Tomorrow, barring the pavement opening up and swallowing him, Chris Froome of the Sky Team will win the Tour de France. And for the next “ten years” we’ll all wonder if he did so without the help of drugs.
There are many reasons to suspect Froome, which we’ve discussed before, but a recent interview with Jonathan Vaughters, boss of a rival team, brings up another–it’s not just that he’s winning but HOW he’s winning.
Froome’s winning margin is likely to be over five minutes, 5:03 to be exact, and it would be 5:23 had he not had a time penalty for blatantly cheating by taking on food when he was not allowed to, a blunder he tried to fob off on a teammate.
That’s a huge margin.
In 1989 and 1990, before synthetic EPO became prevalent in cycling, Greg Lemond won the race by 8 seconds and by 2 minutes and 16 seconds. Between 1991 and 2005, the “doping era” which included the wins of admitted dopers Riis, Ulrich, Pantani and Armstrong, the average winnng margin was 5 minutes and 1 second. While few would argue that cycling has been clean since, most would argue it’s certainly been clean-er, and once again we’ve seen winning margins come down. The winning margin from 2006 through 2012 was 1 minute 40 seconds. (Indeed, if you exclude the performance of Froome’s Sky teammate, Bradley Wiggins last year, the recent wins have been even narrower, 1’23”.)
Number of stage wins by a Tour winner shows a similar pattern. During the doping era, the Tour winner averaged winning 2.4 stages. Since, it’s been one stage win per year.
So where are we? Froome is going to win by 5’03” and will have won 3 stages when he arrives in Paris. During the dirty years, the typical winner won by 5’01” and won 2.4 stages. During recent years, the winner has won by 1’40” seconds and has won 1 stage. The last cyclist to win by more than five minutes? Lance Armstrong in 2004. The last Tour winner to win more than two stages? Lance Armstrong.
In other words, Froome is winning like winners won in the dirty days. In fact, he’s winning EXACTLY like Armstrong won. Armstrong’s winning marging during his seven wins was 5’23” and his average number of stage wins was 3, the same numbers as Froome to the second.
Does this prove he’s dirty? No, but it certainly makes it OK to ask the question.