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by Shane Stokes
July 20, 2015
Photography by Gerry McManus, Cor Vos
VALENCE, France (CT) – Triple Tour de France winner Greg LeMond has appealed for greater transparency in the sport of cycling, saying that the riders, teams and bodies such as the UCI all have a part to play in helping to win back public trust.
The American, who is on the race as a Eurosport presenter, was commenting after race leader Chris Froome and his Sky team complained that they were not being given a fair reception by fans alongside the road.
Froome said on Saturday’s 14th stage that a spectator threw urine in his face. He blamed elements of the media for setting the tone which led to that. While he did not name those concerned, it is widely considered that former French professionals Laurent Jalabert and Cedric Vasseur, now both working in media, are amongst those he had in mind.
It is likely that the coach Antoine Vayer was also one of those he referred to. Vayer has questioned Froome in the past over having climbing speeds approaching those of Lance Armstrong and other riders from the same era.
Team Sky counters that Froome is a hugely talented rider who was held back early on due to health issues.
LeMond said that he would like to see the individuals in the sport offering up more data, with VO2 Max – a measure of maximal oxygen capacity – one of the most important.
While many put greater weight on the ability to work at a high percentage of VO2 Max for a long period, pinpointing VO2 Max is useful in determining the total engine size of an athlete.
Although all eyes are on the yellow jersey by virtue of the fact he is the most dominant in the race, LeMond stressed that he didn’t want to single out any individual.
“My deal with this is not about Chris Froome or anybody specific. It is more about the tools are there with the UCI and the Tour de France,” he said, speaking after his post-stage show on Eurosport.
“It is not just one rider. Nobody likes to have the speculation that has been going on. Maybe in the future we should bring in the best research scientists, we should bring in the best qualified VO2 Max machines.
“People have to do medical testing in France to get their licence. So why should that not be required to have a professional licence?”
Although in recent years some of those questioning the sport have pointed to blazingly fast rides on mountains as reason to worry, LeMond said that a fast time up a single time shouldn’t form the basis for the assessment of the cleanliness or not of a rider.
“It is not good enough to go, ‘this guy is guilty.’ I don’t think you should ever make that judgement off of one climb over a bigger trend. But is a good way to kind of work out the potential [they would need to have].
“If you consider the potential of somebody really doping…when you look at what happened in the 90s, you are talking about 6.5, 6.8, 7 watts per kilo. Unless that person can test that way in a lab [it’s suspicious – ed.]…
“And there shouldn’t be anything to hide. Do the test.”
Like the FDJ trainer and cycling analyst Fred Grappe, LeMond states that Froome’s performances appear to be within the realms of possibility, but that this depends on him having a high natural VO2 Max.
“What we are looking for is the long term, over twenty minutes, over thirty minutes, over forty minutes, that aerobic capacity. How close you get to your VO2 Max,” he said, explaining the basis of high performance.
“All the world class athletes are trying to get as close as they can to VO2 Max, that sustainable output.
“If you can do that for higher workloads, not for just 30 minutes, but repeat, maybe an hour and half of that over a day’s stage, that is what makes the difference. But there is a human limit. Everybody has got a genetic maximum that they can do.
“I know this because I have been using SRMs since 1992. I have watched my watts and watched my power.”
While LeMond retired over 20 years ago, he said that his ability to use oxygen remains the same as when he was a competitive racer. “I took 6.4 litres in [as a pro],” he said, by way of example. “I did a VO2 Max test at 47 [years of age] and I take 6.4 litres in. My weight is way different, but when I saw my wattage output after four months [training], I was 380 watts sustainable for 30 minutes. It kind of matched.
“I know exactly where I was 15, 20 years ago…It doesn’t really change. Now what would change it is blood doping, that could artificially boost the VO2 Max. If your haematocrit is 45 and you boost it to 50, you can improve it quite a bit. Because of that, you have to combine [VO2 Max] testing with the passport.
“Can people do what Chris did on the first mountain stage? I think it was 6.1 watts per kilo…I think that is within the realm of human performance. That is the best indicator.
“But ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is one long stage or a short stage, everyone is going to have a maximum watts per kilo. If you record that enough, it is no different than the passport profiling. You will get to see if these rides are [legitimate].”
LeMond said that as things are right now, there is a real danger to Sky that their dominance will continue to be questioned until the end of the Tour and beyond. He argues that the team, the riders and the sponsor have everything to gain from any steps that increase transparency.
“I think that the problem is – and this is not to critique Brailsford or anybody at Sky – but when you hear talk of marginal gains, this is kind of what Armstrong used in the past. That brings up a little bit of sensitivity.
“When I hear that some teams have got some magical formula, sleeping better, it does make a difference. As a team directing the riders who are trying to recover, I understand that. But to say that is the reason for really high performance…it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
His point is that explaining away the team’s dominance simply based on that element is unlikely to reassure people.
“It is part of the overall picture of maintaining a healthy team, but don’t point that to be reason why somebody is performing at a very high level. It is nothing to do particularly with Brailsford, but I know enough about the science of it.
“I can see the weight drop could be very important, but there is always a price to pay too. You lose a lot of weight, you lose muscle mass.”
Sky said two years ago that it had never performed a VO2 Max test on Froome. However the rider himself has said that he underwent a VO2 Max test while part of the UCI World Cycling Centre project as a young rider, although he has not released that data.
LeMond would like to see this done, and also for new VO2 Max testing to be carried out on the Briton and indeed all riders. In his view, anything that increases transparency can only help the credibility of clean cyclists.