The straight dope

Chris Froome - Tour of Britain 2009 London
(Photo credit: sarflondondunc)

You wonder what the point of doping control is, when it seems clear the world’s media don’t have any faith in it whatsoever (Sky’s Dave Brailsford offers Wada access to data to quell doping talk.). If Froome being tested three times a day isn’t enough to clear his name, then nothing ever would be.

Last year the More or Less stats programme on BBC Radio 4 looked at Wiggo’s overall average speed. Wiggins won with a speed of 39.83 km/h, whereas the 2005 winner was cycling at 41.654. Wiggins’ speed is comparable to those of the 90s, when bikes were much heavier than they are now (I believe the minimum weight is 6.8kg). The last steel frame was used in 1994, and weighed around 9kg. Modern riders have carbon wheels and carbon frames and electronic shifters etc..

Here’s my theory, which is as worthless as any other armchair expert’s.

Armstrong won the TDF several times in a row, and was able to maintain high levels of performance, day after day, attacking aggressively on mountain stages. That would be the drugs.

I think the modern cyclist can perform aggressively on a single mountain stage, but probably not for two days in a row. Froome, you’ll notice, has timed his attacks for days before a rest day. I also suspect that, in a clean sport, a pro cyclist’s career at the top is likely to be shorter than of old. I just don’t think the human body can take that amount of punishment for year after a year without cracking under the strain in some way. I’m no particular Froome fan (doesn’t fit my concept of British, for a start), but it is clear that he’s having good days and average days. He’s not having good days in an unbroken sequence.

This is based on my observations of this year’s tour and last year’s. It’s clear that Contador, for example, is unable to perform to the same level that he did a few years back. Also Andy Schleck. Yes, you can blame injuries, but there’s evidence of my thesis: recovery from injury takes longer and may not be a full recovery, without the assistance of, you know, drugs.

3 responses to “The straight dope”

  1. Nice post, and for what it’s worth this armchair expert likes your theory (but then again I do like a stat).

    Looking back at Le Tour in it’s drug soaked heyday it now seems preposterous that we were willing to believe what we were seeing. Monumental performances day after day in the high mountains are just not credible.

    What is credible, is that a hugely talented and well trained athlete (Froome) is able to do things that most mere mortals (never mind most of the peoton) can only dream of. Sport is full of examples of individuals who at times seemed to perform on a higher plain than the rest – Federer, Navratilova, Messi, Bolt, Farah – are the critics saying none of these should be believed either?

    Don’t get me wrong, I assume there are a fair number of pro cyclists, and maybe whole teams, who dope. I just believe that if you want to be entertained and enthralled by this sport you have to maintain the capacity to be astonished and exhilarated (as I was on Sunday watching the battle unfold on the slopes of Ventoux).


    • I agree. What Froome did was dramatic and exciting, and shouldn’t be spoiled by empty speculation.


  2. Glad you liked my photo on flickr of Froome in his Barloworld colours. It was at the 2008 Tour of Britain in London. In the background is Filippo Pozzato who was banned from representing Italy at last years Olympics due to his links with Dr Ferrari the pro cyclists doctor of choice for obtaining EPO etc.


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