Ahead of the Tour de France I have, like many, been thinking about the all-conquering, salbutamol abusing, not quite BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Chris Froome. Wounded by the early 2000s, I have mastered the dark art of burying my head in the sand when it comes to Froome. That’s not to say I’ve ignored the Team Sky sponsored alarm bells over the last five years, but given the choice between arguing about Froome’s cadence and admiring one of Alexis Gougeard’s doomed late attacks, I’m always choosing Alexis.
After recovering at the Giro to squash everybody with a freakish attack, Froome has well and truly rattled the Tour de France organizers. Can they handle another Tour winner with an asterisk? Can anybody stop him from winning? Can anybody stop him from riding? Does anybody want to see him ever again?!
You can head away from this page if you were hoping to drench yourself in power analyses, salbutamol studies and a patchwork of science which proves without doubt that Chris Froome has cheated his way to the top of the sport. You’ll already know everything you want to know. Froome showed no exceptional talent – or race craft – as a junior, during his time at Barloworld, or even his fledging years at Team Sky. At some point in 2011 he began to transform, and two years later he was conquering Mount Ventoux as if it was a fun little climb to a café.
You’ll already have read about the 120+ cadences, the sustained 400W attacks, the VO2 max readings, and the fact his performances are every bit as concerning as several disgraced performers. The resulting message is pretty clear; nobody believes that parasitic bilharzia, marginal gains and a savvy race plan could possibly be trumping the benefits of EPO.
I don’t feel qualified to elaborate on these well-versed topics and am more interested in Froome’s current reputation. There used to be a raging love/hate war with regards to Froome’s achievements but there’s been a definite swing since he completed his raid on the three Grand Tours in May.
For every Frenchman lobbing urine in Froome’s face, there had always been a defender in the Carlton Kirby-mould with eyes fixed firmly on the Brit’s unprecedented results. One Zoncolan later and even the likes of Bernard Hinault are set on hounding Froome out of the sport in the foreseeable future.
Should Froome serve a ban for his adverse Salbutamol result? Yes. The situation has been handled terribly by everyone involved but the overriding feeling is that Team Sky are being given preferential treatment and time to find a loop hole in what should be a relatively simple punishment – one which has been enforced before.
Froome is, however, serving punishment in other ways. He’s widely maligned in the pro cycling world to the point where his achievements have been tainted and occasionally completely dismissed as false (does this make Rigoberto Uran a one-time Tour winner?). Froome regularly steps on to the podium in front of faces displaying at best looks of doubt and at worst sheer disgust.
Ex-pros with a variety of doping histories have been quick to criticize Froome which introduces a layer of classic cycling hypocrisy. Nevertheless, they aren’t wrong to question his performances and the facts are damning. Alessandro Petacchi was found with a lower Salbutamol level and still served a ban – and he almost certainly knew what he was doing.
I quite like Lance Armstrong’s approach to the topic which can be summed up as ‘Really? You’re asking me about riding clean?’. Perhaps this attitude has something to do with how Armstrong felt when his own performances were questioned by compatriot Greg LeMond.
The situation is not much different inside the current peloton. Who actually bothers to congratulate Froome when he cuts down his rivals with yet another dizzying attack? Tom Dumoulin appears slightly bitter and (not so) slightly suspicious about his recent Giro second place. Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali have both had previous with Froome out on the road. Nairo Quintana pays little attention to anybody unless he’s winning (so not very often) and Contador was the anti-Froome in nearly every aspect. The French probably dislike him and then, of course, there’s Bradley Wiggins.
It’s impossible to say any of these opinions are unfounded but it must make being Chris Froome a very weird day job. He’s got no respect from his peers, no respect from the greats, and dwindling belief from the cycling fan base. Though allowing him to ride and win the Giro, the UCI’s non-decision has added to this collective disdain.
Team Sky is also hurting his reputation by spinning endless webs of confusion. Froome now brings grey clouds to the start line of any race he enters. How does he manage to block all this out and produce yet another blank smile? Ignoring the swarms of hate is almost as monumental a task as his unbelievable attack in Finestre.
If Froome’s world eventually unravels, the thousands of noisy and suspicious fans can celebrate how they played a greater role bringing down a Grand Tour cheat than the UCI themselves. In the meantime, Froome is living the most bizarre of cycling careers. Is there any point winning a fifth Tour de France if nobody believes in it?