Did you see it? Did you? Sunday’s epic win. British sporting triumph. Did you see Chris Froome power up less than 5km from the summit of Mt Ventoux, leave a seemingly unassailable Nairo Quintana in his wake, and storm ahead to a 29” victory in stage 15 of this year’s naillbiting 100th TdF? No? Oh. Well, it was amazing. Clearly the result of some serious work and study, the rest of Team Sky, culminating in a storming lead up from Richie Porte, hauled Froome up the arid, seemingly endless climb of Mt Ventoux, launching him 7km before the end to reel in Quintana and win the stage, and extend his overall lead in the GC, in impressive fashion. Such was the effort of his endeavour that he spent the next 20 minutes after crossing the finish line in a hospital tent, receiving oxygen.
Luckily for Froome, the next day saw the Tour’s 2nd rest day. But what kind of rest awaited Froome? A lie in? A quiet day by the pool? A chance to get away from it all? Not bloody likely. Not only did he have to spend much of the day warding off a barrage of press interest (understandable – he is quite a way in the lead at this stage) he spent the vast majority of that time defending himself against doping allegations. It is a sad indictment of the sport that an achievement at the level of Froome’s on Sunday is automatically suspected to be the result of doping.
Alongside randomised daily testing across the field, the race leader is tested daily, as is the stage winner. Immediately following each stage win, these two riders (if they are not the same person, as was the case on Sunday) are ushered off to give samples. As Team Sky’s Directeur Sportif, Sir Dave Brailsford, challenged the press yesterday – come up with a definitive way for the riders to prove to the media that they are not doping, and Team Sky and Chris Froome will happily comply. But, failing that, there seems to be little more that a team can do to convince the gathered gannets of the world press that they are clean, no matter how hard they try, and still it is not enough.
It’s particularly poignant given the location of Sunday’s stage; 1km from the summit of Mt Ventoux stands a memorial to British rider Tom Simpson, who died on that ascent in 1967, while attempting to become the first Briton to win a stage of the TdF. Aside from that year’s extremely hot weather, other contributing factors in the 29 year old’s death were thought to be the 2.5 tubes of amphetamines he had taken in the early part of the day’s stage, washed down with brandy.
On Sunday, British Garmin-Sharp rider David Millar (who himself has overcome some extraordinary battles with doping, but who now rides – and last year captained Team GB’s road race team – clean, and campaigns for others to do the same) threw his cycle cap to some fans at the side of the road, asking them to lay it at the memorial to Simpson. Which they did.
There will always be a minority of sportsmen whose desire to win overtakes their sense of sportsmanship, their honesty and even their better judgement. And as this week’s news concerning two top sprinters will attest, it’s not limited to cycling. But will we ever see the day when a cyclist will be congratulated for their efforts, and given the benefit of the doubt by the press and the public? For Froome’s sake, and those who come after him, I hope we will. And soon.
If you were to ask me whether I thought Froome was doping, I would say no, I honestly don’t believe he is. Sadly, a certain American rider, along with decades of vehement denials and – as we know now, mock – outrage at his accusers, has left us wary of throwing our weight behind a rider and declaring categorically yes, or no. My gut reaction is that no, neither Froome nor Team Sky are doping. But how would I know? I’m certainly no expert, and I only have their word to go on. For me though, I would rather believe in the sporting prowess of my heroes than automatically assume that the sportspeople I deeply admire are somehow cheating. Of course, given the sport’s history, there is a need for a rigorous testing process, but I am not qualified to be a party to this, or to pass judgement on it. As a fan, Team Sky’s word has to be good enough for me; I am content to leave the tough questions to those whose job it is to regulate these things.