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by Shane Stokes
December 4, 2015
Photography by Kristof Ramon
As anticipated, Esquire magazine has published details of lab test data from Tour de France champion Chris Froome. Froome underwent testing after this year’s Tour, responding to calls for transparency, and the magazine has published details of that laboratory analysis.
It has also given some details of a 2007 test he did while at the UCI World Cycling Centre, as well as some blood values from then and from this July and August.
Froome’s testing took place on Monday August 17 at the GlaxoSmithKline Human Performance Lab in Brentford, London. He was examined by GSK senior sports scientists Phillip Bell and Matt Furber, as well as the lab’s director of research and development, Ken van Someren.
The testing was observed by Jeroen Swart, a highly-regarded sports physician and exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town who is also part of South Africa’s doping control review commission.
According to the assessment, Froome’s weight was 69.9 kg on the day of the test, increasing from a Tour weight of 67.
Of that, 61.5 kg was lean weight, and 9.8 percent, or 6.7 kg, was fat.
The test protocol was a pair of submaximal efforts, one in cool and the other in hot conditions. These were used to determine his sustainable power. These were split by a VO2max test.
The results of the latter showed that his VO2max was 84.6 which, when his increased weight since the Tour was considered, would translate in to a value of 88.2.
This is in the ballpark of several previous Grand Tour winners, and slightly less than Greg LeMond’s 92.5.
In terms of other figures, his peak power and sustained power were 525 watts and 419 watts respectively.
The latter is 5.98 watts per kilogram and, when adjusted for a reported Tour weight of 67 kg, would be equivalent to 6.25 watts per kilogram.
According to Swart, he disagrees with the suggestion by French coach Antoine Vayer that such a figure is suspicious.
“I’ve seen a value of 5.8w/kg being spoken of as the upper limit of human performance for a 40-minute effort,” Esquire quotes him as saying. “But 6.2w/kg is definitely doable for Chris for 20 minutes if not longer.”
He is also impressed but unperturbed by the sustained power figure, which equates to 79.8 percent of his peak power.
“That’s a completely reasonable percentage,” he states.
Froome also provided figures from his 2007 lab test at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland. His VO2max then was 80.2, but his reported body weight then was 75.6 kilos, of which 16.9 percent was body fat.
His sustained power was practically identical between 2007 and 2015, 420 watts to 419 watts, while his peak power was higher in the earlier test. He put out 15 watts more then, 540 watts.
Swart describes his body fat as ‘chubby’ for an elite cyclist. “The engine was there all along. He just lost the fat.”
Froome also released blood test data from August 20, three days after his test, and one carried out on the first rest day of the Tour de France on July 13.
Both were biological passport tests.
The earlier blood draw revealed a haemoglobin (red blood cell) level of 15.3 grams per litre (g/l) and a reticulocyte, or immature blood cell level, of 0.72 per cent of total red blood cells. His Off-score, which is a measurement calculated from these two figures, was 102.1.
On August 20 his haemoglobin level was again 15.3 g/l. His reticulocyte level was up to 0.96 and his Off-score was 94.21.
Just one figure is available from his 2007 test, when his haemoglobin was 14.5 g/l.
CyclingTips has reached out to several individuals for their assessment of the data, and will publish their responses.
In the meantime, some initial impressions.
The VO2max data from 2007 (when adjusted for the subsequent weight loss) and 2015 do suggest a physiology that fits with that of a Grand Tour winner. Ditto for the sustained power figure.
Both figures were accurately predicted by the South African sport scientist Ross Tucker in this preview.
In that article, both Tucker and US sports physician Mike Puchowicz stressed the need for longitudinal data, including biological passport details, in order to be able to conclude that race performances and the lab test data were clean.
Unfortunately, the blood records provided in Esquire are limited in number. There are just two blood data points from this season, plus an incomplete figure from 2007.
For example, there are no historical blood figures from the 2011 season, where Froome made a breakthrough in the Vuelta a Espana and first showed he should be considered a Grand Tour winner.
A wishlist of data is also missing the medical records that would back up Froome’s explanation of below-par form in early 2011, and previous years, as being the result of bilharzia and asthma.
The initial conclusion, then, is that the release of data is commendable, given that it shows more transparency than other Grand Tour riders, but also incomplete.
The double Tour winner has said that a scientific paper will follow, and its possible that more information will be released then.
Otherwise, the Esquire article will not change much. Those who already believed in Froome will feel justified, encouraged by the strong physiological test results.
Those who were sceptical will want and need more information and data in order to change their minds.
In the meantime, Froome is adamant all is above board. He accepts that the history of cycling means that there will be sceptics. “Questions do need to be asked. As long as the questions are fair, I’m happy to answer them,” he told Esquire.
He also insists that he is doing things the right way.
“I know what I’ve done to get here. I’m the only one who can really say 100 per cent that I’m clean. I haven’t broken the rules. I haven’t cheated. I haven’t taken any secret substance that isn’t known of yet. I know my results will stand the test of time, that 10, 15 years down the line people won’t say, ‘Ah, so that was his secret.’ There isn’t a secret.”
Click here to read the Esquire article.