TOUR DE FRANCE leader Chris Froome today hit out at critics who believe he could be following in the footsteps of shamed drugs cheat Lance Armstrong after his stunning win on Mont Ventoux.
“To compare me with Lance… Lance cheated, I’m not cheating. End of story,” the British rider said on the race’s second and final rest day Monday.
Froome reinforced his grip on the race leader’s yellow jersey, with an impressive win on the fabled climb on Sunday to claim his second mountaintop stage victory of this year’s 100th edition.
But the Kenyan-born Briton’s performance, which featured several short but remarkable attacks on the 20.8 km climb to the summit, raised suspicions — and prompted comparisons with Armstrong, who saw his record seven Tour titles removed for doping.
Froome, who now leads Dutchman Bauke Mollema by 4min 14sec and former two-time winner Alberto Contador of Spain by 4:25, has claimed since the start of the race that he is “100 per cent clean” and that his titles would never be stripped in the future.
The 28-year-old reiterated those claims at his team hotel in Avignon on Monday but indicated he has had enough of being made to feel he is a cheat.
“I just think it’s quite sad that we’re sitting here the day after the biggest victory of my life talking about doping,” Froome said. “Quite frankly… my team-mates and I have spent months away from home, slept (at high altitude) on volcanoes to get ready for this race… training together, just working our arses off.
“And here I am, sitting here being accused of being a cheat and a liar. That’s just not cool.”
Froome finished runner-up in the race last year when Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins, absent this time round after illnees and injury, became the first Briton to win the world’s biggest bike race. But since then, cycling’s long and sordid history with doping has taken a significant turn, following Armstrong’s confession, after years of denial, that he cheated his way to glory.
Froome’s accelerations on the Mont Ventoux on Sunday caused a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations, notably on Twitter.
Frenchman Antoine Vayer, a former coach of the disgraced Festina cycling team, has been an outspoken critic of Sky and Froome on the micro-blogging site, and regularly posts messages questioning the authenticity of the British outfit.
His counterpart, coach and sports scientist Frederic Grappe, meanwhile, regularly analyses the performances of top cyclists taking into account several key parameters including V02Max — the maximum amount of oxygen the body can consume while competing at the very top level.
In an article on www.rtl.fr on Monday, Grappe concluded:
“Intellectually speaking, it would be wide of the mark to attribute the performances (of Froome) to doping.”
Sky team chief Dave Brailsford said he believes that making his riders’ power data public, as some critics have suggested should happen, would still not be enough to convince their detractors.
“The latest craze is analysing power data to try and prove beyond reasonable doubt we are not doping. People seem to think releasing that data will provide the proof. I’m not so sure,” said Brailsford.
“Biological passports are not just about (analysing) blood, it should be the whole picture of that individual. We would encourage maybe WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) to come and live with us, see all of our data, have access to every training file, compare them to blood data, weight, all that info they could capture on regular basis.”
Froome said there is little else he can do to prove he is not cheating.
“I can only be open. I know within myself I’ve trained very hard to get here,” he added. “It’s been a long battle to get where I am now. I’ve had the support of a fantastic team. I can’t talk about anything outside of that. I know what I’ve done to get here.”
The race resumes tomorrow when the 16th stage takes the peloton over hilly terrain from Vaison-La-Romaine to a downhill finish in Gap.