I wrote a piece on Chris Froome a few weeks ago, found HERE. This was as a response to the mass of armchair ‘fans’ who love to post their views on Chris Froome doping, I have no idea if he is or not, but like the other armchair fans, I also have no proof either way, so this post is speculation, just as valid as others speculation. So let me put forward a possible scenario in this post.
Froome’s time on Ax 3 Domaines is currently being debated on twitter, originally it was posted as 15 seconds slower than Armstrong’s fastest time, placing todays climb as the 3rd best recorded. Now it may be 30 to 60 seconds slower than that after a dispute over which bridge the timing is taken from, plus another twitter user @journalvelo has posted the published profiles from a previous climb of Ax 3 Domaines HERE. They look different & the finish altitude in not the same, so I’m not seeing any evidence I can completely rely on yet for the climb analysis, lots have jumped the gun. I’m going to ignore climb times until we know the facts.
Unfortunately, many are still using riders like Contador & Valverde as climbing reference points for others. I have a few issues with this, firstly that reference point is not a valid constant. Lets take Contador as an example, he is a convicted doper (based on actual evidence) and under the enhanced scrutiny the bio-passport puts on riders, we can assume he isn’t able to do what he used to. There is also rumoured to be additional testing at this years Tour for the plasticisers found in blood bags, so things have stepped up on the testing front. If anybody is doing anything, it’s a hell of a lot less than they used to to remain undetected, in fact it might not even be enough to take the risk of getting caught for, riders like Contador may now be clean.
So in the past we’ve seen Contador to be an Armstrong beater, now he’s at least a couple of minutes behind where Armstrong would have been on this climb during the dark years. We all remember the old Contador, but he is now a rider who would lose a couple of minutes to Armstrong on Ax 3 Domaines, i.e. like Zubeldia in 2005 (who is still racing & lost over 3 minutes today). Our old reference points are now invalid, we are seeing more real performances, if they were able to perform at the old levels, we wouldn’t be seeing such a vast amount of riders suddenly dropping minutes on their previous times when they couldn’t get caught. Sometimes we have to look further down the field, not to the differences in the front riders, but the almost uniform drop in climbing ability of vast segments of the peloton. We question the front, but don’t question the back.
Reasons for improved performance
My hunch is that the rise in blood vector doping in cycling has opened up a new branch of sports science, I think they’ve learned a lot from studying the effects that EPO & blood transfusions had on performance & have tried to replicate it naturally, having seen the performance gains.
Take transfusions, they were adding 500ml of additional blood to boost performance, increasing blood volume improves athletic performance by allowing more blood to be transported to the muscles. It’s well documented that endurance training increases blood volume, I’ll just throw it out there that perhaps somebody has unlocked the key to understand exactly what type of training can progressively increase blood plasma volume, to make transfusions unnecessary or downright dangerous due to blood pressure. Reference THIS on blood doping & THIS on blood volume for athletes, where it states that endurance athletes could have 30% more blood volume than normal.
We don’t know the extents that sports science is going to to understand this, but we did see Rob Hayles getting tested with a tiny amount over 50% haematocrit before a track race, could he have been a guinea pig for BC developing a means of naturally increasing haematocrit too. All pure speculation, but very interesting to people like myself if this kind of work is going on, I can’t really see why it wouldn’t be going on, it’s a stone they won’t admit to turning over, but one they couldn’t really ignore, the reasons blood manipulation increases performance. Once you know the physiological reasons, you can presumably start work on methods to replicate them without affecting your riders health, I’ll just put that one out there.
So once the majority of the riders in the peloton give up EPO use (due to bio passport) & transfusions (due to bio passport & plasticisers test), what happens? Surely the teams & riders who previously relied on very good sports science would rise to the top, while others who relied on doping would be a few steps back, playing catchup for a couple of years, form like Contador now displays. I believe that’s where we are now. The formerly doping riders & teams are now attempting to gain knowledge & manpower in sports science, to get them competitive again, their riders are just as talented as the sports science riders, but the difference now is that the tables have turned, sports science now beats detected doping, if the controls lapse then doping will start overperforming again. We are at the crossroads, I can see next years Tour being very different once the knowledge has spread, we’re in for some exciting races in the next 5 years.
In effect, I think the massive overuse of blood vector doping has provided a platform for extensive study & solutions to counter it. Inadvertantly replicating the effects with some very specific training methods gained from state-of-the-art sports science.