July 16, 2013

Chris Froome's commanding run creates talk about doping

Chris Froome objects to media questions that infer his performance might be artificially enhanced.

The Associated Press

ENTRECHAUX, France - There appears to be little to stop Chris Froome from reaching the Champs-Elysees on Sunday in the yellow jersey and becoming the second straight British cyclist to win the Tour de France.

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Chris Froome of Britain, the overall leader of the Tour de France, heads out for a training run on Monday’s rest day. A series of extraordinarily difficult hills await Tour riders this week.

The Associated Press

After another brutal attack in the mountains on Sunday, Froome leads Bauke Mollema and Alberto Contador by more than four minutes with only six stages left -- four of them suited to him. There is a time trial on Wednesday, followed by three straight days of tortuous climbs in the Alps.

But winning looks like the easy part.

The 28-year-old Froome's physical superiority at the 100th Tour has raised eyebrows, practically inevitable in the climate of suspicion that haunts cycling after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for serial doping.

This year's race is the first since Armstrong lost his titles, and Froome understands the tone of the questions. Still, he was unhappy that doping became a main topic of his news conference on Monday's rest day. That followed his stage win on Mont Ventoux, a mammoth climb in Provence that he tamed with two blistering attacks and where he left Contador -- the 2007 and '09 Tour champion -- lagging behind.

"I just think it's quite sad that we're sitting here the day after the biggest victory of my life ... quite a historic win, talking about doping," Froome said. "Here I am basically being accused of being a cheat and a liar and that's not cool.

"To compare me with Lance, I mean, Lance cheated. I'm not cheating. End of story."

With so many of cycling's recent exploits later shown to have been drug-assisted, people understandably want to know whether they should continue believing. Froome's performances are subject to intense debate on social media, cycling blogs and in mainstream media.

"I can assure you that we are thinking very, very hard about the optimal way of proving to you guys that we're not doping," Sky team manager Dave Brailsford said Monday, adding that the World Anti-Doping Agency could help by appointing an expert to scrutinize Froome.

"They can come and live with us," Brailsford said. "They can have all of our information. They can see all of our data."

Brailsford and Froome would much rather be focusing on the Alps.

And judging by what Contador saw on the 13-mile ascent up Ventoux, the Spaniard has every reason to fear more misery there.

"My objective was to win the Tour, but (Froome) is a level above the rest," Contador said.

If Contador thinks Ventoux was tough, then he will be dreading Thursday's 18th stage -- featuring two big climbs up l'Alpe d'Huez, one of the Tour's most famed mountain passes.

That is bad enough, but Friday's 127-mile trek from Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand looks horrendous.

There is a glimmer of hope for Contador, however, because Froome's Sky teammates have struggled at times. On two stages, Froome had to fend for himself. If that happens again in the Alps -- and if he has a bad day -- he could yet lose a serious amount of time.

"Yes, there is one stage I am looking at. It could be a good day to try something," Contador said through a translator.

"I'm going to look for an opportunity. In one week's time you'll know which one it was."

 

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