2 answers on 2011 speeds vs cleaner cycling

July 19, 2011

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The weirdest argument I’ve heard is that cycling must be cleaner today because there is a French contender again. As if the French never dope! France has its fair share of confessed doper Tour de France winners (Fignon, Thevenet, Anquetil). Even as recently as the Tour of 2008 (when the test for CERA was introduced without warning), we had a French rider leave the Tour with some vague injury after proclaiming a grand attack the evening before.
The only difference is that with a French rider, they don’t ask for the jersey back the way they did with Riis. Instead they give them a job as announcer or chauffeur. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some French teams with a great attitude, but it’s not black and white.

2 Responses to “2 answers on 2011 speeds vs cleaner cycling”

  1. The french argument is also a way to keep the audience and the interest. Also i believe That some gouvernement are More agressive. The game got so agressive… French vs spanich.

  2. RacePace Says:

    Are we saying that Voekler is the French contender? not sure I class him as a contender? more that the peloton let him make up the time that he needed and then let him get a descent cushion?

    I’m not sure that he would have ridden quite aswell or his team would have turned themselves inside out if he had not been in yellow. I am not belittling his efforts either, he and his team have rode magnificently to control the race since he grabbed the yellow jersey – I just think possibly the french are clutching at a lone hero in the midst of rather a dry spell in mega french talent…

    And the fact that Voekler is in yellow means absolutely nothing to prove the race is any cleaner by having a frenchman in contention. I don’t suppose the data from the road proves much either because unless weather conditions were identical the fact that a stage was covered at a slower pace than the previous year means absolutely nothing – that could be down to the fact the riders have twice as many obstacles to contend with in the form of media cars!

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