Opinion: Why Chris Froome’s data release is warranted, overdue and potentially a big step forward

by Shane Stokes


Later this week Chris Froome will release a range of data which he believes answers the calls for transparency and which he hopes will end doubts about his performances. He’s going further than other Tour de France winners, but will it be enough?

Details are scarce at this point in time, but during the Tour he said that he would do testing after the event and would make the data available. Then, on November 7, he clarified what was happening.

That date has been delayed by one day, meaning that the details will be available online on Friday. The magazine release will follow early next week.

While some supporters of the team have described it as unfair that Froome is under pressure to go public with such data, he and his Team Sky squad find themselves in this position for several reasons.

Firstly, he’s the rider who won the Tour after the Lance Armstrong/ US Postal Service findings were made public in 2012, and after the Texan had his confessional with Oprah Winfrey in early 2013.

As he and Sky Principal Dave Brailsford noted during the successful 2013 Tour campaign, the enormity of the Armstrong case meant that whomever won the race in the wake of that scandal would inevitably end up under the microscope.

Secondly, Froome has dominated his rivals, riding away from them in 2013 and again this year en route to victory. He’s also done the same in a number of other races.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, his Team Sky squad laid out a clear goal several years ago of earning people’s trust. Brailsford stated that aim in several interviews. The book Sky’s the Limit was one of those.

“Our job is to prove beyond doubt that it can be done clean. The legacy of that would be phenomenal,” he stated then.

In 2011 he also stated that to the Guardian: “the whole point of our team is to try and demonstrate that it is possible to cycle clean and compete at the highest level.”

It’s a noble pledge, but one the team has simply not delivered upon. Since 2012 Sky has won three Tours. It took that year’s edition with Bradley Wiggins, who rode above his previous level for the entire season. It then triumphed 12 months later with Chris Froome and again this summer.

Despite that 75% success rate in four years, the team has done little in terms of its stated mission of ‘proving beyond doubt’ that those wins have been clean.

Instead, it has made commitments that it hasn’t followed through on.

Unfulfilled pledges and incomplete data

In 2013 Brailsford and the team handed over climbing data to the French physiologist Frederic Grappe. He analysed it and concluded that Froome’s performances were theoretically within the bounds of plausibility, but that this was dependent on him having an extremely high level of natural ability.

In order to be able to make a proper call on this, Grappe stated that he would need to see the results of VO2max tests — a measure of maximal aerobic capacity.

Asked by a journalist if the team would hand over said data, Brailsford was blunt in his response to that individual.

Dave Brailsford: We don’t do VO2max. Be careful what you are saying here. The fellow has never done a VO2max test, so how can I give somebody a VO2max if he hasn’t done one? Be careful what you are saying…

Journalist: …he [Grappe] urges you to do the test after the Tour.

DB: We are speaking to him direct, you know what I mean. We know what he is urging us to do, thanks.

J: But would you be willing to come forward and do that?

DB: Do a VO2max test? Whenever he is a lab next, whenever it is, yeah. But it is not something that we do as a matter of course, you now?

The response, and the manner in which it was delivered, was problematic.

Firstly, Brailsford’s suggestion that Froome had never done a VO2max test was simply not accurate: he had done one while with the UCI World Cycling Centre in 2007.

Secondly, despite the commitment to do a VO2max when Froome was next in a laboratory and to give that data to Grappe, that was never done.

Unsurprisingly, two years later, the Tour leader found himself answering the same questions once again.

Repeated calls for openness

On this occasion questions of Froome’s performance were prompted by the rider’s dispatching of other contenders on the first mountain stage of this year’s Tour.

The demand for transparency then intensified when data emerged of Froome’s win on Mont Ventoux in 2013. Power, cadence, heart rate and speed figures appeared over a video of the stage, showing his win in clear detail.

The team claimed at the time it had been hacked, generating a media frenzy, yet then refused to discuss the matter the following day.

Instead, Brailsford said that he wouldn’t comment, appearing somewhat elusive.

With pressure increasing, Froome and Team Sky released some limited data from stage ten on the second rest day, but this only increased the debate.

Despite the fact that he dropped all the other contenders, the cited average power figure of 5.78 watts per kilo was actually lower than the published power output of those he beat.

The maths didn’t add up.

“You cannot make those numbers fit,” South African sports scientist Ross Tucker pointed out to CyclingTips at the time. He used an analogy to illustrate his point. “How can a car travelling 60 miles per hour go faster than a car travelling 70? It is ridiculous.”

As Tucker noted, the release of limited and contradictory data was worse that no data at all.

“l know some people will now say ‘you can never be satisfied because you have asked for transparency and they have given it.’ But I am afraid this is not transparency, in my opinion.”

A little over four months later Froome will go a step further. The release of data will include the VO2max test from 2007 and, presumably, the same sort of information from his lab test after the Tour.

He’s taken the decision himself to put the numbers out there. It is, apparently, something the team didn’t want him to do, but he has decided otherwise.

Will it be enough? It’s impossible to answer that question at this point, prior to seeing exactly what is released. Will it include biological passport data, both from this season and other years? If so, will the blood work include the period before he made his breakthrough at the 2011 Vuelta a España?

Will it include medical certification showing the illnesses he said held him back?

What about therapeutic use exemption disclosures, which would show the medication he was allowed take after requesting medical clearance?

We’ll know more on Friday but, providing the data release is extensive, Froome could be taking an important step towards showing the full transparency that his team pledged years ago, but hasn’t yet delivered upon.

Equally importantly, the example from a reigning Tour de France champion will put the focus on other successful riders.

Will they follow suit? If not, why not?

Transparency by one must be a catalyst for transparency by all.

We want to believe, so show us that we should.

Also see: What Chris Froome needs to do to address doubts: cycling analysts weigh in

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