Friday Group Ride #273

Friday Group Ride #273

Despite the fact that this year’s Tour de France contains three former winners, two victors of the Giro d’Italia and one former Vuelta champion—six grand tour masters in all—this year’s race appears to be all sewn up. Chris Froome has amassed such a lead that nibbling 10 seconds here, 14 seconds there, is too faint an effort to wrest the maillot jaune from his bony shoulders.

And can we just take a moment to admit that Froome’s riding style is such that he seems to succeed despite what is to my eye the most inelegant cycling visage to win a grand tour. I must admit that in discussions with friends I’ve compared him to a spider romancing a paperclip. No Coppi is he.

But it doesn’t matter. The man has earned my grudging respect, less for what he has achieved on the bike than his polite treatment of the press off the bike. His is a careful diplomacy, to be sure.

Speaking of respect, not everyone shares my view of how he deserves to be treated. Reports are that he’s been spat on and that another spectator threw urine in his face. One journalist asked how he knew it was urine, which I thought was a step beyond cheeky. Had anyone asked me such a question (had I suffered such an insult), I’d have replied, “A lifetime of standing over toilets has taught me a thing or two about yellow fluids.”

This is, obviously, the unfortunate kickback that comes from spectators automatically equating the yellow jersey with doping. It’s an easy math, but one that isn’t necessarily correct. David Walsh has struck out, sticking his neck on the line on behalf of Froome to tell the world he thinks the rider is clean. I appreciate how Walsh’s own sense of integrity motivated him to speak up. It’s an endorsement that rings like the cathedral bell. And while I’m bolstered by Froome’s assurances that you can test his samples with whatever new tests they devise ten years from now and we won’t see him dethroned, the fact remains, we really don’t know.

I do believe that cycling, as a sport, is the cleanest it has ever been. But the recent news that Riccardo Ricco (yes, him again) has been snared in an investigation into the sale and distribution of anabolic steroids is all the demonstration we need that some people never learn, and the sport will never be rid of idiot dopers. Or just dopers. Maybe idiots, too.

So today’s question isn’t whether Froome will win or not, or whether he’s doping, as the former is a question that seems all but answered and the latter is a question we may never answer, but whether we will ever regain our trust. Can we? And while we are at it, it’s been more than 40 years since Eddy Merckx was punched in the Tour. For ages, that was a one-time aberration. Now it seems the sort of affront destined to revisit the race. It’s worth asking, is the decreasing civility toward the yellow jersey a cancer that will kill the Tour as we know it?

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  1. Michael

    I am scared for the riders every time they ride through the crowds near the finish (before the barriers, but even sometimes in the barriers) and at the tops of climbs. They should simply ban flags and banners that get waved in the riders’ faces. I don’t know what to say about how to get the fans to step back just a little bit. Perhaps it is that many fans have no clue what the actual riding-at-your-limits-with-fans-in-your-face feels like, or they are trying to gain their own little moment of fame. It is nice to see security guards actually hook idiot runners who are impeding the riders and whip them over to the sidelines. And yet. And yet we want that closeness of the fans and riders. It just relies on the fans being reasonable, and so many aren’t. And I am only talking here of unintentional idiocy.

    Doping? Sure, there is still some going on. I think some riders getting busted, like Contador, has taught them those marginal gains are not worth having. Or else they are decreasing their levels even more, which makes the effects less. So in either case, the racing becomes more based on what you have than what you can get in the way of “fitness and ability”. Good enough for me. The closeness of the abilities of the top riders says to me that none of them has any drug so much better than the others. Froome is NOT that much better – his gains have occurred in not-incredible events, ones that show he is fit and a great rider, but within normal limits. He is very good at measuring his efforts, and he clearly knows when he doesn’t have “it” to attack. Think back to the Armstrong-Landis-Hamilton (just choosing US dopers) years – those “great” rides WERE incredible, in the true meaning of that word. If anything, Nibali’s ride in stage 19 was more amazing than Nibali’s on the first Pyreneean day. I don’t think he is doping. Just proud, and now likely pretty wasted for the Alpe d’Huez!

  2. Michael

    Speaking of grace, or lack thereof, on the bike, I think Peter Sagan’s pedaling is VERY graceful. Watch him going up a hill – we all know he can descend, but seated on a hill, clearly struggling, he still has a beautiful pedal stroke, especially for a big muscle-bound guy.

  3. Jay

    In today’s world you almost have to have some sort concern over the riders safety, meaning all, not just the Yellow Jersey. What makes me cringe the most is the mountain stages where the crowds make the roads disappear and then only open enough to allow a rider to pass. That degree of fanaticism does little to encourage the riders.

  4. Pat O'Brien

    Take an event that become a nationalistic marketing spectacle instead a race, a sensationalist press, and fans emulating the behavior of those in soccer or worse, the answer is yes.

  5. Bruce Mackey

    I’ve worked as a traveling road marshal for about 10 major US stage races, (AMGEN, Tour of Missouri and USPro Cycling Challenge. Several times a day you get to meet the fans up close and personal. The vast majority of them are polite, respect the riders safety and basically good people. The exceptions are, in most cases, the “look Mom, I’m on TV” types, usually populating the KOM areas. That’s where the crazies live. I may be wrong but it seemed to me this year in the TdF, more of the KOM areas were fenced. While riders still had to ride the gauntlet, this at least gave them some protection.
    The first thing I do when I get to the area I’ve been assigned, (my drop) is to look for a law enforcement officer and have a quick discussion with that person on what to do if we have problems with a fan. It’s paid off a few times. I do think things are becoming more dangerous for the riders and racing as we know it may have to significantly change in the wake of a serious (death or injury to a racer) incident. The craziness is spreading.

  6. John Kopp

    I was happy to see that the last two mountain stages were finally a true bike race! I think Quintana could have won if he had started earlier. But your question is about doping and is the sport clean.

    I assume that there is still significant doping going on. I am especially suspicious of team Sky. They appear too good to be true. And they give me reason for doubt. Last year, Froome was using an inhaler that he got a belated TUE for. (Sound familiar for HWSNBN fans?) In the 2013 Tour, Froome and Porte were penalized for taking on refreshments in a prohibited zone. Sky appears not to be above cheating in order to win. Paul Kimmage has also expressed his doubts. Padraig, you mention David Walsh as defending Sky, but Walsh works for the Sunday Times which is owned by Rupert Murdock, who also owns Sky. And Paul Kimmage appeared to have been fired from the Sunday Times when he expressed concerns about team Sky. You have to follow the money! Sky’s past behavior and arrogance that they are the perfect team is the cause of much the animosity toward them.

    The only team I feel may be clean is Astana, because they have inspectors living with them, so they don’t dare screw up.

    Cycling will always have a doping problem until there is a fundamental change in the definition of what doping is. Now it is the WADA rules, with ten pages of prohibited substances, much so technical, a pharmacist would have some difficulty understanding it, and enough rules to ensure they can sanction anyone they want. In other words, I see it as a political agenda to eliminate “undesirables’ from competition, and nothing to do with drug use. PED’s was invented in the 1960’s by the IOC because amateur status was no longer working to eliminate undesirables (East Bloc country athletes).

    Drugs are a necessary part of sports medicine, which WADA puts unreasonable restraints on. Any drug policy that will work must be endorsed by a consensus of the athletes and teams, with no coercion by the governing bodies. Just my thoughts.

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