by Neil Browne
Tour de France - Performances Still Believable?
“I’m sorry if you don’t believe in miracles.” – Victory speech by Lance Armstrong at the Champs-Élysées podium – 2005 Tour de France.
Baring catastrophic accident or some other unthinkable circumstance, Chris Froome of Team Sky will win the 2013 Tour de France.
He came to France as one of the strong favorites, looking to step into the role of captain after his teammate and the defending Tour champion Bradley Wiggins was unable to start due to a virus he contracted during the Giro d’Italia.
With the second and final rest day in the books even the most casual observer can’t help but notice Froome’s dominating performance.
In Stage 8 the Ritche Porte/ Froome one-two punch not only left their opponents reeling, but set off the armchair analysis of their performance. “Not normal” was the buzz phrase of the day.
Stage 11 in the individual time trial Froome led through the first check points. However, in the last 11 kilometers of the stage he couldn’t keep the same speed and finished 12 seconds slower than time trial world champion Tony Martin. More importantly the Kenyan born rider put time on one of his biggest rivals, Alberto Contador, who during his Astana days used the race against the clock to solidify his lead. Instead the Spaniard finished the day in 15th place – two minutes, 15 seconds behind Martin.
The Ventoux will be known as the place where Froome sealed his victory in this year’s Tour. Spinning a high-speed cadence, the Sky rider caught and then attacked Nairo Quintana of Movistar, leaving him behind.
Once across the line the speculation of the legitimacy of the win was called into question. “Not normal” once again became the buzz word of the day.
Anyone who knew how to make a spreadsheet, bar graph or Venn diagram immediately started posting times of past riders and comparing them to Froome’s. Depending who you listened to Froome was either dirty as hell or it was a clean win.
Some sources of information came from good sources while others are self-proclaimed. Regardless, it created more and more noise and casted doubt on a performance millions of people had just seen.
At the Sky press conference team principal David Brailsford pleaded with the journalists for help on what could he do to convince people they were racing clean. On some level I sympathize with Brailsford as how do you prove a negative? He’s facing a loaded question similar to, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
So has Team Sky “stopped doping their team?” I have no idea. As we come out of the shadow of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, many in the media and fans have taken a “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” attitude. Who can blame us?
The history of professional cycling is now littered with riders with stripped results or suspensions due to doping from Eddy Merckx to recently popped Tour of Turkey winner Mustafa Sayer. Wary sport fans have taken a jaded view of the sport. A couple of times when I’ve posted about this subject on my Facebook page I usually get at least one, “I only follow this for the entertainment value. I don’t believe these performances are legitimate” type of response.
While Froome and Quintana put in amazing performances on the slopes of the Ventoux they paid the price once they crossed the line. I read that both had to be given oxygen and there was video of Quintana sitting in the road, doubled over, chest heaving, and unable to even unbuckle his helmet. He had left everything on the road. Does this prove innocence? Of course not.
Is it up to the media to brainstorm ideas for Brailsford so we can sleep better at night knowing a bike racer is riding clean? No.
What we do know is that we’ve seen some great performances in this Tour de France and not just from Sky. Mark Cavendish winning from a breakaway, which also completely upended Valverde’s chances of winning the Tour. Peter Sagan’s powerful sprint showing how, like Froome, barring a catastrophic disaster, he will win the green jersey competition.
What about the drama the Tour de France produces year in and year out? We had the heart-wrenching Ted King story. There’s the sideshow aspect like the GreenEdge team bus jammed under the finish line, to Sagan pulling a wheelie at the base of the Ventoux, and a guy running alongside the riders with a stuffed boar.
This is the centennial Tour de France and no matter how many scandals it has to endure, there will always be the Tour. The past has indeed clouded our perception of the race, but we can’t let it ruin our love of it. There’s so much more to it than just a bunch of skinny guys riding their bikes. It’s an event steeped in history. It’s an event where people go for a vacation. It’s an event that, no matter what happens, brings a sense of national pride to people. Don’t let the doping ghosts of past generations ruin it for you. But don’t put on those rose-tinted glasses either. That’s the delicate dance we must do when we see amazing performances. I don’t expect (or want) you to be investigative journalists and scream DOPER at every stage winner.
Just remember why you loved cycling in the first place and let your gut lead you from there. Does this result bear further scrutiny or is it a legitimate result?
Some of this year’s stages will require a bit of soul-searching by the die-hard fan. Is Froome as clean as he claims? Again, I don’t know, but personally I’m not at that point where I’m willing to lump him with the dopers of the past. However, I will continue to question results (as should you) as I have and we have all been burned before.
As I was finishing up this piece, I read Jason Gay’s excellent article in The Wall Street Journal, “The Awkwardness of the Tour de France.” He had visited Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, opened by Armstrong. Inside, Gay describes riders drinking their coffee as the Tour de France is shown on a monitor. Still on the wall are the seven yellow Tour de France jerseys.
“Awkward is where the Tour de France now lives.”
Here in my hometown of Greenville there’s a similar story. Hanging on the wall at the Hincapie Sportswear headquarters are autographed Armstrong Tour de France jerseys. There’s a segment of our local bike path named after Hincapie. To quote Gay, “Awkward is where the Tour de France now lives.”
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