Le Tour 2018 – Stage 1 (and a few words on Salbutamol)
Salbutamol. A medical word that only a relatively small group of people were aware of a couple of weeks ago including of course those who suffer from asthma, a genuinely unpleasant and at times quite frightening condition. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of WADA, UCI, Team Sky and whole load of journalists and commentators, pretty much everyone with a vague interest in sport, never mind cycling, has heard of it. And since we live in the age of the internet, of Google, of social media and a peculiar (and deeply worrying) mistrust of ‘experts’, we have to witness a procession of keyboard warriors (on both sides of the argument it must be said) becoming overnight experts on a highly technical matter despite having no medical qualifications whatsoever. Like us, you’ve no doubt lost count of the number of self professed experts who have passed judgement on Chris Froome. One wonders how many have bothered to read the various statements issued by WADA and UCI, let alone any of the detail that sits behind them. It’s pure speculation of course, but it’s likely to be a small percentage.
One of the depressing characteristics of the age in which we live is that detail, facts, rigorous analysis and considered argument are often deemed much too tedious and far too much like hard work for so many. No, far simpler to post on social media (usually under a non-traceable pseudonym) something deeply thoughtful along the lines of “I still know you cheated and this changes nothing” which, incidentally, is almost certainly libellous.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to make the effort to read as much as we can that’s relevant and we’ll have a go at writing something about it. In the meantime, the facts are that this was not a doping violation, it was an Adverse Analytic Finding. Indeed, WADA appear to have decided there was not even a case to answer which, although it may sound like semantics, is not the same as a case being dropped. Doubt has also been cast on the efficacy of the tests for salbutamol and it is arguable that without Team Sky’s resources being applied to this, we may never have known that in quite the same high profile way as we do now. So perhaps some good will come out of all this.
What is definitely the case (and even those who I have spoken to who remain highly sceptical of the outcome agree) is that Froome has conducted himself throughout this whole process in a remarkably calm and professional manner under great personal pressure which makes some of the attacks even more absurd. None probably more so than Bernard Hinault calling for a riders’ strike before WADA and UCI had made any decisions public; the cycling equivalent of finding a barrel and scraping the very bottom of it. Froome will no doubt conduct himself with his usual calm and measured approach over the next 3 weeks during the race which for good (as well as perhaps some not so good reasons) promises to be a bit of cracker. We’ll have to wait and see.
So what of Stage 1, the innocuous looking 201km flat stage from the island start at Noirmoutier en l’ile to Fontenay le Comte. All went pretty much to plan until around 5km from the finish. First. Arnaud Demare, a decent outside bet for the stage, crashed. Then Porte, Froome and Yates followed suit. They all managed to remount pretty quickly and finished the stage some 50 seconds down on the leaders. Quintana was not so lucky however suffering a double mechanical just 3.4km out. That was doubly frustrating for him since had the incident occurred just half a km further down the road and he would have benefited from the neutralising rule of the last 3km. Whilst the Mavic neutral car helped him with a pair wheels, he had to watch helplessly as the Froome group flew past him. More worryingly for Froome, Porte, Quintana et al is that the other decent shouts for the GC (Dumoulin and Bardet) finished just behind the sprint finish. Incidentally, despite all the fun in the Peleton, we should also say well done to Fernando Gaviria for out-sprinting Peter Sagan (no mean feat) to become just the second Colombian to wear yellow.
So onto another flat stage today and already there’s tension at the top. If it carries on like this, we have a great Tour to look forward to. Bring it on.