The weekly spin: Putting Chris Froome crash conspiracy theories into context

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Chris Froome’s accident was staged. The details surrounding his treatment in the hours that followed his crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné don’t add up. No photos or videos exist from the moments following the crash. The fact that an ambulance was parked so close to the crash site is a little too convenient. The one photo Team Ineos has released, of a hospitalized Froome, doesn’t appear to match the seriousness of the injuries described.

What’s actually taken place is a sophisticated cover-up involving the UCI and the owners of the Tour de France to keep Froome from winning a fifth Tour title. He’s likely serving a secret doping suspension. Or was seeking to avoid a doping control. Or perhaps it’s an elaborate insurance payoff. Also, the Freemasons were involved. This is secret society stuff. There are clues of satanic coding in photos taken from the scene of the “so-called accident.”

These are some of the theories that popped up on Twitter in the days following Froome’s June 12 accident that resulted in a compound and complex fracture to his right femur, a broken elbow and ribs, as well as a broken hip and a fracture to his C7 neck vertebrae.

Some of these theories, such as this all being a Masonic distraction scheme, are beyond the pale. Others — such as those questioning why there hasn’t been more substantial photographic evidence, why Froome was treated on the roadside for two hours before being taken to a nearby hospital, and why Froome looks relatively unscathed in the one photo that’s been released since the crash — are more reasonable.

There is, of course, a difference between asking rational questions and drawing irrational conclusions.

The problem with conspiracy theories, however, is that for some, no explanation is ever sufficient. All new information is fertile ground to spawn new theories; anything slightly misremembered or inconsistent only validates their agenda.

And that in itself is, at some level, as fascinating as it is troubling.

But addressing these theories — and also contextualizing them, as I will attempt to do here — also gives oxygen and legitimacy to extreme claims and unfounded presuppositions. I’ll aim to mitigate that by not identifying anyone floating these ideas; in this article, conjecture will be given a degree of attention, but the individuals behind it will not.

I wasn’t on the ground in the village of Saint-André d’Apchon, where Froome crashed. Neither were the conspiracy theorists. So I reached out to Dan Martin, the Irish rider who was just behind Froome when he crashed. I reached out to journalists who were there, to get their read on the situation. I spoke with an emergency medicine specialist and former team doctor regarding the medical attention Froome received. I spoke with a lecturer in social psychology specializing in conspiracy theories, to better understand why people generate, and perpetuate, conspiracy theories.

And, of course, I reached out to Team Ineos press officers who, predictably, did not wish to give any of these “ludicrous claims” any oxygen. Which, predictably, will in itself give oxygen to those who categorically distrust them.

It’s somewhat a no-win situation, a bit like me tackling this topic — if I end up getting any details even slightly inaccurate in writing this article, CyclingTips will quickly be labeled as part of the conspiracy.

It’s a tricky line to walk in this modern era, where social media and propaganda outlets have, in tandem, made it increasingly difficult to agree on basic common truths. But getting to the truth, as fraught as it might be, remains a worthwhile endeavor.

All together, this is yet another chapter in the seemingly endless scrutiny and skepticism that surrounds Froome and Ineos team manager Dave Brailsford, the man who led Team Sky to six Tour de France victories in seven years with three different riders.

Perhaps there is one thing everyone can agree upon — Froome, Brailsford, and Team Ineos provoke a level of scrutiny unlike any other rider or team in professional cycling.

FACTS, AS REPORTED, AND THE QUESTIONS THEY RAISED

The summation of those questioning the validity of the claims Team Ineos has made of Froome’s accident, and injuries, can be boiled down to a few key areas of concern. There is no photographic or video evidence of the crash or the immediate aftermath. The described treatment Froome received is inconsistent with common emergency medical protocol. Details surrounding his treatment have been sparse, and the injuries described don’t seem to match the photo of Froome the team released on June 15.

There is more to it than this — a lot more, when you take the Freemason theories into account — but we’ll leave that alone.

It’s true that there is very little photographic evidence of the accident. It’s also true that race photographers can’t be everywhere along a 26km time trial course at the same time. This wasn’t a race incident; it wouldn’t have been called out over race radio as it would have if it had happened in competition. Reconnaissance rides take place on a closed course, but they are otherwise wholly a team exercise, not a race exercise.

In footage captured by ITV4 just before the incident, teammate Wout Poels told Froome “you don’t have to take risks, Chris” as Froome took a jacket from a team car and then took both hands off the handlebar of his time trial bike to put it on. Moments later, Froome reportedly took one hand off his handlebar to blow his nose when a gust of wind caught his aerodynamic wheels — including a full disc rear wheel — causing him to lose control and hit a retaining wall at 54 kph (33mph).

Initial reporting from the ground included eyewitness accounts of Froome’s injuries, however no amateur video footage, to my knowledge, has surfaced of Froome crashing, or being treated on the ground. This proves nothing, of course. The crash site was a lightly populated area, at the bottom of a hill, in a neighborhood. It was several hours before racing began. Those who were in the vicinity may have not been carrying smartphones, or may have chosen not to be voyeuristic. These types of people still exist, particularly in small villages in central France.

However, even when there is video footage, it only serves to fuel the fire. Conspiracy theorists found the ITV4 video as evidence of a hoax. Wasn’t Poels’ comment warning Froome not to take risks was a little “too obvious”? How did ITV4 happen to so clearly pick up this foreshadowing bit of audio from Poels — and was that audio from Team Ineos radio? Froome wanted a jacket, but was it really that cold? How is it possible there is footage of Froome taking his hands off the handlebar moments before his crash, but no footage of him on the ground, where he crashed, for two hours?

Responding to some of these questions on Twitter, journalist Daniel Friebe explained it in clear and simple terms — it wasn’t team radio, they filmed nearly every rider pass by, it was cold and windy, and they only learned of Froome’s crash after they returned to the team busses at the start/finish in Roanne.

“It was our ITV cameraman, using the top mic on his camera,” Friebe wrote. “I was standing at the side of the road with him. We heard about the crash an hour or so later, back at the team bus. We stayed there to get reaction, and for a variety of other logistical reasons… I really don‘t want to get into a forensic reconstruction of the whole day. However we shot pretty much every single rider on the race doing their recce, and as I recall many were in long-sleeved jerseys. As for weather, it was quite chilly, cloudy, and wind was gusting.”

Friebe exited the Twitter thread shortly after, writing, “I know it’s a wild ride we’ll go on if I keep replying about other ‘inconsistencies’ but I’m going to unbuckle at this point.”

Chris Froome, pictured a few minutes before he crashed during a TT recon prior to Stage 4 of the 2019 Criterium du Dauphine.

In the hours that followed Froome’s accident, he was treated by three medical teams — initially for about two hours by first responders on the ground near the village of Saint-André d’Apchon, then by doctors at Roanne Hospital, a 20-minute ambulance ride away, where he was “stabilized and assessed,” and finally, after being airlifted, he underwent six hours of surgery at the University Hospital of St Etienne, about 85km from Roanne.

Those who were immediately on the scene after the crash included Poels as well as team director Servais Knaven, Froome’s longtime mechanic Gary Blem, and trainer Tim Kerrison following in a team car. A race doctor was reportedly eating her lunch 50 meters from the crash site, and administered aid until an ambulance arrived. Team Ineos has stated that Blem stayed with Froome throughout the two hours he spent roadside. Froome reportedly lost consciousness after the crash, and ultimately lost about two liters of blood, which would require emergency surgery.

In comments he made a few hours after the crash, Wout Poels provided information that some viewed as contradictory. “We were after the climb on the downhill and the wind took Chris Froome’s wheel and he went down like really, really hard on the floor,” Poels said. “I think we were going 66 or 65kph. It was really bad.”

These minor inconsistencies — Froome hit a wall, not the ground; they were traveling at 54kph when it happened, not 66kph — provided additional fuel for conspiracy theorists.

“The DS car was behind him and luckily there was an ambulance 100 meters next to the course, so they came straight to him,” Poels said. “I didn’t go back but waited a little and saw he was in care, so thought it was better to leave the professionals there and give him the first aid. I didn’t speak with him.”

Questions about Froome’s crash swirled, as did questions about his care. How does a six-time Grand Tour winner crash on a TT reconnaissance ride while blowing his nose? Why was he treated for so long on the ground? Why was he not taken immediately to the University Hospital of St Etienne? Was the team involved in any way in this decision process? If he lost two liters of blood, how was there no visible sign of blood on the ground where the crash took place?

These questions intensified after the first image of Froome in the hospital was released three days later. Where is his IV? Why was he not wearing a neck brace? How is that he has fractures to his sternum and neck, and yet there’s not a visible mark to either?

UNDERSTANDING CONSPIRACY THEORIES

So why do people construct false beliefs? And why are they invested in maintaining them? I posed that question to Mathew Marques, a lecturer in Social Psychology specializing in conspiracy theories at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Marques is also a CyclingTips VeloClub member — in fact, it was our VeloClub Slack group that led us to him as a source. He also wrote an article on this topic, published Tuesday by The Conversation.

The short answer: People sometimes need to create complicated, large explanations to fit what they feel are large events.

The longer answer: They do so to understand their environment and make sense of the world. They do so to feel safe and in control of their environment — they want to regain personal control by rejecting the official narrative and developing their own. They want to maintain a positive image of the self and their social group.

And this last point is especially prevalent on social media, Marques said.

“If believing and sharing in these kinds of beliefs satisfies a desire to belong, and to maintain a positive image for one’s self and other like-minded fans, then this is serving a need to hang out, to collaborate with, to share these conspiracy beliefs with other people who share these beliefs as well.”

“I think that a lot of people are quite fascinated or attracted to conspiracy theories is a fairly normal thing, because most people are trying to understand the world around them,” he continued. “Complex, unusual, high-impact events like this, with very mundane explanations for a multiple Grand Tour winner like Chris Froome crashing by just blowing his nose, don’t really fit together with such a catastrophic event. So, people can create these large-scale narratives to explain what they feel is a big event.”

“People don’t want any kind of a simple explanation for maybe a catastrophic event like 9/11 or something, they don’t want to believe that it was just due to hijacking, they want to believe that there’s maybe more malevolent forces at play. With Team Sky and now Ineos, we have a lot of previous stories or narratives where perhaps the team hasn’t been that transparent and open about things — missing medical files from Dr. Freeman or even the way in which they’ve talked to the media or haven’t been entirely honest in certain cases — and that provides a really good background for a conspiracy relating to Froome’s crash.”

We spoke about the long history of conspiracy theories in pro cycling — theories surrounding the fan that punched Eddy Merckx while he wore yellow at the 1975 Tour de France, the belief that TV helicopters intentionally flew low to blast Laurent Fignon with wind during the final time trial of the 1984 Giro d’Italia, in order to aid Italian Francesco Moser.

Then there’s the fact that cycling fact has often proven, in the end, to be stranger than fiction.

Floyd Landis detailing the doping practices within the US Postal Service team was rife with material for conspiracy theorists. Feigning engine trouble on a remote mountain road in France so the team could transfuse blood inside the team bus at the 2004 Tour? Hot damn, tell me more.

“Cycling has got all these amazing stories, and so given there are some disenfranchised fans, some of them would probably quite easily believe some of these sorts of narratives around Froome,” Marques said. “Past examples feed into current narratives, or the way in which people approach interpreting all the skepticism. If we think of conspiracy beliefs on a continuum, I think it’s quite healthy to be skeptical of authorities or certain processes to a point, but it’s at that point where it becomes sort of more of an ideology or it becomes the lens by which you do everything, then you aren’t perhaps using other processes like stopping and checking the information, or verifying your source, or looking for the more simple explanation. Is it human error, in terms of the media reporting this particular way?”

“Look at the fact that there were no cameras following Froome during his reconnaissance — that’s probably kind of typically normal that there weren’t any photographers on the side of the road. Some of these things that allowed this event to occur in secret, these aren’t really that surprising, but to somebody looking to join the dots, these seem like real connections between all of the events. They didn’t occur due to some sort of coincidence.

“And then they’re extrapolated and interpreted to fit this particular narrative about Froome orchestrating this with Wout Poels. They need Team Ineos to be involved. Dan Martin was a witness to this, but he was sketchy on details. Who are the photographers involved? Were the doctors involved with the information that was given? So, conspiracies need a coalition of actors. People need to see those patterns, they need to assume that the event was planned by intelligent actors, that Froome and his team orchestrated it, there were coalitions between the team, other cyclists, Dan Martin, photographers, medical doctors are all involved.”

One of the things that I find most fascinating is that there are different conspiracy theories being floated about — Froome is part of the Illuminati, Froome is in trouble with the UCI — and yet, on Twitter, those with opposing theories have found one another and seem to support each other even though the genesis of their theories contradict each other. They’re not saying the same thing, but they point to each other as proof that they’re not alone.

“Many conspiracy theories, they’re not falsifiable,” Marques said. “To some extent, it doesn’t matter what evidence you provide, there’s always an alternate explanation, or with the evidence that you’re providing, you are just part of the conspiracy, you are propagating misinformation somehow to add to the conspiracy.”

I reached out to two veteran cycling journalists, both who have covered the team since its inception and have contacts within its ranks. Their views differed, but their requests not to be quoted for this article were consistent.

“Everything about the Cobo bust stinks,” one said. “And maybe it’s a coincidence that Froome will be off the radar for the next eight months, but it’s a fortunate/unfortunate coincidence. And I’m always wary of coincidence. I read, and was shocked, by the reports of Froome’s injuries. Then I saw that photo of him in (according to those reports) the ICU and thought, ‘We’re being taken for a ride here.'”

The other journalist had a very different take: “The original conspiracy theory is a Russian doll that spawns endless others, in a spiral of increasingly irrelevant and diversionary minutiae. I feel like they’re sucking you into a game which, in the end, serves only their dysfunctional agenda. And the more oxygen it gets, the more enticing the whole circus becomes for them. Elements of it fascinate me, but I fear that by engaging we also perpetuate the nonsense.”

On a grander scale, this whole event speaks to an increasingly divisive media climate, where social media and political propaganda outlets offer their own versions of the truth, and world leaders now use this to advance their own agendas, leaving the populace unclear on who, or what, to believe.

At the moment, tensions between the United States and Iran are centered on attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, with US allies asking for stronger evidence than grainy video from an administration led by a president who has told over 10,000 lies in office while repeatedly calling the mainstream news media the “enemy of the people.”

When this is the discourse among the leaders of the free world, it should come as no surprise that trust in authority figures has degraded to the point where a simple crash on a reconnaissance ride, from a rider and team that are already associated with distrust, turns into swirling theories of cover-ups and conspiracies.

This is where cycling is as a sport, and this is where we are, collectively, as a culture.

ASKING THE EMS SPECIALIST

I reached out to Dr. Shannon Sovndal, an Emergency Medical Services medical director who works with Colorado fire departments and ambulance services; he also served as team physician for the American Garmin-Sharp team for seven years. Sovndal said that of all the questions being posed, the one that has the most credence centers on the two hours of treatment Froome received before being taken to Roanne Hospital, 20 minutes away.

Citing the “Golden Hour” — the critical period of time following a traumatic injury during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death — Sovndal said a compound femur fracture would be considered a life-threatening injury.

“I can tell you that if it was a patient that was significantly injured, and had the type of trauma described, you would want to get that patient to a hospital as quickly as possible,” he said. “You need to treat those injuries in the first hour. If you need surgery for a femur fracture, you would want to get that person to the hospital quickly. With a compound fracture, an open fracture, you would not hang out in an ambulance. A femur fracture can be a life-threatening injury, you can lose a lot of blood.”

Asked what sort of treatment Froome might have received at the crash site prior to being taken to the hospital, Sovndal said they would likely have stabilized the femur with a traction splint, but that should not have filled two hours.

“You might stabilize the fracture, and then you transport to the hospital,” Sovndal said. “But there is no indication as to why you would hang out for two hours. I can tell you that if one of my paramedics did that, they would be coming into the office for a discussion. If the injuries are what has been reported, he should have been taken urgently. For that to have taken two hours is inappropriate care in my opinion.”

French EMTs, however, tend to follow different protocols from American EMTs — they first try to stabilize the patient at the scene.

A 2010 article titled “Models of International Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Systems,” by Sultan Al-Shaqsi states that “The Franco-German model of EMS delivery is based on the ‘stay and stabilize’ philosophy. The motive of this model is to bring the hospital to patients. It is usually run by physicians and they have extensive scope of practice with very advanced technology… In contrast to the Franco-German model, the Anglo-American model is based around ‘scoop and run’ philosophy. The aim of this model is to rapidly bring patients to the hospital with less pre-hospital interventions. It is usually allied with public safety services such as police or fire departments rather than public health services and hospitals.”

Sovndal said French EMS systems often have an advanced provider or physician on an ambulance or helicopter, but maintained that two hours of on-the-scene treatment seems excessive either way. “They said he lost significant blood and required hours of surgery,” he said. “Ultimately patients do need to be taken to a facility if they are critically injured.”

The chief orthopedic surgeon at the University Hospital of St Etienne was Dr. Remi Philippot, who said emergency surgery was required to avoid early complications that can develop from the level of trauma Froome had experienced.

Asked about blood loss in this scenario, questions surrounding a lack of blood at the crash site, and emergency surgery, Sovndal said that a femur fracture would generally cause internal bleeding, and that it can be substantial.

“With a fracture of the femur, the patient could bleed a large volume into the space surrounding that bone, that’s why it’s treated as an emergency,” Sovndal said. “It would be bleeding internally into the thigh, and the thigh holds a large blood volume. That amount of blood loss can put so much pressure on a muscle it can cause the muscle to die. I would assume that due to risk of compartment syndrome, they felt they had to relieve that pressure. That’s me reading into the surgeon’s quote.”

In the photo of Froome in hospital, the only part of his body that’s visible is his head, shoulders, and arms. The areas of his reported injuries — ribs, hip, femur — are covered by bedsheets. His right elbow is bandaged. He’s half smiling, and his face is puffy. With his left hand, he’s giving the thumbs-up sign. There are no apparent abrasions, or signs of road rash, but this is not inconsistent with his reported injuries, or with the explanation of the crash, which involved Froome hitting a wall. There’s also no apparent cardiac monitoring equipment nor intravenous cannula displayed in the photo, as one might expect after emergency surgery, for pain management, or because of blood loss.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Byu-vqDgktd/

Sovndal said he thought Froome looked surprisingly good in the photo, adding it appeared it was not taken in an intensive care unit. He also said that a hard side impact with a wall would not necessarily result in road rash, and that a hairline fracture to a cervical vertebra would not necessarily require a neck brace.

“He looks good in the picture, but in medicine, you never say never,” he said. “People can always surprise you with how they look, given their injuries. And it’s true, broken ribs don’t get splinted, neck fractures don’t necessarily need to be splinted. I would say he looks pretty well for all those injuries, and just given the mere fact that he was in surgery for six hours. Often when a patient comes out of all that anesthesia, they are puffy, they usually don’t look great.”

“[Froome] does look great in that picture. He does not look to be in an ICU. He’s not being monitored as you would be in an ICU. There’s no cardiac monitor, there’s no visible IV access. He doesn’t look like he’s being monitored, but if that was taken two days post-op, a patient can go into an ICU for stabilization, and then be downgraded. But he looks well. If you listed those injuries to me and told me I’d look like that with all those injuries, I think I’d be pretty happy.”

HEALTHY SKEPTICISM: THE LEGACY OF TEAM SKY

Let’s back up a moment and make something clear — I don’t believe for a second that Chris Froome’s crash and injuries are a hoax. Just take a moment to consider the complexity in staging an event like this. And I am aware that by addressing these theories, I’m giving them oxygen outside of their respective Twitter bubbles.

But I do believe it’s worth investigating what has led to such skepticism.

Pro cycling has, for years, had its share of “fans” who revel in connecting the dots among clandestine doping networks such as Operacion Puerto, or those who have been affiliated with Dr. Michele Ferrari. And while much of that skepticism is justly warranted, it’s also led to a fringe element of conspiracy theorists convinced that, among other things, the entire pro peloton is either doping, or using motors, or both, while the UCI actively covers it all up.

Still, to my memory, I don’t recall this level of distrust being directed at any individual pro rider or team.

But it’s not happening in isolation, either. Over the past decade Froome and Brailsford, along with Bradley Wiggins and sketchy team doctors Geert Leinders and Richard Freeman, have created a climate of skepticism around their team, its performances, and its explanations.

Let’s consider Froome’s breakthrough ride at the 2011 Vuelta a España, where he finished second overall, 13 seconds behind Spaniard Juan José Cobo. Both men had never shown signs of being a Grand Tour contender. Froome explained his sudden increase in performance due to finally overcoming bilharzia, a little-known parasite found in African bodies of water, which he first discovered in his bloodstream in December 2010.

Last week, just one day after Froome’s accident, news broke that Cobo has been accused of committing an anti-doping rule violation for abnormalities in his biological passport from 2009 to 2011, meaning Froome could be awarded that Vuelta title. That also fed into the conspiracy theories, with suggestions that Cobo had been caught retroactively with a new test, and perhaps Froome had been informed he was going to be next.

Not only was the timing of the UCI’s announcement bizarre, but the obvious implication is that Froome, an until-then unheralded Grand Tour rider, was on par with a doped rider shortly after he eradicated a parasitic infection.

It’s fair to say Froome’s time in the spotlight began under unusual circumstances. And it’s never really leveled out.

Chris Froome broke through at the 2011 Vuelta a España, winning Stage 17 and finishing second overall, 13 seconds behind Juan Jose Cobo.

Some of that ties back to Brailsford, and the way Team Sky handled accusations of misconduct. It took Brailsford three months to explain that Simon Cope had flown from Manchester to Geneva in 2011 so that Bradley Wiggins could be treated with over-the-counter fluimucil at the Critérium du Dauphiné, rather than the high-potency prescription-strength triamcinolone for which he held a Therapeutic Use Exemption.

Richard Freeman, the Team Sky doctor who treated Wiggins, is alleged to have lied about a 2011 testosterone order when testifying before the UK Anti-Doping Agency in February 2017. He also testified that the laptop that contained the only record of medications administered to Wiggins during 2011 was stolen while on holiday in Greece in 2014. In 2017, Freeman ducked out of an appearance before a Commons select committee, citing ill health; again, this year, he skipped a medical tribunal hearing, which has been rescheduled.

These are just a few examples of Team Sky’s tenuous relationship with fair play. The list goes on and on: claims that Froome’s power data from Mont Ventoux at the 2013 Tour was hacked, when it had actually been leaked; the controversy around Froome’s adverse analytical for excessive salbutamol from the 2017 Vuelta a España, which ultimately led to WADA and the UCI dropping the investigation; the team’s reticence to address Gianni Moscon’s repeated altercations with other riders; the team’s massive budget, and shameless buying up of top talent.

Viewed in totality, there are many reasons this team has fostered ill will, and faces these sorts of accusations. That doesn’t excuse anyone from making wild accusations about a man who had a life-threatening accident, but it does help explain it.

FACT VS. FABRICATION: A RECKONING

So where does fact end, and fabrication begin? Let’s start with the crash itself.

For starters, I’m guessing that most of those who question how this crash happened have never ridden a time trial bike with a rear disc and deep-dish front wheel. It’s a race set-up that is very aerodynamic in headwind conditions, but can be quite dangerous in gusty crosswinds. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the riders recon TT courses — to learn the layout of the course as well as to make final decisions on wheel selection.

That Froome would take one hand off the bars to blow his nose is, of course, completely believable. That said, TT bikes are notoriously twitchy and less stable than drop-bar road bikes, and a crosswind gust could very easily cause a rider with just one hand on the bars to lose control, particularly at speed. A few riders who have crashed in time trials due to wind, with both hands on the bars, including Andy Schleck, at the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné, and Niki Terpstra, at the 2011 Three Days of De Panne.

I suppose it’s fair to call Froome’s decision a lapse in judgment — assuming you believe he should have predicted a strong crosswind gust. It’s also fair to say that a six-time Grand Tour winner and two-time Olympic time-trial medalist knows what he’s doing, and this was a convergence of unfortunate circumstances. In his interview after witnessing the accident, Martin said something similar had happened to him when he took a hand off the handlebar of his TT bike while training, albeit at lower speeds.

As far as Froome’s medical care, it’s fair to ask questions. It’s fair to suggest that mistakes may have been made along the way. It’s fair to question if the depth of his injuries aren’t quite as they’ve been reported — or to ask for more details. Was an intramedullary rod inserted into his femur? If not, why not? Does Froome’s cervical vertebra fracture require a neck brace? These seem like simple questions to answer.

But to subscribe to this conspiracy theory would be to suspend belief in Froome and his entire Team Ineos staff — Poels, Knaven, Blem, and Garrison at the scene of the accident, as well as Brailsford and team doctor Richard Usher — as well as to disbelieve UAE Team Emirates manager Neil Stephens and rider Dan Martin, who were 20 meters behind Froome and Poels in their team car at the top of the descent.

Martin told Cyclingnews he saw Froome hit the wall, and he was apparently visibly shaken when recalling the incident, saying he thought Froome “could have been dead.” To subscribe to this conspiracy theory would be to accuse Martin of lying to cover for a rider — a GC rival — who he has never had team affiliation with throughout his career. Like Team Ineos, Martin declined to comment, saying he did not wish to give these theories or the people who perpetuate them any credibility.

A Google Maps screenshot of the wall Froome struck; a gust of wind blew him from left to right, and into the wall in the background.

To subscribe to this conspiracy theory would be to accuse the dozens of medical staff at the Roanne and St Etienne hospitals who treated Froome, including head surgeon Remi Philippot, as being complicit in the cover-up.

To subscribe to this conspiracy theory would be to believe that all of these people agreed to play a part in an elaborate hoax. What would be their incentive? How much money would be required to pull this off? Who would be spending this money? Who would have planned it?

A certain skepticism when it comes to Froome and Ineos is justified. But the suggestion that they faked a crash to stop him from winning a fifth Tour, as part of a complex cover-up in collusion with the UCI — rather than the more simple explanation that he had an accident and crashed his bike — is stretching credulity beyond its limits.

Just think about the level of sophistication, planning, and collaboration required to pull off a hoax like this, and ask yourself, what is the most plausible explanation? I suspect most of you know the answer. And yet the fact that some folks would embrace that idea also reflects the space where Froome and Team Ineos now exist.

A WORTHWHILE ENDEAVOUR

So where does all this leave us? Has anyone’s mind been swayed, one way or another?

There are valid reasons to distrust Team Ineos, and personally, I am in favor of questioning anyone who is in an authoritative position, particularly those who may have violated our trust in the past. There are valid reasons to question why certain decisions were made immediately before and after Froome’s accident. But none of this amounts to a valid reason to suggest Froome was not seriously injured on June 12.

I think it’s important to end this by taking a step back and looking at the human side of this discussion. Chris Froome, a 34-year-old husband and father of two, could have died last week, and he may never be the same athlete again. His goal of winning five Tours may have ended that day in the village of Saint-André d’Apchon; just returning to the pro peloton may ultimately be viewed as a victory.

Whether or not you like Froome, it’s a sad way for a sportsman’s reign to come to an end.

At the same time, I also understand that Froome, and Team Ineos, provoke a level of scrutiny that’s unlike any other rider or team in the sport.

And while it’s reasonable to think there is no amount of evidence the team could provide that some conspiracy theorists would find indisputable, and ignoring these questions is their prerogative, I maintain that additional transparency would go a long way to help paint the full picture — and to put some of these questions to rest.

Getting to the truth, as fraught as it might be, remains a worthwhile endeavor for fans and journalists alike. However for some, big explanations will always be required for what they see as big events.

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