The irony is that while Sky’s Chris Froome has dominated the Tour de France, he is still suffering the consequences of doping that happened five to ten years ago.
The Brit from Kenya, who has over four minutes on his nearest rival Bauke Mollema (Belkin), has proved to be the indisputable champion on Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux, but he can’t drop the doping suspicions. To his great dismay, he can’t prove he’s riding clean and isn’t simply an even more clever and sophisticated cheat like Armstrong.
How would you like to deliver the performances of your career in the most demanding stages of the most famous race in the world and still lose big on the rest days?
Froome has faced a barrage of questions from cycling journalists who are perhaps guilty about not doing enough to expose the Armstrong lie and who are therefore making up for that mistake by grilling Froome with relentless energy.
Froome, team manager David Brailsford and the entire Sky organization have been forced into the impossible task of proving the negative. You can win on the road but lose in the press room.
We certainly understand the suspicion when Froome crushes everyone — including the once dominant Alberto Contador. The Sky captain seems to be the only man in the race — other than young Colombia Nairo Quintana of Movistar — who can deliver the kind of super-human accelerations that used to characterize the Tour during the dark years when everybody had a few blood bags and syringes.
The questioning is valid and an essential part of keeping the sport as clean and honest and believable as possible. There are plenty of cycling journalists with a high degree of integrity keeping the pressure on and examining the physiological data. All well and good and chapeau, journos.
However, we at Twisted Spoke think that you either have a fact or you don’t. Conjecture and theory aren’t fair to Froome, Sky or the Tour de France. In the absence of a failed test, a biological passport anomaly or a hotel raid, the riders of today deserve the full extent of innocent until proven guilty. Andrew Hood at Velonews does a fine job of laying out the difficulties in accepting Froome’s performances as genuine.
When David Walsh began his research (and crusade) to expose Lance Armstrong he had some witnesses like Postal soigneur Emma O’Reilly. He didn’t just howl into the wind like a fool with no proof. We’re not Sky boosters or detractors, we just think the current group of riders has taken enough public abuse. (Worth reading today: the doping problem in professional tennis.)
Antoine Vayer has certainly taken his shots at Sky but as another story in Velonews recounts, sports scientist Frederic Grappe, who sees things in a far different light. Grappe, writing an article for rtl.fr, stated that “Intellectually speaking, it would be wide of the mark to attribute the performances [of Froome] to doping.”
No less a critic of doping the Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar has repeatedly tweeted that he supports Team Sky and believes Froome rides clean. Granted, we’re not an investigative reporter but until we hear some real evidence, applause is our only response.
We’re looking at astonishing athletes operating on the edge of what’s humanly possible — and sometimes, given their equally superhuman force of will — pushing themselves beyond those limits. Our view is that analyzing the performance data leaves a lot to interpretation. It’s like trying to break down the global economy: six experts look at the data and tell you business is up and six experts look at those same exact numbers will tell you a meltdown is inevitable.
So our view is put up or shut up. Let Chris Froome enjoy a year’s hard work, sacrifice and self-punishment to win the most demanding endurance event in the world, the Tour de France. It’s the 100th birthday so let the man celebrate.
On his rest day press conference Froome said he was “sad” to sit there answering doping questions. Professional cycling is a sport that is so far ahead on doping when you look at reality and so far behind when it comes to perception. Froome bears the burden of that knowledge gap.
Froome has dispatched his adversaries on the road but can’t clear away the cloud of suspicion once he gets off his Pinarello.
When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, he delivered a violent punch in the air. Given all the innuendo and suspicion Froome has faced in this Tour, something tells us he’ll punch the air even harder.
REMINDER: Heck yeah, we’re at the Tour and writing everyday and taking cool pics and driving the race route! It’s just over on the Clif website so check it out!