Australian Michael Matthews has just missed out on a podium finish at his maiden Tour of Flanders, won by unfancied Italian Alberto Bettiol.
It wouldn’t be a Tour de France rest day without a doping scandal, some skeletons from the past, and a smattering of transfer rumours, but even by the Tour de France’s usual dramatic standards this rest day was a doozy.
For those who took their opportunity to sleep through the news, a quick recap.
In Aussie news, and to nobody’s surprise, Richie Porte is officially leaving the Sky bus. Richie wants more opportunities to be a team leader, particularly at the Tour, as he enters the prime of his career. Fair enough.
He hasn’t said which colours he’ll be wearing next year. Speculation is on BMC or Orica-GreenEdge. Whether he’d be given Tour leadership at BMC ahead of Tejay van Garderen is an open question, but there’s no doubt BMC is building a very good programme under Allan Peiper, so I can see why Richie would want to be involved.
A move to Orica-GreenEdge would at least give him clear leadership, with the likes of the Yates brothers, Adam and Simon, Esteban Chavez and the Orica-GreenEdge TTT experience providing support. But does Orica-GreenEdge have the budget for Porte? Probably not, unless the team can dig up a second naming-rights sponsor that isn’t Gerry Ryan.
Luca Paolini of Katusha tested positive to cocaine. He denies knowingly taking it, and until his B sample is tested he’s only provisionally suspended, but the burly road captain of Katusha may be guilty of one of the stupidest acts of self-sabotage in the very stupid recent history of cycling.
Yes, cocaine is a stimulant, but it’s more obviously useful as powdered wanker-fuel for boring nightclub conversations than in actual, you know, sport. What would the bearded party monster be thinking having a cheeky line in the middle of a Grand Tour? Hasn’t anyone told him he’s too old for party drugs? If his B sample is also off its face, it’s a probable career-ender. A two-year ban would push him over 40.
Another old stager left the Tour, under even worse circumstances. Ivan Basso has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. At his peak, Basso was arguably the best Italian rider of his contemporaries, but his success was of its era.
A ban for attempted blood doping came out of Operacion Puerto, he was stripped of the 2006 Giro d’Italia title, and there will always be an asterisk next to his Tour de France podiums in the Armstrong era. He did return to win the 2010 Giro, but at Basso’s age it’s probable that time out for treatment will mark the end of his professional career.
Apparently Basso’s prognosis is good, and I wish him all the best for a swift recovery.
That would have been enough drama, but the spotlight returned to Team Sky following the leaking (the team is saying ‘hacking’ but I’d suggest a note of skepticism) of Chris Froome’s power data files.
The big ticket item is the Mont Ventoux stage of the 2013 Tour, during which Froome utterly wrecked his rivals with a series of high-cadence surges. The numbers are, well, exhilarating, and it’s all over the internet.
Someone even overlaid the data on video footage of the climb and posted it on YouTube, from where it was promptly removed amidst talk of Sky lawyers taking a very dim view of the matter.
Analysis of the file allegedly shows that Froome’s actual power outputs were extremely close to previous estimates based on methods developed by cycling’s most notorious evil genius, Dr Ferrari (among others). Ferrari might have been a cheat but it seems he knew what he was doing.
It’s already reignited the debate about whether Froome’s performance was plausibly seulement de pain. I’ll leave that to the physiologists and coaches. What is interesting is that Sky management hasn’t really denied the power data is genuine. Rather, they’ve said it was stolen by ‘hacking’ and that interpreting it is just speculation and that Froome has big lungs.
Perhaps, but getting the lawyers involved seems a bit of a PR own goal for a team practiced at spinning a line about transparency. Expect these scurrilous rumours and tales of skullduggery to keep rumbling as we enter the mountains. In the meantime, read this post from Science of Sport‘s Ross Tucker.
How the whole controversy will affect Froome remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t be disruptive as the race finally heads into the mountains.
The race organisers are not mucking about this week. By the time you read this, Stage 10 will have been won, possibly by a patriotic Frenchman hoping for Bastille Day glory.
The first week had the odd ramp with small time gaps appearing, but a couple of murs (de Huy and de Bretagne) does not a mountain make. Most of the time gaps came from the crosswinds on the Dutch coast, and the team time trial. There’s little we could infer about the leading contenders’ climbing legs.
Until now. The first HC climb, on Stage 10, was about as subtle an introduction as a slap to the head with a baguette. There was none of that ‘warming up to it’ with a day of Cat 2 and 3 nonsense.
The next three stages will be enormous. The race is poised. Vive le Tour!