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Chris Froome is clean (probably)

The Usual Suspects is a superb film directed by Bryan Singer and starring Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri. There is a now legendary character in the film called Keyser Sose – a brutal but mysterious villain who is key to the whole story. At one point one of the characters says – speaking of Keyser Sose – ‘the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he didn’t exist.’ I think of Keyser Sose now when I think of Lance Armstrong; his most terrible and shocking legacy – greater than the doping, the insults, the intimidation, the bullying, the lying, the downright cheating – is that we will never again fully trust a cyclist who claims that they’re not doping. As Chris Froome releases his performance data in an attempt to prove that he is not doping, this lingering suspicion, let’s call it ‘the Armstrong effect’ will never entirely go away. This is Froome’s big mountain to climb, higher than the Col d’Izoard, tougher than Mont Ventoux, more convoluted than Alpe d’Huez. You can never prove a negative and there will always be doubters, just as there will always be those who are convinced he’s clean. The problem for Froome is that the more he tries to prove he’s clean, the more it looks like he’s got something to hide – that damn Armstrong effect again. All the time, ringing in my ears with the dull plink plink of blood dripping through a blood bag is Armstrong’s oft repeated (and mostly true) line – ‘I have never failed a drugs test.’ For me, the best evidence to show that Froome is not doping is to look at what happened on Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate stage of last year’s Tour. Nairo Quintana was clearly stronger than him and if the stage had been just a little bit longer, there is a strong likelihood that Quintana would have over-taken him. If there was ever a time that Frome needed to dope it was then and his performance suggests that he didn’t and wasn’t. However, it’s a sad fact that doping will never go away. It is the nature of competitive sport that someone will be better than you are and if you can take a little something that will bridge that gap and unlock the door to untold riches and fame then there will be those who will be tempted. Simple as. The drug testers will get more sophisticated and the dopers will get more devious and the masking agents will be harder to spot and the whole sorry cycle (pun intended) will continue. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde (himself a keen cyclist), the one thing better than temptation is giving in to it. And now we even have the unedifying sight of Gabriel Evans, the London Dynamo rider admitting to taking EPO to win the British 10 mile junior time-trial title. A junior! A child! What has happened to the sport that he could possibly be so stupid, so naive and so brazen? I still admit to some ambivalence about Armstrong’s crimes or more specifically about his lifetime ban punishment. I just don’t buy the argument that his transgression was worse because he did it more often and performed so much better than his fellow competitors who – let’s not forget – were mostly also doping. Sky – thankfully – has remained pretty clean (although remember Jonathan Tiernan-Locke – no, me neither). But Chris Froome is only an employee of Sky after all and no employer can ever completely control the activities of all of their employees – believe me I’ve tried. I leave you with a final chilling fact: the person that David Millar was having dinner with on that fateful day in Biarritz in 2004 when he was arrested by the Spanish police for doping was none other than Dave Brailsford, which begs the question – how much did he know and when did he decide that he didn’t know it? So is Froome clean? I think so. I believe so. I hope so but I’ll never know so. Perhaps in the end that’s the best we’ve got.

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