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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Froome's first mountain performance: Cue debate

Froome takes yellow with a commanding climb.  What are the implications?

Very briefly, before this first mountain day of the 2013 Tour de France is over, some brief thoughts on the Ax-3-Domaines stage from earlier today.  The post below has been pasted across from our Facebook page earlier today, where time constraints will drive first responses.  Follow that page or Twitter for first responses, short thoughts, and some discussion that will precede detailed analysis as this Tour progresses.

I will try to get that detail done tomorrow, when I'll look at the various segments of the climb for Chris Froome.

For now, three parting thoughts:

  1. It was fast, very fast. The 23:14 ascent of Ax-3-Domaines puts Froome in third on the all-time list for the climb, behind only Laiseka and Armstrong in 2001. The VAM of 1715 m/h converts to a power output of 6.3 W/kg (Ferrari method) and about 6.5 W/kg with other models (CPL, rst). Very fast.

  2. Before today's performance is instantly condemned as proof of nefarious pharmacology in the sport, keep in mind what I've tried to emphasize many times over the last few years, which is the context of the climb and variability around performance. For example, this climb was done in Stage 12, 13 and 14 of the 2001, 2003 and 2005 Tours, respectively. The earlier placement in week 1 as the first climb of the Tour may affect performance. Also, variability in conditions (particularly wind and heat) make it impossible to make 'guilt by performance' proclamations. Let's wait to analyze the entire Tour, the collection of climbs, and then compare to history's known dopers. The problem when you get too close in is a kind of "performance pixelation", so step back and see the whole screen. That will happen in time.

  3. Having said that, what was noteworthy today were the enormous gaps created on the final climb. That's because with the exception of Froome and perhaps Porte, the rest of the peloton performed in a manner that is typical of cycling over the last few years. Their performances were consistent with post-biological passport levels, and matched or even fell short of the prediction models. It was only Froome and Sky who exceeded them. Therefore, skepticism is normal, and failing to appreciate that will come only from extreme naivety or patriotism. History has taught us the value of some healthy cynicism, and if this level continues for three weeks, it makes for an uncomfortable Tour, of that there is no doubt.

Either it is one exceptional individual, or...well, we know the rest, we have seen this movie too often in the sport.

But, this is something only time will tell, as it always does.

More tomorrow, hopefully.


Finally, in the interests of time, if anyone is going to raise variability, weather, wind, assumptions etc as sources of error in the estimate, you're absolutely right.  But please note, that does not make this a worthless exercise.  All it means is that we cannot, and should not, reach firm conclusions.  but we can try to understand through a process.

That's why these articles were written - they're my attempt at explaining the importance of context.  I guess I'm a believer in "complex uncertainty", and what has been frustrating in this debate thus far is the desire for what I'd call "ignorant simplicity".  It seems that people want a punchy conclusion in the form of a tweet, when the issue is too complex to be addressed that way.  These articles, the result of literally years of thought by many others, and my time this week, are there to provide the whole picture.  So please, read them first, and then be part of a conversation over on Facebook and Twitter!