I got asked quite a bit after my blog yesterday whether or not the status-quo on Plateau de Beille indicates a reduction of doping in cycling. My answer would be two-fold.
- I think no such conclusions can be drawn from how the stages unfold this year. As I pointed out yesterday, Both Andy Schleck and Contador have had decidedly different lead-ups to the Tour this year compared to 2010, so it would not be surprising to see them ride slower. Of the other 8 riders in the 2010 top-10, seven have crashed out of contention or aren’t here for other reasons. Only Sammy Sanchez is there this year (and he also has had quite a different preparation this year). So how do you really compare the level between the two years.
- However, when you look at the data, you can see interesting trends. The sportsscientists.com article I referred to yesterday shows that the climbing has gotten consistently slower in the past few years, and their excellent article on the biological passport shows an encouraging trend. Of course, while this indicates a cleaner sport, one has to be careful with the definition of “cleaner”, as they point out as well.
Either way, it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not one rider can gap another. The sample of 5 top riders is simply too small, the outside influences too large and the data doesn’t apply exactly to them. After all,the sportsscientists.com’s data deals with the entire population, while the way the front of the race unfolds depends on individual riders (see point 1 above).
Furthermore, the data shows a big shift between 2007 and 2008, but we’re seeing a change in “gapability” between 2010 and 2011. Maybe once sportsscientists.com has 2011 data we’ll see a difference with 2010, but for now there is no evidence that cleanliness of the top riders has changed between 2010 and 2011. There is only evidence it has changed between 5-10 years ago and today.