Comment: Why so cynical? Chris Froome, leaked data and the problem with armchair analysts
Chris Froome calls for respect after barrage of doping questions
by Colin Henrys
The moment Chris Froome dropped the hammer on La Pierre-Saint-Martin and blasted to victory, it was inevitable what would follow.
It’s a sad state of affairs when so many people prefer to be cynical about Froome’s Tour de France stage ten victory instead of enjoying a stunning show of power and skill as he earned a big lead in the yellow jersey.
Why, in 2015, must every good performance still be marked with questions over its legitimacy?
Once bitten, twice shy, I understand that. But we’re a full decade on from a certain Texan’s last Tour de France ‘victory’ and cynicism doesn’t help anybody.
For a start, how do you prove a negative? Chris Froome says he is clean, Team Sky say he is clean and Sir Dave Brailsford say he is clean. And he has never failed a doping test.
It is an even more pertinent question following the ‘leaking’ of Froome’s data on Mont Ventoux, purporting to show his data as he climbed to victory on the Giant of Provence in 2013.
It shows his output in ‘real-time’ with an accompanying video, with his cadence ramping up and the power going up with it as he rides away from Alberto Contador and then Nairo Quintana.
In fact, you would probably find similar results on La Pierre-Saint-Martin, particularly in the way he accelerated clear of the Colombian again.
But one piece of data is merely a curiosity – it shows some stunning power outputs, and he holds an output in the high-300s and early-400s for an impressive length of time.
But to call it proof of doping is naïve and, frankly, incorrect – it would never stand up in a court of law, put it that way.
We used to have a model of what we thought cyclists could achieve clean, but sport and science have both moved on rapidly since then.
What was ‘normal’ when Antoine Vayer worked with the Festina team will not be ‘normal’ now – we live in an era where sportsmen have almost every facet of their life controlled, from diets, hydration strategies, sleeping patterns and more.
Team Sky, at their foundation, promised to be successful but to do so clean – Michael Barry’s Shadows on the Road recounts: “We were [to be] a drugs-free team, yet they would do everything within the legal limits to improve our performance."
Team Sky are big budget and put so much money and time into researching their ‘marginal gains’ that it is not out of the question ‘everything within the legal limits’ will allow riders like Froome to get more out of their body than they ever could have done previously.
It is not like Froome’s performance, or those of Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte on the climb are unusual either.
Thomas has been in scintillating form this season and, barring his disastrous second week at the Giro d’Italia, so has Porte.
They can climb as well as anybody in the peloton and Team Sky got their tactics spot on.
At the finish, comparisons were made with the Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, but you have to remember Sky had been given a free ride for much of the stage because Movistar set the early pace instead.
Back to the data, if what we have seen on Ventoux is anything to go by, Froome’s acceleration on La Pierre-Saint-Martin would have produced some more monstrous numbers.
But probably no more than Alberto Contador on the Mortirolo at this year’s Giro, or Nairo Quintana on Val Martello at last year’s Corsa Rosa.
In fact, at the same time as Froome’s ‘leaked’ data was doing the rounds, so too was a picture allegedly showing Contador’s warm-up routine and suggesting an FTP [Functional Threshold Power] of 420.
— Athlete Lab London (@athletelabLDN) July 14, 2015
Yes, that figure is astronomical compared to us humble amateurs, but we are not finely tuned athletes competing in one of the world’s biggest sporting events, battling for cycling’s most prestigious prize – as favourites.
Little insights into Contador and Froome’s power output show us only that to reach the top of professional cycling there is a big step up to make, not how they made it.
Some have argued for more transparency, and more data to become available, but releasing every little facet held on a rider would give their rivals more opportunity to exploit them.
And when riders have done the same in the past – Chris Horner, after the 2013 Vuelta a Espana for example – the armchair analysts tore him to shreds anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Comments from those sat at home only serve to damage the reputation of the sport and its riders, without factual cause to do so.
Unhelpful comments such as those from Jonathan Vaughters after yesterday’s stage help nobody either.
“Well… hmm… not much to say," the Cannondale-Garmin manager tweeted. Well if there’s nothing to say, Mr Vaughters, don’t say it. Or if you do have something to contribute then contribute it, let us all know what is happening.
It was refreshing then to see Oleg Tinkov jump to Froome’s defence on Twitter, and vow to bounce back with Contador.
— Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) July 14, 2015
Froome himself has accepted the sport’s past make doping questions inevitable, but he has also asked for respect – which is the least he deserves, given he has never failed a doping test.
Sir Dave Brailsford, too, has far too much to lose if doping really is rife in the Team Sky system – the reputations of Britain’s track cyclists and elite road cyclists for starters, from Froome to Sir Bradley Wiggins to Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.
Accusing Froome of doping is not just an accusation against him individually.
Cynicism doesn’t help anybody. At the end of the day, if it emerges in the future something was untoward, you get your moment and your chance to say ‘I told you so’ but that is it.
If it doesn’t – as Froome swears will be the case – you have instead missed out on several years of some of the finest ever sporting performances, both tactically and physically.
As the man himself says, show some respect.