The central feature of stage 11 of the 2018 Tour de France from Albertville to La Rosière, the Cormet de Roselend has been the scene of much drama over the years, none more so than in 1996 when treacherous conditions saw race leader Stéphane Heulot abandon in tears just 2 kilometers from the summit. Belgian Johan Bruyneel overshot a tight left-hand bend on the descent (disappearing into a ravine to the gasps of all watching). And the whole world witnessed the seemingly unstoppable Miguel Indurain crack on the final climb to Les Arcs, bringing Big Mig’s dominant reign in the Tour to a dramatic end. However it’s surprising that it has taken until this year for the race to visit the Col du Pré. Naturally if there’s a chance to bag an extra col or two then we’re never going to let that opportunity pass us by.
BRUSSELS (AFP) — The 2019 Tour de France will start with two stages in and around the Belgian capital of Brussels in a tribute to Eddy Merckx, race director Christian Prudhomme confirmed Tuesday.
The first stage will measure 192 kilometers, setting off from the city’s Royal Museums of Fine Arts and will take in the Lion’s Mound on the battlefield of Waterloo, the hometown of soccer star Eden Hazard, and the Mur de Grammont, a steep climb used in the Tour of Flanders.
The following day will see a 28km team time trial from the Royal Palace to the Atomium, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.
The 2019 Tour will mark 50 years since the Belgian cycling legend Merckx first earned the yellow jersey on home soil at Woluwe-Saint-Pierre near Brussels, where his parents ran a grocery shop.
Now 72, “The Cannibal” won that year’s Tour de France and went on to win it a record-equalling five times overall, the last in 1974.
“It was important to start in the home city of the champion who has worn the yellow jersey more times than anyone else,” said Prudhomme.
The 2019 Tour will mark 100 years since the introduction of the yellow jersey.
Brussels last hosted the Tour’s Grand Depart in 1958.
Melbourne crowds are likely to offer warm support to her this week and research suggests fans continue to back stars and sports laid low by doping scandals
Here is a prediction. Every time Maria Sharapova steps on to court at the Australian Open this year she will be greeted with shrieks of: “Come on Maria!” and elongated waves of goodwill. There will be smiles. And, before even the Russian’s first practice stroke, the unease generated when she received the honour of parading the women’s trophy at the draw last week will be ancient history – much like her positive test for meldonium at Melbourne Park two years ago, and her 15-month suspension.
The thing is, we – the public – talk a good game when it comes to doping. Survey after survey reminds us that high numbers of us think it is bad and those who perpetrate it should be punished. We also know it perverts the spirit of sport – or whatever is left of it – ruins honest people’s careers and can potentially damage an athlete’s health. Yet while we talk the talk the research suggests we do not necessarily walk the walk.
The Tour de France has released its list of wildcard teams that will compete in this summer’s French grand tour.
Along with the 18 WorldTour teams who are automatically granted invites into the race, the following four Pro Continental squads will race at the Tour de France, scheduled for July 7-29:
– Direct Energie
– Team Fortuneo Samsic
– Wanty-Groupe Gobert
These 18 teams have WorldTour status for 2018:
– Ag2r la Mondiale
– BMC Racing
– Quick-Step Floors
– Dimension Data
– EF Education First-Drapac-Cannondale
– Lotto NL-Jumbo
– Team Sunweb
– UAE Team Emirates
The UCI announced last summer that teams will be allowed to bring eight riders to grand tours rather than nine, starting in 2018. The move is aimed to bolster safety and security within the peloton, which will shrink to 176 riders because of the new rule.
The 2018 Tour will cover 3,329 kilometers, the smallest number since 2002, contains six mountain stages, and three summit finishes. Stage 9 will feature 21.7km of cobblestones in northern France.
Froome’s future, however, hinges on a salbutamol anti-doping case from the Vuelta. The outcome could see him cleared, or he could be stripped of his Vuelta title and suspended.
Dumoulin took note of Froome’s former Sky helper Mikel Landa for inspiration. In 2017, Landa raced the Giro for the overall. Despite crashing and losing time, he won the mountains classification and the Piancavallo summit stage.
Sky called the Basque rider to race the Giro to support Froome. At times he appeared the strongest and after three weeks he finished fourth, one second away from third overall. This season, he is racing for team Movistar and is focusing on the Tour.
“I indeed noticed [Landa’s] approach,” Dumoulin continued. “In my eyes, a lot of riders have made the mistake in the past by focusing on both the Giro and the Tour from the start of the season. As a result, they were probably already in the Giro with the classification in the Tour in mind. It is a mindset that does not work. I think you should focus completely on the Giro and only then have to look further.”
Dumoulin won the Giro d’Italia ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in 2017. He blasted his opponents in the two time trials and rode equally strong in the mountains.
Dumoulin’s Giro decision stemmed from the greater amount of time trial kilometers in the Giro vs. the Tour, 44.2 versus 31. In late November, Dumoulin said he would only race one or the other grand tour.
Insiders considered the Maastricht native ready for a crack at the Tour’s overall. He nearly won the 2015 Vuelta, returned in 2016 to focus on stages in the Giro and Tour (taking three in total), and in his first concentrated attempt to win the pink jersey last year, he was victorious.
“In my eyes, I don’t understand the Giro decision. I think he’s ready for the Tour de France,” Dutch journalist Raymond Kerckhoffs told Velonews. “When you go for the general in the Tour, that’s a process, you need time and experience at doing so.”
Dumoulin, after considering Landa’s approach, could be compromising in 2018. It is music to the ears for those who consider him the man capable of dethroning Froome at the Tour.
“Then [after the Giro] there are four possibilities: the Tour for the standings, the Tour for stages, the Vuelta as a helper for Wilco Kelderman, or no other grand tour,” Dumoulin said. “Only after the Giro we will cross that bridge.”
Belgian media outlets are confirming earlier reports that the 2019 Tour de France will start in Brussels.
Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad reported Thursday that local officials have penned the papers with promoter ASO for the Tour’s grand départ. The official confirmation in a press conference is expected next month.
Details remain sketchy, but the opening stage on July 6, 2019 could dip into Flanders with a possible passage over the Kapelmuur. The next day could feature a team time trial, the newspaper reported.
The route is set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx’s first of five Tour wins. The Belgian legend, however, might not be associated with the event after ASO and Merckx had a falling out over business deals linked to the Tours of Qatar and Oman.
The 2018 Tour de France will start in France’s Vendée department on July 7 and will end in Paris on July 29.
MADRID (AFP) — Movistar announced Thursday all three of its top riders — Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, and the newly signed Mikel Landa — will team up to ride the 2018 Tour de France.
The squad is considered to be the closest rival to British team Sky, and its Tour lineup represents Movistar’s strongest assault on the yellow jersey yet.
The Spanish outfit snapped up climbing specialist Landa from Sky in August, with the objective of ending Sky and Chris Froome’s grip on the Tour. However, Movistar’s task could be made much easier if Froome is sanctioned for an adverse drug test result during his Vuelta a Espana victory in September.
Froome had twice the permissible amount of asthma medication Salbutamol in his system during the race, it was revealed this week. It’s unclear whether the UCI will find Froome at fault and suspend him or if he will be exonerated.
Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzue said his riders have “the ideal profile to believe in winning the Tour, which is one of the few races we have still to win.”
Quintana has won both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta and has twice finished runner-up to Froome at the Tour, in 2013 and 2015. However, the Colombian finished a disappointing 12th this year after loading his schedule with the Giro d’Italia in May, where he finished second to Tom Dumoulin, followed by the Tour.
Quintana will start his 2018 season on home soil at the Colombia Oro y Paz race, scheduled for Feb. 6-11.
Valverde will make his return from a broken kneecap suffered at the Tour de France at the Mallorca Challenge at the end of January, while Landa will wait until the Tour of Andalusia, Feb. 14-18, to make his Movistar debut.
We’ve got to go now to do some work – thanks for all the questions and apologies we couldn’t answer them all. Best, Sean and Martha
And, in case you missed them, here is a handy list of our pieces on the story over the last day or two:
Hi Martha, Sean. What should we think about the state of British sport? Is this story another example of why we’re only a small step away from the Russian/Armstrong approach? Or, by challenging an extra puff on an asthma inhaler does it show how British is scrupulously careful and leading the world in keeping sport clean?
I genuinely don’t think there’s anything on the scale of systemic doping in Russia going on in British sport but I think the recent duty of care scandals have shown we’re increasingly adopting a win at all costs mantra in Olympic sport. We have to be cautious that doesn’t stray into abuse of medicine.
Michael Charlie Smith replies:
How much salbutamol actually is 1000mg (or whatever the limit is), how many puffs of an inhaler would you need to take to put that much in your system?
It’s 16 puffs over 24 hours, or eight puffs over 12.
Given that this paper has long held the view that Team Sky and Froome were cheating and has never been particularity careful about mixing evidence and innuendo, is there anything Sky or Froome could say or do now that would change your assumption of a his guilt? (Or will we need to wait 50 years for a balanced reappraisal a la Tom Simpson?)
It’s funny because I think the exact opposite charge was levelled against the paper over some of our coverage of the Wiggins case. No assumption of guilt here but fact he has failed a test (with double permitted amount of a specified substance) surely warrants further examination?
In German-speaking media it was reported that Tony Martin is “furious” and claims that the UCI applies double standards in Froome’s case. He suggests that other cyclists would get and have been “banned with immediate effect” in similar cases. He further says that he cannot recall “a similar case in the recent past” and that “it is a scandal as he would have not been allowed to participate at the world cup”. Do you agree with that assessment? And if yes, is there a larger problem with the cycling industry protecting their stars (something that has already been claimed in the Armstrong era)?
It appears to be a misreading of the rules on Martin’s par. With some substances an analytical finding automatically triggers a provisional ban, that is not the case with salbutamol, which means Froome is allowed to compete until his case, which he was told about on 20 September, is resolved. On his other point, that Sky gets preferential treatment – he is certainly not alone in thinking that…
There is no evidence that this substance has any beneficial effect on performance, lets try to keep a sense of perspective.
There are two points worth making in response here:
1) There is a limit set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and Chris Froome has exceeded it by twice the permitted out.
Why has it taken so long for the UCI to investigate this?
As soon as the A-sample taken on the 7th September was flagged up it became part of the UCI’s result management process and they notified Froome of the failed test on the 20th September. He then notified them that he wanted his B sample opened. They then set out the appeal process. It was then up to the UCI whether they made the adverse analytical finding public. They chose not to, which is pretty standard in these cases.
Given that cycling is now dealing with asthma medication rather than out-and-out Armstrong-type cheating, how much does that suggest cycling has got on top of the drug problem, or has it just moved deeper underground? And given cycling’s more aggressive stance on drug testing, how does it “do” in relation to other sports? We hear little about performance test failures outside cycling, strength sports and athletics?
That is a fascinating question. The honest answer is we can’t be sure whether it has gone deeper underground in cycling and other sports – or, instead, teams are straying into grey areas more than the black. Interestingly I was having a discussion with a cycling journalist about triamcinolone and the use of corticosteroids in competition a while ago (which is illegal) and he basically said ‘If you had told me that big races could be won 15 years ago with just some dodgy TUEs and corticosteroids, I would have bitten your hand off.” Anyway, I think we can say the following with confidence: 1) Anti-Doping is ineffective. There are lots of good people in the system but the testing is not good enough, the funding inadequate and it is too easy not to get caught. As Nicole Cooke vividly put it to the DCMS select committee early this year: “the measures and schemes to fight the abuse of PEDs are inadequate and ineffective – [it’s] the wrong people fighting the wrong war, in the wrong way, with the wrong tools”. 2) There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to make you wonder what is going on. When the journalist Steve Howell was researching his book Over The Line, for instance, he asked a very senior official in Welsh sport how many rugby players he thought were using steroids. He put it simply: “How many aren’t?”. Daniel Spencer-Tonks, an amateur rugby league player who was banned for taking steroids, also claimed doping is “hugely widespread at all levels” and young players feel “pressure to be bigger, faster and stronger”. The former France prop Laurent Bénézech, who has claimed he was given performance-enhancers during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, cited another problem: the use of cortisone, which “allows an athlete to train more without feeling pain or tiredness – and substantially increases his athletic performance”.
Rob Allen asks:
Why was the decision taken to publish this now following a leak rather than after a UCI investigation had been completed? It feels a lot of the media are making judgements based on limited facts (shock horror I know!).
In the past there have been suspicions that, for whatever reason, failed drugs test have been covered up. Froome has no right to anonymity here, both his A sample and B sample show double the permitted amount of a specified substance – an adverse analytical finding, also known as a failed test. Froome is not disputing that. He is now embarking on a process to attempt to prove there are legitimate reasons for this failed test and that is his right, we are not interfering with that process. Equally it is not our job to be part of the Team Sky PR machine and continue concealing the failed test. In fact I would argue there is a strong public interest in ourselves and Le Monde investigating and running the story. I think we are presenting the facts in a fair manner.
Given Sky’s recent history with keeping records of what their riders are taking in the jiffy bag case. How can anyone take seriously records they produce of what Froome has been taking?
There’s an irony in the fact that Team Sky and British Cycling’s lack of medical records (see Doctor Richard Freeman’s stolen laptop) was cited by the UK Anti-Doping Agency as one of the reasons they were unable to fully investigate allegations levelled at Bradley Wiggins over the mystery jiffy bag delivery in 2011. Now Sky will be presumably invoking medical records and previous test results in a bid to clear Froome’s name.
I find this disturbing. What we know: he has asthma, is using a legal drug to resolve this, he has exceeded a threshold, the UCI are querying this, it can be explained by many biological factors. Therefore naturally the guardian etc. have blown this up, whipped up a frenzy without allowing the process – carried out by experts – to be completed. The story is cheap.
You seem to making a large number of assumptions here. The key point is that under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, athletes are liable for what is put in their system. The result of Chris Froome’s test on September 7 at the Vuelta means he has provisionally broken an anti-doping rule. And because of that, it is up to him to explain how the excessive levels of salbutamol got into his urine. If he can’t then strict liability apply. Crucially, Froome has the burden of proof here.
You say it can be explained by biological factors. The medical experts I have spoken to are nowhere near as confident. Perhaps it. Perhaps it won’t. But it is something that Chris Froome and his team will try to hone in on over the coming weeks and months – that dehydration was a factor, or perhaps there was some other physiological reason for the high test etc and so on.
What actual performance advantage would Froome gain from exceeding the WADA limit on Salbutamol if he’s proven to have done so? And if Salbutamol works as a PED in the context of a grand tour, how would he have been stupid enough to exceed the minimum dose on a day when he knew he was pretty much 100% likely to be tested?
Hi BadlyWiredDog, that’s what makes this case so interesting (and confusing). Most experts seem to be in agreement that the performance enhancing benefits of salbutamol taken with an inhaler would be negligible for an athlete without asthma and simply performance enabling for an athlete with asthma. Some experts say when taken orally it could help in sprint stages but Froome insists he has only ever used it with a “puffer.”
You would also assume Froome and Team Sky would be aware he was likely to be tested most days and that any excessive dosage of the medication would be blatantly obvious in a urine test. So it would be an incredibly stupid way to cheat. The problem for Froome and Team Sky is that they are already operating under increased scrutiny after the Wiggins case and these anti-doping tests are their chance to prove they haven’t done anything wrong. Instead, Froome’s failed tests only increases the level of suspicion. It’s up to them to now prove there’s some other reason for his sample showing double the permitted amount.
zzaymssik has two questions:
1. What’s the difference between an “adverse result” and failing a drugs test?
2. What is the performance gain he would have had from the dose he took?
Very simply – an adverse analytical finding is a potential breach in anti-doping rules, which means that Froome has to explain why there was double the levels of permitted levels of salbutamol in his system.
Here’s what the World Anti-Doping Agency say –
The problem, as I see it, is that sportspeople (not just professionals) are always looking for that ‘edge’, and will skirt around and find loopholes in the incredibly confusing rules, until something like this happens and Froome, who ‘technically’ hasn’t broken any rules, is made a scapegoat for something that everybody’s doing? Are we getting near to the point where we just say ‘crack on lads, take whatever you like’, ridding us of this ridiculous ambiguity for ever?
Ah, the old ‘let them take what they want and then see who can run fastest/lift most etc’ argument. Can see the attraction but for a start that would be incredibly dangerous for the athletes involved. But I think your suggestion emphasises the credibility problem faced by professional cycling and probably athletics and other sports, too, that the idea of clean sport is seen as fanciful. High profile cases like this contribute to the cynicism.
What would have happened had media sources not released this information? How would it have likely played out? Would it ever have been released and, if so, when? In the short term, Froome is still presumably on the SPOTY shortlist? Good idea or not?
Hi Oommph, there were no indications that the UCI, Team Sky or Froome himself would have released the information. In fact, in an interview with Froome on Sky News (ahem!) this morning he nodded when it was put to him that the information would not have been made public had two newspapers (The Guardian and Le Monde) broken the story.
I suspect it would have remained private. The UCI have no obligation to make public and adverse analytical finding and nor do Froome or the team.
Is Slabutamol also a potential masking agent? I’ve heard contrasting information on this. Are there clauses in the Team Sky contract so that Sky can quit their sponsorship if a rider is caught guilty of cheating / failing a drugs test?
I have heard it suggested in a number of places that salbutamol is a masking agent. But I spoke to two senior anti-doping figures last night and they suggested it wasn’t. Am happy to be proved otherwise, but I can only go with what the experts tell me.
And, yes, Sky do have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to doping. This case, however, isn’t completely straightforward in that regard: Chris Froome did fail a test on September 7 for excessive salbutamol but it was an adverse analytical finding not an anti-doping rule violation. So even if he is stripped of his Vuelta a Espana title and is banned he may not necessarily lose his job at Team Sky.
Hello all, sorry for the delay in responding – Martha and I have just been in a departmental meeting that overran a little. We’ll start answering as many questions as we can now … Cheers, Sean
Chris Froome was hoping to win his fifth Tour de France title next year but, depending on how cycling’s governing body react after his failed drugs test, he may well be banned from the sport when the race begins on the tiny island of Noirmoutier in July. In a week when Froome may have had designs on winning the Sports Personality of the Year award, he is now fighting to save his reputation. Froome says he has “done nothing wrong” and “fundamentally followed the protocol”. But, unless he can provide a sufficient explanation for his failed test, he is likely to lose his Vuelta title and be banned from his sport.
Sean and Martha broke the story on the Guardian and they will be here soonto answer all of your questions. In the meantime, here are some pieces you might have missed:
Team Sky started out promising to be whiter than white but episodes with Bradley Wiggins and now Froome mean that has to be questioned
From a holiday in Miami to the launch of a luxury watch boutique and the announcement that he intends to race in the Giro d’Italia next year, there had been no obvious signs that anything was troubling Chris Froome over the past 12 weeks.
But his failed drug test on 7 September, as uncovered by a joint investigation between the Guardian and Le Monde, threatens not only his plans for the coming season and reputation as one of Britain’s finest athletes, it could also be a final nail in the already battered coffin of Team Sky.