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French reaction to Froome's Tour de France

20th July 2015

Chris Froome in the 2015 TDF

After stage 16 of the 2015 Tour de France, Chris Froome leads the race by 3min10 from second-placed Nairo Quintana. His performances haven't been met with universal acclaim, especially his impressive win at La Pierre St Martin on Stage 10.

The most strident criticism has come from across the Channel. With national television channels, and sports newspaper L' Equipe, helping to form opinion, it seems that most French cycling fans believe Team Sky, and Chris Froome in particular, to be doping. 

They see parallels between the powerful riding style of Froome, and that of Lance Armstrong. Some French experts have estimated Froome's power output, and claim that it is beyond what is possible for a clean rider. 

What is being said in France, and what is the tone of the discussion?

Antoine Vayer

Antoine Vayer, former coach of the Festina team, is a long-term critic of Chris Froome. In July 2013 in an article in Le Monde, he wrote that the Tour's average speed was close to those of the Tours won by Pantani in 1998 and Armstrong in 2005, and that Froome's power output (in Watts) during the ascension of Mont Ventoux was superior to those of Pantani and Armstrong (whom he called 'confessed mutants'). Given his ability on the flat and in the mountains, Froome must be the best rouleur-grimpeur of all time, said Vayer, unless he was doping.

In the article, Vayer recounted a meeting with Dave Brailsford and Tim Kerrison, which he said was cordial. He said that Brailsford was droit dans ses bottes, an expression which refers to someone who maintains their opinion, is determined, and feels they have a clear conscience, even if they are in fact wrong.

The day after La Pierre St Martin, Vayer was interviewed by France Info. He had used the same system there as on Mont Ventoux in 2013, employing a sort of speed camera to come up with a number for a rider's power output in Watts. (I believe the power output is a function of the rider's speed, and the gradient of the slope). According to Vayer, Pantani managed 450W on one climb, with peaks of 490W, which Vayer calls 'mutant'. 430W is, according to Vayer, 'miraculous', and 410W 'suspect'.

The France Info article says that on Mont Ventoux in 2013, Froome oscillated between 290 and 430W, and on the way to La Pierre St Martin, the result was similar. 'We used our speed camera again this year, and his level of performance is that of 2013, which appeared to us to be extremely bizarre and suspicious. It's as if you saw a 100m runner doing a time of 9.6s. These are legitimate questions that we raise.'

Stade 2, on France Télévision

France TV TDF outside broadcast

Yesterday, Dave Brailsford was interviewed on Stade 2, on France 2 television. He was challenged about Froome on the basis of Pierre Sallet's analysis of the La Pierre St Martin climb. (Pierre Sallet recently organised a micro-dosing experiment that was shown as a documentary on France 2). This is the video of Sallet's La Pierre St Martin analysis:

Sallet says that Froome achieved an average of 425W in the ascent to La Pierre St Martin, which gives a maximum aerobic power of 500W, according to what Sallet calls a reliable mathematical model. Froome's weight is then estimated at 71kg, to produce a figure of 7.04W/kg. 6.5 to 7W/kg is said by Sallet to be the limit of what would normally be possible, and a value above 7W/kg 'abnormally high'.

Sallet says that that puts Froome in a position where he should give information about his physiological profile, because all the athletes who previously broke the 7W/kg barrier ended up being caught for doping.

For him, the performances of the peloton are back within the norms which are expected, but then there are 'extra-terrestrials' who produce performances on cols which are physiologically incomprehensible.

The information he would like to see is all the biological passport information, and the power output statistics.

This is the Brailsford interview:

The first question Brailsford is asked by host Céline Géraud concerns the ascent of La Pierre St Martin. She says that while there is no proof that Froome is doping, his performance there was equalled only by past riders who turned out to be dopers.

Brailsford points out that Sallet is using a mathematical model, and doesn't have the performance statistics. He says that after the 2013 Tour win, Sky gave all Froome's power data to UKAD. He mentions the biological passport, and suggests that the UCI could take all the statistics for all the riders (not just Sky), including power output, and create a power passport.

On the figure of 7.04W/kg, Brailsford says it is only an estimation. He cannot prove a negative (that Froome is not doping), but he can work with experts at the UCI, and he would give them the power data. He says that the accusations are unfair, and that Froome is innocent. Froome has an unusual physiology, but he isn't cheating.

Cédric Vasseur doesn't add anything helpful to the debate. He simply says that if he were Nairo Quintana, he would be wondering how Froome is able to ride away from him.

Géraud asks Brailsford about training in Tenerife, and whether he would be prepared to train somewhere else, because Tenerife is difficult for testers to get to. Brailsford says that his riders are tested in Tenerife. He goes on to say that he would like the UCI to employ individuals who would be embedded with the teams.

Asked for Froome's weight, Brailsford says he doesn't know. Explaining why Froome is so far ahead of his rivals, Brailsford says that Contador is not at the level he was in the Giro, Quintana is improving, and Nibali is not in the same form as last year.

Update 21st July 2015: Sky release Froome's power data for La Pierre St Martin

Sky's head of performance Tim Kerrison presented Froome's actual data from La Pierre St Martin at a press conference in Sisteron on today's rest day. Dave Brailsford explained the motivation, according to CyclingNews. 'I just think that in particular what France 2 did by putting out that big headline of the 7W/kg with a picture of Lance Armstrong, and I think Jan Ullrich, was so wildly wrong on so many levels. We thought we should correct that and give concrete facts and evidence, so hopefully people will judge for themselves.'

Kerrison said that Froome's actual power on La Pierre St Martin was 5.78W/kg.

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