Déjà Vu

Today Chris Froome pretty much wrapped up the 2015 Tour de France.

Realistically speaking, everybody else is now fighting for the second and third spots on the podium. The second place rider is currently Tejay Van Garderen, who started the day only 24 seconds behind Froome’s yellow jersey, but is now a whopping 2:52 back. Froome took similar time out of his other main rivals, Nairo Quintana (now 3:09 in arrears), Alberto Contador (4:04), and Vincenzo Nibali (6:57). Froome got the huge lead by blowing everybody off his wheel on the very tough final uphill climb on the Col du Soudet. It is 15 kilometers long, and the first 10 kilometers have an average gradient of 8.1 %. This is the first serious mountain climb of the Tour, and most riders’ legs need time to adjust from the demands of flat and rolling daily stage routes to the sudden crunch of a long, steep, uphill chase.

Froome crosses the line

Froome Crosses the Line

But Froome had no such problems, thanks in part to his particular skill set, to lots of high altitude experience from training in his native South Africa, and to his very strong team, which has been selected solely on the basis of how effectively each rider can play a specified role in assuring that he is in position to maximize his opportunities to gain time on his rivals.   After today’s stage, in fact, Froome explicitly praised his team, crediting them with making his victory possible.

In some ways Froome is an unlikely hero. He was Sir Bradley Wiggins’ main domestique (support rider) when Wiggo won the Tour three or four years back. And he won the Tour himself two years ago. Still, Froome (now 30 years old) won very few major events until the age of 25. At that point he was diagnosed with bilharzia, a debilitating parasitic disease that he may have had for some time. Once it was treated and cured, his career took off, with numerous major victories in professional stage races.

Big gaps like the one Froome holds now in the Tour are not impossible to overcome. Several tough mountain stages still lie ahead, and he could lose the yellow jersey for good with a bad day, a crash, or an outstanding series of performances by a rival. But history shows that a rider in Froome’s position usually prevails, extends his lead, crushes any tenuous lingering dreams held by rivals. In fact, from 1999 to 2005 the pattern of victory was almost identical to Froome’s. A dominant rider with a strong, disciplined team working for him routinely crushed his opponents on the first day the Tour hit the mountains. His demoralized foes fought for second and third, while the team and its leader hammered on day after day. The rider’s surprising prowess was attributed to his excellent skill set and his strength following the diagnosis and cure of a debilitating disease. That rider is a Phantom today. Despite ample evidence in the form of film, videos, and human memory, he is said never to have won a stage of the Tour, never to have stood on the top step of the podium in Paris. At the time his victories were called “unbelievable” and “incredible.” These same terms are used to describe Froome’s performance today, even by Froome himself. But the Phatom Rider’s legacy was dematerialized by drug use. And that’s the difference, because we know today that no rider, however much his performance resembles the Phantom’s, can possibly be on drugs. Don’t we?

Advertisement

Motors on Bikes? LeMond Thinks So

There’s been much talk of motors on bikes lately.  The motors in question are lightweight and can apparently be concealed in downtubes and pedal spindles.  Suspicions arose during recent stages of the Giro d’Italia when several riders, including race leader Alberto Contador, have changed bikes arbitrarily during the race.

Back in the day, let’s say Greg LeMond’s day, riders occasionally changed bikes at the foot of climbs.   One bike was designed for flat road racing, and the other for climbing.  Still, that tactic was rare.  One ensuing problem was that the new bike was not weighed before the start of the stage, as the old bike might have been.  It could be weighed at the end of the day, of course, but they seldom were.  Bikes must weigh at least a certain amount (about 14.7 pounds) to be legal in racing.

Today, if the bike change were to be from a regulation cycle to one with a concealed motor, that would provide a distinct advantage to the rider.  Even 50 or 100 watts, while small by absolute standards, is massive as an additional fraction of the rider’s natural power output.  Let’s say roughly 10% to 20%.  Even if it only gave a short boost over a few key kilometers, a motor would change the dynamics of the race greatly.

Greg LeMond, an early and outspoken enemy of doping, one who called out Lance Armstrong when everyone else was believing the “miracle,” says he thinks motors are being used in the pro peloton by major riders.  Today’s cyclingnews.com story reports that:

 LeMond is convinced that motors have been used in the peloton and that a heat gun and banning bike changes could be a simple but effective deterrents.

“I know that motors exist, I’ve ridden a bike with one and I’ve met the inventor and talked about it. If people think they don’t exist, they’re fooling themselves, so I think it’s a justified suspicion. I believe it’s also been used in the peloton. It seems too incredible that someone would do it, but I know it’s real,” he said.

“To make sure it doesn’t happen, I don’t think there should be bike changes in races. Period.”

There was a day when I’d have called LeMond, America’s only official Tour de France winner, a paranoid fool.  But not so much any more.  LeMond suggests a heat gun to identify hot spots in bikes as they are being used in races.  Seems like a simple thing to do, but the UCI (International Cycling Union) has a long history of cowardice in confronting cheating effectively and objectively.

The whole thing puts a new coloration on the excited announcer’s phrase “he’s really motoring!”

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016