The New Religion

Embed from Getty ImagesIt used to be the case that if you couldn’t explain something, you blamed God, then if anybody came up with an alternative based on evidence, they came to a horrible end. As time passed, the evidence based explanation became more popular & the lazy old ideas slowly drifted into obscurity, with only the individuals who had proclaimed their super-natural explanation as ‘fact’ continuing to shout very loudly about it in an attempt to save face. Much the same is happening in cycling right now, I suspect we’ve got a long way to go before it stabilises & we actually know what’s happening.

“Doper!”

You don’t ‘know’ that Chris Froome or anybody else is doping, it’s just your opinion. Without evidence, your opinion is just as valid as anybody elses, it doesn’t make your point of view seem any more valid by calling somebody else naive, nationalistic or stupid. But that’s what’s been going on for quite a few days now. The timing of ‘The Video’ release was used to incite this, maybe even to help Froome get a hard time from the fans on the mountains, ‘public relations doping’ if you like. It worked, everybody & their granny’s been calling Froome & his team dopers, it’s not letting up.

I find these repetitive accusations based solely on performance quite lazy, I suppose that’s human nature, the ‘Religion’ methodology, used to explain something that’s tricky. With the current furore (as 8pm 16/7/15, you never know what’ll happen tomorrow) there’s no actual evidence of drug taking, no links to one of the infamous devil-doctors or coaches, no disgruntled ex team-mates spilling the beans about the sordid goings-on. It’s simply based on beating other riders, riding over 6W/kg, or climbing hills faster than somebody who it’s perceived can’t be beaten because they were ‘on the gear’. There’s quite a few flaws in this.

The magic number of 6W/kg is often banded about as the absolute limit of human capability, mostly not by experts, but its been widely adopted by the doper religion as ‘fact’. But as revealed on a podcast by Ross Tucker (a scientist who’s been quite outspoken about Froome’s performances), the top riders don’t reveal their data. This causes a few jitters with me, scientists base their statistics on evidence, but if the top flight of riders data is missing, they’re either estimating it or it’s excluded, which could make the 6W/kg figure low if those figures are excluded. This could mean that the magical 6W/kg figure is based on 2nd tier riders & really means nothing at all to the lead group in the mountains. Ross Tucker himself said THIS in 2010 about the figure, he doesn’t think it proves doping either, “It does not mean this number separates the world into light & dark”. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tucker, he knows his stuff, but I get the feeling that he’s starting to let his emotions get in the way on this one, possibly for a very good reason. I think this may be partially down to the incredible distrust that Sky appear to be able to generate in an instant, as he states in his latest blog. They’re turning scientists against them now.

PR Geniuses

You’d think a media company would know what they’re doing, incredibly they’re probably the most useless team at PR in the pro peloton. I don’t think this is down to any of their PR staff, but a series of gaffes from the top of the organisation, that lead to nobody in their right mind trusting their judgement on many things. This, in turn, allows people to come to the easy conclusion that they can’t be trusted in general.

In today’s stage, Geraint Thomas has been slated as a doper, for being able to ride with the lead group on Plateau de Beille. With comments questioning how a Classics rider can stay with the best GC riders on the climbs. What really surprises me about this is that the rider attacking the GC group was Valverde, a Classics winner & former doper (I also have zero evidence to suspect Valverde right now, so as far as I’m concerned he’s not doping either), yet I’ve not seen a single accusation today about him! Last year two French riders on the podium, didn’t see anything calling them out either. So where does this massive distrust of Sky come from, it’s not simply performance, because others are performing & being left relatively alone? I’d suggest, being closed, cagey, ultra defensive & banging on about how you do things better than everybody else is the answer to this.

Sky have managed to manoeuvre themselves into a position where they tell you they have something to hide, implying its training, while refusing to tell anybody exactly what it is. We come back to the evidence thing again, without evidence people make their own conclusions, in this case Sky created the situation where people are looking for a piece of information, because they created a gap all by themselves. If they’d not implied they had their secret training methods & marginal gains, then nobody would be looking to fill that empty gap of information with stuff they made up themselves. This is entirely their fault.

The Gist Of It

I didn’t previously think this was the case, but I think it’s maybe time for Sky to finally start releasing some power data. The last few days have seen all sorts of nonsense, like 160 bpm at functional threshold power being caused by drugs, not seeing huge heart rate spikes on ‘The Video’, etc (See this for an indication of how sprints up to 1500W effect heart rate in a track points race). Folks will find all sorts of reasons if there’s already an inbuilt distrust.

As far as the future goes, it’s likely we’ve never seen the most naturally talented general classification cyclist on a bike yet. The big danger with the ‘The New Religion’ is that when this individual does comes along, we won’t be able to enjoy it, it’ll be seen as some kind of super doping that can’t be explained by what we’ve seen before. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to attempt to enjoy this sport, I’m not going to let the new doping religion ruin it for me. I also still think Quintana has a chance of winning this thing, it’s not over yet, Froome may pay for his early efforts later, if that happens what will we blame that on?

 

 

8 Responses

  1. David

    you are sadly deluded…evidence in all professional sports casts doubt on your naive search for clean competition…it doesn’t exist.

  2. The way you’re comparing Thomas’s and Valverde’s performances is just ridiculous. Don’t you know the differences between cobbles and ardennes classics ?

    Just a short reminder : so heavy riders can win easily on cobbles. Cancellara is the perfect one. On the other side, they’re different kinds of riders for ardennes classics. Did you ever see Gerrans aiming for Flèche Wallonne ? No. But he’s a damn good classic rider.

    To compare GT and AV wasn’t a good idea. By the ay i can infer you took AV because of the 2 years and a half ban he had. But wait. Showing the fact there’s no longer accusation on him is maybe because of the results he shown since he came back. And, even more intersting, the way he perform.

    Flashback, April 2015. Valverde did 2-1-1. Something close to Rebellin and Gilbert performance. Yes, maybe, it could be strange for a rider to do such a performance. What is interesting is to see how did he do that. Outsprinting other riders, showing skills everybody knew about. Not a 20 km alone move. Just 10-15 seconds better than others. Not the same.

    Then you have GT, good, not the best at all, classic cobbles rider. Not struggling in mountains. Could you imagine 1 second the opposite. Just try to imagine some kind of rider like Rolland, Pinot, Mollema etc doing some great performances on cobbles. There would be some accusations. That’s obvious.

    When you compare something, please give us the right choices. Today, you did it wrong.

  3. Alex

    Thanks for writing a sensible article. It seems you’ll be lynched for even asking for the sort of evidence we’ve had in the past (i.e. test results, testimonials from former team mates etc). Sadly, exactly why I’ve almost given up on watching men’s pro cycling, this constant bitching ruins it for me (luckily women’s cycling is in a great place right now).

    Good luck calling for discussion and real evidence rather than accusations based on an extremely conveniently timed bit of anti-Sky PR. I don’t know or care what the truth around Froome is but it seems pretty clear that this leak was a cynical attempt to add pressure to Sky and ruin their tour and it’s certainly succeeded at the first.

  4. John Turner

    One thing this article does raise in my mind is how quick we are to compartmentalise riders. Thomas has a good (but not stellar) classics season with the E3 win and being well placed in other races and all of a sudden he becomes, in some minds, a one trick pony. They forget he led over some tough climbs in the Tour in 2011 and that he placed well in the TdU a couple of years ago.

    What is he? Well he’s not an 80kg classics rider like Vanmarcke or Vandenbergh at the same time he isn’t a 60-65kg climber. However, it is possible to be good at more than one thing which I think he is and I also believe that being a good but not necessarily all conquering all-rounder is as far as he will go which nevertheless is a great achievement. For the record Tour winners have won or been well placed on the cobbles. Hinault won Ardennes, cobbles (he wasn’t particularly heavy either) and GT’s. Merckx won on everything and LeMond placed 4th in P-R would anyone have compartmentalised those riders?

    My point is comparing Valverde with Thomas isn’t ridiculous, they are both world class riders and I would suggest that Valverde could be/have been as successful in races such as E3 as Thomas if he had been so minded. We end up putting riders in silos because they express a preference and perhaps choose not to race certain types of races. What the last two Tours should have taught us is that GT riders such as Nibali, Contador, Froome and Quintana can more than hold their own on pave so why should we be so surprised when a rider such as Thomas puts in some good but not exactly earth shattering performances in the mountains?

  5. imatfaal

    “My point is comparing Valverde with Thomas isn’t ridiculous, they are both world class riders and I would suggest that Valverde could be/have been as successful in races such as E3 as Thomas if he had been so minded.”

    Valverde has three wins in Monuments (one of only six people in history who has won LBL three or more times) – G has won just one spring classic – ie E3 once. E3 is commonly seen as a good spring classic and a lead up to Ronde Vlaaanderan (which is considered a Monument). Valverde is a very successfull spring classics rider – G is yet to reach his level; not the other way around.

    I agree with the jist of your comments tho – but had to point this out

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