Froome unlucky to win in post-Armstrong fog of suspicion
Lance Armstrong’s legacy is that any cyclist see as above the norm is open to question
There were rational explanations for Froome’s superlative climbing performances in this year’s Tour de France. Photograph: Reuters
In the first Tour de France of the post-Lance Armstrong era, the much reviled former seven-times tour winner played a disproportionately large role. Not so much Banquo’s ghost at the feast as the ghosts of tours past, present and future, rattling his chain from his bunker in Texas, present in spirit, on screen and in the pages of Le Monde.
Armstrong got in there before the race by telling the French newspaper that in his day it was impossible to win the tour clean; after that the Texan’s spectre loomed large.
Chris Froome’s times for the toughest climbs were compared with Armstrong’s, irrespective of the fact that times and speeds in road racing are not an exact science.
The former Festina trainer Antoine Vayer conjured up power figures that claimed Froome was the physical equal of the Texan. Not surprisingly, when the A-word was mentioned at the tour leader’s rest day press conference, Froome was not delighted: “Lance cheated and I am not cheating. End of story.”
The Armstrong comparisons and references were inevitable. The influence the Texan made on cycling in his heyday was massive, the debate that raged from 2004 onwards about his probity was intense, and the immense mass of gory detail that was uncovered by the US Anti-Doping Agency and published in its “reasoned decision” last October was shocking.
His legacy is that any cycling performance viewed as being even an inch outside the norm – although no one is quite clear what that norm should be – is open to question.
French television, who drive the media agenda on the tour, felt free to ask the hard questions they largely failed to put to the Texan and speculate loudly during live commentary.
At times they were overcompensating. The French TV anchor Gerard Holtz made much of his “can you look me in the eyes, Chris Froome, and tell me you are clean?” moment. He could have asked the same question of riders within the Movistar team, who won two stages in the final week with Alberto Rui Costa, banned for doping in 2010, and who benefited from strong rides from their leader Alejandro Valverde, banned for his part in the Operación Puerto affair. But he did not.
The Alpe d’Huez winner, Christophe Riblon, said he felt the way Froome was being put on public trial was “scandalous”, adding that he personally would rather learn how Team Sky approach cycling and work to improve his own performances.
David Millar, who has fallen out with the Team Sky head Dave Brailsford, was happy to defend Sky’s race leader: “The press are sceptical and that’s understandable. They have been fooled so often by false stars who lied to them. But they are mistaken. In 15 years’ time they will look back at their views [of today] and will say: ‘Christ, we were horrible to Chris.’ I know Chris. I know the volume of training that he does. I know he’s clean.”