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Trial by data

Felix Lowe - Trial by data
Felix Lowe
21 Oct 2015

While cynics are eager to prove that the whole peloton is dirty, it’s better to simply enjoy the sport.

If you have trouble differentiating your VAMs from your VO2 maxes and your watts from your ‘whats?!’ then fear not, you’re far from alone. The latest fad in the on-going fight against doping is the release of riders’ power data. Not that it really steers the ship away from the murky waters of denial and mud-slinging.

These numbers, you see, can quite easily be manipulated to fit the narrative of both those who claim innocence or those who suspect impropriety. Which is why there’s even talk of the UCI offering journalists next season a crash course on how to interpret power data.

This may stop Chris Froome labelling us potential pseudo-scientists ‘clowns’ as he did before the Tour de France, during which his hacked data led to every fan and his dog pitching in on the ‘has-he-hasn’t-he?’ debate. You have to feel for Froomey and Sky. There are certain personas digging around on forums such as Twitter who, blinded by their own hypocrisy, pedal the lazy line that all cyclists are by nature liars and dopers.

Their modus operandi is simple scare-mongering while feeding off the sport’s grey area like brain-sucking vampires. Don’t be fooled – a clean sport would kill these anonymous commentators as quickly as a faulty internet connection.

In the 10-odd years I’ve written about cycling, the five questions I’ve most frequently been asked are: ‘Is Lance Armstrong doping?’, ‘Is Alberto Contador doping?’, ‘Is Bradley Wiggins doping?’, ‘Is Chris Froome doping?’ and ‘What do cyclists do when they need a s***?’.

Arnaud Démare kindly helped answer the final question, but the other four are stinkers of varying urgency. Just because answers #1 and, at certain meal times, probably #2 were ‘yes’, doesn’t make the remaining two affirmative by default.

When a retested sample of Damiano Caruso’s blood from 2012 was recently found to have traces of EPO, the attempted Sky slant rolled out by some trolls was predictable: how are we meant to believe that Wiggins and Froome are clean when they are trouncing mid-level dopers?

From Armstrongs Neil to Lance, there will always be conspiracy theories. While some deserve to be mooned at, others are more than mere theories – hence the parallels made between US Postal and Sky.

Oddly, we now live in a world where it’s common currency to say that David Walsh, the journalist instrumental in toppling Lance, has been brainwashed by Brailsford, rather than accept Walsh’s assertion that Sky is clean.

Froome’s latest bid to clear his name involves a series of physiological tests from which he will share data in a bid to gain trust from the public. It’s a bit rum that his results will only be shared ‘later this year’ (why the delay?), while the irony of proving a negative by using the laboratory of a pharmaceutical company clearly eluded Sky. As PR stints go, it’s right up there with EPO pioneers Amgen sponsoring the Tour of California.

But it at least shows a willingness on Froome’s part to play ball. ‘I believe someone has to stand up for the current generation,’ he said, after describing the latest doping rumours as ‘nuts’. Of course to some this denial simply reeks of guilt and supplies more fuel for their cynical commentaries. Look, I don’t blame people for their rigid scepticism. But it still utterly bores me. It’s too easy to tar the entire peloton with the same filthy brush. It’s far braver to stick up for a fellow cyclist/human than it is being an armchair Paul Kimmage.

Suspending all disbelief until the next inevitable bombshell drops is not the answer – but neither is refusing to enjoy cycling on the grounds that it’s a mere pharmaceutical freakshow.

Enjoy cycling while you can and deal with the fallout later. Living with such chronic levels of cynicism must be far worse for the health than having to exercise at 3am for fear of one’s blood turning to redcurrant jelly – nuts or no nuts.

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