Monday, 22 July 2013

A Dash of Yellow

Congratulations to Chris Froome, the winner of the 2013 Tour de France.

Of course, following the disgraceful cheating by Armstrong, and similar drug cheats, questions are bound to be asked, the foremost of which is: Is he "clean"?
(of drugs, that is - not how many baths has he had during the progress of the tour!)

Armstrong was caught out, despite his years of careful cheating and test avoiding, fundamentally by his performance ... in a field where so many of his competitors had a whiff of performance-enhancing drugs about them, how could Armstrong win, and win again and again, without taking drugs. One was left with the choices of "freak" or "cheat".
  • Some athletes fall into the "freak" category - Greg Lemond, who won three Tours while competing against drug cheats has an unusually high oxygen usage rate, Miguel Indurain has very large lungs, and some good few years back there was a Norwegian cross-country skier who had an usually high red blood count, but both tales checked out with the medics:
    1. Lemond has been variously measured at 10 to 20% more than Lance Armstrong on the ability to move air in and out of his lungs.
    2. Indurain has been variously measured at 5 to 10% more than Armstrong on the ability to move air in and out of his lungs, and has lungs 30% larger than an average adult male.
    3. in the case of the cross-country skier (whose name I forget), it was a characteristic that was shared with his blood relatives, and was thus highly unlikely to be due to blood-doping or similar, which is how Armstrong did it.
  • Some athletes fall squarely into the "cheat" category - from 1980 to 2013, there have been 34 Tours, and exactly half of the Yellow Jersey winners during that period have been subsequently disqualified for cheating!
So moving onto Chris Froome's record ...
well, he won the Tour de France, and half of the riders who have done that haven't been disqualified for cheating :-)
But, on the other hand he won two mountain stages (and in the mountains the small advantages of doping really seem to show up!)

So lets have a look at the numbers:
On the first climb, Ax 3 Domaines, the fastest time ever was by Roberto Laiseka in 2001, and he is currently considered as a "clean" rider, not a drug cheat. Second fastest ever, was, of course, the drug-cheat Armstrong, and third is Froome, at 17 seconds behind Laiseka. On a short stage where the winners finish in only about 23 minutes, 17 seconds is a LOT! - and that is behind a "clean" rider - something as simple as a good or bad start can be worth 17 seconds!
So that stage shows no evidence of cheating by Froome at all - he is not even the fastest "clean" rider on the stage!

The second climb that Froome won is Mont Ventoux, where Froome was three minutes and nine seconds off the record. Yep, Over three minutes off the record!!! The record holder, Iban Mayo, in 2004 on the Dauphine Libere, subsequently picked up a doping ban after failing a test for EPO on the TdF in 2007, so some suspicion must be cast on whether his record-breaking ride in 2004 was clean - he even beat the drug-cheat Armstrong by two minutes on Mont Ventoux that year!
Second fastest ever was Tyler Hamilton, a team-mate of Armstrong, also in 2004 ,who was also subsequently stripped of a 2004 Olympic cycling Gold medal for doping offences.
Third fastest ever was Jonathan Vaughters, in 1999, another admitted drug-cheat former team-mate of Armstrong.
Chris Froome actually checks in at 23rd fastest on the climb section of Mount Ventoux, but we must also bear in mind that this year's stage finishing at Mount Ventoux was the longest ever, so the riders would have been relatively tired by then!
So Froome is three minutes or slower than the big drug cheats. If the theory that to win against cheats requires more cheating has merit, the the reverse must also be true - if you cannot compete with the cheats, that should be seen as a sign of innocence, not of guilt.

There was a third big climb in the TdF this year, Alpe d'Huez, which Froome didn't win. The fastest three times ever on this climb are all by drug-cheat Marco Pantini, and Froome was more than four minutes off Pantini's best time.

It is never easy to say with certainty if a new drug-cheating technique has been developed, but with all the recent scandal brought on by Armstrong's final admission of a sustained career of cheating, it is easy to see all cyclists (perhaps all professional athletes) as dishonest, whether they are or not.
Certainly, on the evidence available, with testing becoming ever more sophisticated, there is no real evidence that Chris Froome is anything other than a very talented athlete.

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