This article was slated to be about Stage 17 of the 2015 Tour de France.
Apologies to the editors and to those of you expecting a run down on the previous day’s action from France, but I’m going to have lay the blame for this deviation on an Irishman currently employed by Eurosport.
It was Sean Kelly who started it, when he stammered and stuttered at the end of the Stage 10 and said “I’m in shock.”
The man they still call King Kelly was even talking about “bombs going off,” his regal pulse up racing up to close to 65bpm, which is just about as high as the ever-calm four time winner of the Points Classification gets these days.
Kelly’s adrenalin spike was triggered by the sight of Sky taking utter control of the final climb of a hard stage, one that left Chris Froome with a GC lead over his rivals that already looks close to unassailable.
Adding to Kelly’s astonishment were the performances of Sky’s Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas. Despite the pair having been put to work protecting Froome throughout the stage and indeed most of the Tour, both had the reserves to put in huge efforts in the closing stages, with Porte claiming second and Thomas taking sixth.
Kelly is not a man prone to hyperbole and his exclamations echoed through living rooms around the world, as he vocalised the exact same thoughts that many of us who were watching had in our heads.
But Kelly went no further with his wonderment, and neither did anyone else that was commenting on the stage – and it was this glaring lack of follow through that has caused me to not be writing about what happened on Stage 17.
Because nobody mentioned that the last time they saw such dominance by one team was in the Armstrong era, and nobody stopped to consider the impact that their words were having, words such as “incredible” and “unbelievable.”
Nobody mentioned the storm that was already raging on Twitter over the rides of Froome, Thomas an Porte, a hurricane about which they were most certainly aware.
Greg LeMond, who is proving to be a very decent analyst in his own right, said “I’m a little surprised at how strong they were,” his voice cracking as he extended the first syllable of ‘little’.
Hundreds of thousands sat at home, blinking, wondering just what in the hell they had just seen, thinking “Just a little?!”
Some will say ‘Hey that’s their job’ but we’ve heard that before haven’t we? It’s a variation on a line that is trotted out time and time again by people whose work requires them having their heads stuck in the sand half the time: “Just doing my job.”
The very next day the now infamous video appeared on YouTube, with Froome’s ride up Ventoux in 2013 linked up to the power data files that we now know were leaked from within Team Sky.
Sky responded through their lawyers, leaving the creator of the video shaken enough to take it off the web and to close his Twitter account for fear of prosecution.
Froome has since said that the release of the data, which shows him to be hitting huge watts with almost no increase in heartbeat, “does nobody any good,” and has since stated that he’s open to independent physiological testing after the Tour has finished.
Admirable, if it happens, we will have to wait and see.
Right now though, Froome and indeed anyone else who puts in an exceptional performance are paying the price for a long-term and continuing failure on behalf of the UCI, the collective management of just about every World Tour team and indeed the riders themselves to form cohesive solutions to effectively tackle doping within the sport and in turn to assuage the doubts and questions of those who follow it.
As a result of this failure, every result is tarnished and devalued immediately, which is exactly what we are seeing at the 2015 Tour de France. The riders rankle when questioned about doping. The management generally become irritable and defensive too, preferring to raise the drawbridge up to protect their charges from what they consider to be unfair criticisms (in large part because most of them doped in their careers too).
Commentators mention the odd doping case here and there but refuse to face head on the fact that the reputation of the sport is in tatters.
Examples of how the sport is ‘moving in the right direction’ are offered up and comments are made to how it’s all becoming ‘cleaner’, but the brutal truth of the matter is that people who have been following cycling for any decent length of time and keep up to date with what is going on have lost faith in the veracity of what they are seeing.
This is what those embedded within the sport, the riders and their managers and the staff that make up the backroom scene fail to understand. We are not saying ‘you’re all doping’ (not all of us anyway), but we are at the point where we want to understand what we are seeing, because we have been here so many times before.
Have we not earned the right to ask questions, if nothing else?
Rather than considering us to be the enemy, they, along with the UCI, need to shift their perspective a few degrees to see that we want to understand – and I say ‘understand’ because ‘belief’ requires a leap of faith that they have no right to ask of us anymore.
We love this sport. We love it too much, so much so in fact that we’ve been here through thick and thin and have the bruises to prove it.
Make no mistake, this is an abusive relationship!
Perhaps they feel they needn’t worry about public opinion, not that of the cycling public in any case. The wheels will still turn, the money will in large continue to flow in.
However, at this moment in time the Tour de France is a non-event of an event.
Who will win each day’s stage? Who cares?
You say you’re clean? Prove it.
Lance Armstrong surfaced at the Tour recently to say this:.
“I know what that is like for a guy like Chris to be in the middle of the Tour, to deal with the constant questions, which of course he is, and to be fair and to be honest, a lot of that is my fault.”
Actually Lance, this is the silver lining that emerged from of all the crap you deposited on cycling, revealing the depth of the problem and making it possible for those who ‘believed’ to awake from their stupor and to begin to ask the kind of questions that you never faced, save for from one or two brave souls whose temerity was immediately punished.
If Armstrong’s legacy is to be anything, let it be that we will from here on in we refuse to suspend our disbelief.
And Rodriguez won, by the way…