The 2015 Tour de France (or "Big Ol' Race Around France" as Grant Petersen calls it) concluded yesterday, and Chris Froome of the U.K. is the winner. It was his second tour win, and makes him the first U.K. rider to win the race twice.
|Chris Froome and his Team Sky teammates cross the line together in Paris.|
|Who won the race between 1999 and 2005? Nobody!|
But it's not just the Armstrong Gap. Look at some of the other winners there. Bjarne Riis? Doped to his gills on EPO (confessed after the statute of limitations expired). Jan Ullrich? Credible stories abound about his doping, and he retired from racing after being implicated in Operation Puerto. Marco Pantani? His drug-fueled record on Alpe d'Huez inexplicably still stands. He was disqualified from the '99 Giro d'Italia for doping, and was also implicated in Operation Puerto, as well as several other doping investigations. Despite dying from a drug overdose (surprising?) he is still seen as some kind of hero to many - some of whom insist his death was actually murder. Then there are also the aforementioned disgraces with Landis and Contador.
Sorry, but the fact that nobody has been stripped of a tour title since 2011 hardly makes it easier to be a believer.
So, unfortunately, any time someone starts to shine in the race, that rider is immediately suspected of doping. It hardly seems fair to the racer who is capable of winning the Tour, but as soon as someone pulls on that yellow jersey, people start asking questions. As for me, I get tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This year, the rumors started flying after Stage 10, when Chris Froome just seemed to dominate all others on the climb of La Pierre-Saint Martin on the first day in the Pyrenees. Performance numbers on Froome were analyzed by a French physiologist who concluded that either Froome is naturally superhuman (unlikely), or he's artificially enhanced. Of course, the media jumped all over that, and fans started screaming "Doper" at Froome as the peloton raced by. One fan even jumped out into the road and threw urine at him.
But even as people took that report as instant condemnation, it's also possible that the physiologist's analysis of the numbers is flawed - that any small variations in the data collection (from power meters, etc.) could lead to a pretty wide margin of error. One article I found on the subject seems to bear that out (see HERE).
Further complications come from the fact that it's basically impossible to prove someone is racing clean, and while teams keep releasing data on their racers, there are always people who will claim that it's not enough, and they must be hiding something. So early in the race there were reports that someone hacked into Team Sky's computer data, probably looking for evidence of foul play. And Team Sky also released numbers to the media voluntarily, which only led to more accusations.
"Mechanical Doping" Too?
Rumors of hidden motors have been going around for a while now. The first time I heard such a rumor was when Fabian Cancellara dominated at Paris-Roubaix in 2013. Such rumors gained intensity when a bike ridden by Ryder Hesjedal seemed to take off by itself after a crash at the 2014 Vuelta. Although one could almost dismiss such claims as a joke, the UCI is taking it seriously and now routinely checks bikes for hidden motors.
|An official is inserting a small camera into the bottom bracket of a bike at this year's TdF. Chris Froome's bike was one of those bikes checked. No, so far, nobody has ever found a motor.|
All in all, it just makes it hard to enjoy watching a bike race. And if all the doubts about cheating make it so hard to take it seriously, then bicycle racing is in danger of becoming a slightly less entertaining version of pro wrestling -- people know it's all fake, they just watch it for the spectacle. I just don't see myself becoming one of those people who says something like, "Of course it's all fake - I only watch it for the crashes."