all.

The real question is how many times does the sport have to go through this before sincere and serious efforts are made to clean it up? Apparently, still more.

Personally, I believe Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome use(d) performance enhancing drugs and at some time in the future we will get confirmation. Too little too late.

Why is it that the sport of cycling, specifically the teams, owners, riders, cycling organizations, watchdogs, journalists, etc. don’t make serious efforts to cleanup the sport. That’s a rhetorical question for it always comes down to money.

Many in my Twitter feed questioned and made light of the struggles of TeJay van Garderen today. In my mind, the sport would be better served by talking about Froome’s and his team’s too good to be true performances.

Until/unless that discussion gets loud and occurs among journalists, not only fans, where the forces of the sport can no longer ignore it – and we refuse to accept “not normal” performances as normal – we’ll get more of the same.

Stage 9:

2013 tour9

As silly as it may sound, I expect Sky to turn it down a notch. They’re hearing all the chatter too and will want to minimize suspicion. Good luck with that.

2012 Tour de France Wrap-up

29 Jul

    alljerseys win letour cropWaiting to write the final post on the 2012 Tour de France was wise. A few days to reflect and to view the Tour as a whole and in parts – individual stages – has improved the view.

    The Tour de France is more than just the fight for the yellow jersey. Every day there are multiple races occurring. Besides the race for overall GC, there is the race to win the stage, the race for sprint points for the green jersey, the race for points on climbs for the polka-dot jersey, racing for the best young rider’s white jersey, and the team classification – all occurring every day in every stage for three weeks.

    So, when comments are made that the 2012 Tour was boring – what most of us are complaining about is the race for yellow and the supremacy of Bradley Wiggins and team Sky.

    The race for yellow was completely dominated by Wiggins and his teammates. Once Wiggins captured the yellow jersey in the 7th stage it was never relinquished. Capturing it in the first week of the Tour set the tone for weeks two and three – controlled racing by Sky. No wasted effort, no reactive racing, just a methodical execution of their plan to win the Tour.

    Wearing the yellow jersey with the expectation of keeping it isn’t just about being the strongest, it also requires riding defensively, preserving energy, taking calculated chances with the biggest chance of payoff, and not taking any unnecessary risks – Wiggins and Sky did that better than anyone else.

    The biggest difference between Wiggins, Evans and even Vincenzo Nibali although to a lesser extent than Evans – was the difference between their teams. BMC brought a team designed for the spring classics more than a grand tour and it hurt him.

    Did it cost Evans the Tour – no, but it might have cost him a place on the podium. Evans is a guy that needs his team around him, as much for moral support as anything else. Although Tejay Van Garderen was there and supported him, he was also concerned with keeping his white jersey and high overall GC place.

    As far as Nibali, he seemed happy to have a spot on the podium. For all the talking and dissing of Wiggins he did in the first week, he really didn’t do much to show he was capable of winning the Tour.

    It might not have been the most exciting Tour in terms of surprises and changes in the general classification but it was a Tour filled with many remarkable moments.

    The Highs:

    • For starters, the yellow jersey contest wasn’t the only lopsided jersey competition – so was the green jersey thanks to Peter Sagan. Sagan was a highlight of the Tour winning the green jersey by the widest margin in almost 30 years. He is the real deal, immensely talented, and fun to watch, especially with the victory salutes. He isn’t “just” a sprinter, the guy can climb – and he’s only 22. Sagan has what looks to be a brilliant future ahead of him, imagine him in the spring classic races.

    • The daily breakaways – for a change we had breakaways succeed. Some of the best moments of the Tour came from breakaways – Europcar’s wins, David Millar for Garmin winning and salvaging their Tour, LL Sanchez doing the same for Rabobank. The action in the breaks made for much of the excitement in this year’s Tour. Chris Anker Sorensen winner of the most combative rider was in numerous breakaways as was Fredrik Kessiakoff who battled Voeckler for the climber’s jersey.

    • The little team that could – Europcar. In the current climate of the super-teams like RadioShack-Nissan, Sky, and others it’s nice to see a continental caliber team do so much with seemingly so little. Big heart = big payoff for the team and Tour fans.

    • The old guys, George Hincapie, Jens Voigt, Chris Horner all had great Tours. Jens Voigt was an animal, getting in numerous breaks throughout the Tour and setting the pace at the front for the first week of the race while his teammate Fabian Cancellara had the yellow jersey. Chris Horner finished a very respectable 13th overall in the Tour and George Hincapie was just Big George. He protected his team leader Cadel Evans in the flats and shepherded him to the finish when the Tour was unofficially over for Evans. Sky provided Hincapie with a great show of respect as they had him ride at the front as the peloton rode onto the Champs.

    • The young guys – Van Garderen, Thibaut Pinot, Pierre Rolland, Sagan, all provide us with much hope for the future of cycling and Tours to come.

    • The true grit and extraordinary toughness shown by many riders in this Tour: Tom Danielson rode for days with a separated shoulder, only dropping out of the Tour when he got a 2nd shoulder separation in the worst crash of this Tour on Stage 6; Giro winner and Tour GC contender Ryder Hesjedal finished stage 6 after injuring his hip and leg then having to be helped off his bike – he had to abandon; Johan van Summeren crashed in stage 6 and finished not only the stage but the Tour – as did Tyler Farrar who crashed 4 times yet fought through it and finished the Tour.

    The Lows:

    • The parcours – too many time-trials not enough high mountains.

    • Lack of attacks within GC – but given the circumstances understandable – but still disappointing.

    • The carnage of the first week, so many crashes with serious results to the GC.

    • Frank Shleck’s positive test for a banned substance but also his lackluster performance this year.

    • Evans difficulties, not only in the Tour but the year as a whole. He just never had the form he had last year, but he continued to battle hard throughout and stay positive – which he has had trouble doing in the past. Evans handled himself like a champ and I believe we will see him compete again.

    • Denis Menchov, great form but still the disappearing assassin of recent Tours, Philippe Gilbert.

    • Horner horning in on Big George’s moment on the Champs. Horner has been asked why he did it, but has yet to answer. BMC didn’t ask him too, I think he just did it to get in the spotlight. Poor judgment by Horner.

    What we witnessed in the 2012 Tour de France was a systematic undoing of all other GC hopefuls by Wiggins and Sky. It may not have had the fireworks of previous Tours, but the way Wiggins and Sky pulled it off was masterful and impressive.

    In years past, we had become used to seeing beyond-human feats – tireless climbing and relentless attacking – this Tour didn’t offer that. What generated many of those memorable performances of the past whether we want to admit it or not were banned substances – and although I’m not naïve enough to believe this was a clean Tour, I do believe it was a cleaner Tour. Future Tours may look similar to this year’s Tour only with an improved parcours. 😉

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