2014 Tour: Beware The Sideshow

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The Tour de France should be about racing, that’s why I’m concentrating on the sporting side of things this year, I’m going to try my best to ignore any chat about whether or not Chris Froome got a note from his doctor to dress as a Sumo wrestler, or the usual never-ending doping questions at every press conference. It’s very easy to getting dragged into seeing the incredible performances of riders in the mountains or in time trials & get dragged into the doping debate. This is fuelled by so-called ‘experts’ who ‘calculate’ what power output the think the rider is producing & decide whether or not it’s doped or clean, based on a line in the sand they’ve decided on. I’m having nothing to do with it this year, I’m going to enjoy the racing, here’s why.

Clean Until Proven

That line in the sand (usually described in watts per kg) is set by each ‘expert’, the handy 6W/kg is often used as a handy barometer of human capability. I don’t buy this. I really can’t base the guilt or innocence of a rider based on somebody’s estimated power on a climb. The figures we see are theoretical, based on a pure & constant power output over a 25 to 55 minute climbs over some of the HC & 1 category climbs. Anybody who has used a power meter will know that average power is impossible to maintain, even the training manuals state normalised power as a guide, which is a theoretical average power if you had maintained a constant wattage for the duration of the effort. Any power graph will show spikes & troughs.

The figures we see being banded about appear to compare W/kg on one climb to another on a climb which took a longer to complete. Again, anybody who uses a power meter & has made an attempt to complete a critical power profile will acknowledge that power varies quite a bit over relatively close time ranges. If you took an average critical power over a 30 minute effort, compared to a 50 minute effort, would you expect to be able to record a higher average power for the shorter effort. For example, if you’re a time trialist, can you maintain a higher power output for a ’10’ than you can for a ’25’, of course you can. There is some validity in some of the estimates, but there’s really so much junk out there that I’ve completely switched off to it. Without actual power files you’ll be able to tell nothing, but teams will not give away their best data, even I could analyse it for strengths & weaknesses & I’m just an amateur power enthusiast with some interest & experience in coaching.

In this way, all climbs are incomparable on purely a W/kg basis, as all climbs are a different length & therefore the W/kg number is relative only to that climb. You can’t consider looking at pure number comparison something like the Col du Tourmalet (53mins in 2010) to the Col de Marie-Blanque (28 mins in 2010). This example is just for a time comparison, as they were both in the same stage & the Tourmalet was at the end, so had the Marie-Blanque been ridden at the same intensity, it would have a much shorter time. The data for some riders on this stage is HERE, Contador & Schleck were the riders who climbed the Tourmalet in 53 minutes. As you can see, power fluctuates massively, we are even told that a close encounter with a donkey skewed the figures!

I’m also going to ignore previous misdemeanors for those 3 weeks, I hold riders responsible for what they’ve done in the past, but I’ve no reason to believe they’re still doing it, although I do reserve the right to dislike some individuals, I’ve not totally forgiven everybody. I’m going to be a fan in this Tour, with what some would call a naive approach. I’m going to consider all riders currently clean until I have any information otherwise, this does not include power estimates, this includes hard evidence, like failing a test, getting caught in possession of banned substances (I’ll include a riders wife or parents crossing a border with a car full of EPO or HGH “for their dog” as being evidence to incriminate). I’m not going to get overly bothered if riders are using non-banned products like an inhaler for medical purposes. I want to cleanse my Tour experience & see how it goes, the stories have become far too big already, I really can’t be bothered anymore. So it’s back to basics, enjoy the Tour for sporting values & no speculating about who’s doing what.

I don’t expect anybody else to join me in this, it’s a purely personal thing, I know others love the question marks, but you’ll not see any of this from me during the Tour. It’s an experiment to see if I can get back to the point I started out when watching the Tour, it was magical. I’ll re-evaluate things after the last stage & see if I enjoyed it. If we get a clear winner from early on, I may miss the post stage dramas, it may turn out to be very dull Tour for me, but I really don’t think that’s going to be the case.

So Much More To See

We have an incredible Tour in store, I really can’t see a runaway victory from Sky this year, if Froome does win it looks like it will be with a much reduced winning margin. This opens the door to do-or-die attempts to regain time from other riders, hopefully if the top 5 are close, we should see some fireworks. Contador is back to being a contender, Nibali will hopefully gather some form after what was hopefully a heavy training load he was suffering from in the Dauphine. Just look at the preliminary start list HERE on the procyclingstats website. There’s a pile of opportunists who think they may have an opportunity for a high overall placing in what may be a wide open 2014 Tour.

Adding to the mix on the non-mountain stages, we have two potential teams in a bit of trouble, Belkin & Giant-Shimano. They are both looking for sponsors, which means that their riders are jittery, perhaps not like a cohesive group of riders we expect to see normally, they’ll all be considering their own futures & opportunities to make themselves more attractive in the cutthroat world of pro cycling contract negotiations. Some of the domestiques will be worried about their lack of UCI points & the likelihood that they’ll not even be pro riders in 2015. Situations like this can make the transition stages much more interesting, managers will be encouraging their riders to attack & gain publicity more than ever, while some other riders may go against team orders, trying to avoid the danger of going from the Tour de France one year, to unemployed the next, a real possibility for some dedicated team workers without personal results.

The Gist Of It

I’m looking forward to an experimental Tour viewing experience, going back to an era before we knew what was going on. It’s not a denial of the realities of professional sport, we know people cheat in all sports. Other sports seem to be able to deal with it, in the UK more participants in Rugby get caught than in any other sport, yet there’s little or no discussion of it by the fans. I’m purifying my experience this year, I’ve absolutely no idea what I’m going to take from it, I suspect it won’t be a permanent position, I’m also not denying that doping exists, I just need a break from it. The Tour is about sport, it’s not about the side show which has taken over in the last few years, well, not this year for me anyway.



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