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Cycling is ‘winning the war on doping,’ says expert

© AFP

Video by Dan LEVY

Text by Peter BERLIN

Latest update : 2014-07-24

Antoine Vayer believes he can measure when leading cyclists are cheating even without testing them. He also believes that what he is seeing suggests the sport is winning its war against doping.

Vayer is part of a loose alliance of scientists, doctors, trainers and fans who analyse not the blood and tissue of leading cyclists but the energy riders generate while racing.

He is also noisily outspoken. Based on his numbers he is prepared to question the performances of many former cycling greats and is quite happy to express his suspicion of two active riders, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.

The two men started this Tour de France as favourites but both dropped out after crashes in the first 10 days.

“They belong in the past,” Vayer told FRANCE 24. “Nobody believes in them or wants to see them anymore.”

Based on his system, Vayer has classified Froome’s performance in the mountains on stage 8 of the 2013 Tour as “miraculous.” Bradley Wiggins, another British rider with Team Sky who won the Tour in 2012, also crosses into “miraculous” territory.

Dave Brailsford, the head of Team Sky, has called Vayer’s methods “pseudoscience”, though the British squad has been very cagy about releasing the data it collects from monitors attached to riders’ bodies.

The statistics Vayer uses are available with the click of a mouse and a TV remote. He focuses on mountain stages, where riders gain no benefit from slip streams. His formula includes, among other things the weight of the rider, the steepness and length of the slope, the humidity and the average speed the rider achieves.

From this he works out how many watts of energy the rider has produced and for how long. Vayer has no doubts about his method.

“We can calculate the power of the engine on the bike,” he said. He also believes that there are physical limits to what that engine – the rider – can achieve without the help of performance-enhancing drugs (or PEDs) and that limit is around 410 watts.

Vayer has focused on measuring the rides of the very top cyclists. He divides displays into “mutant” (above 450 watts), “miraculous” (above 430), “suspicious” (above 410) and “human” (below 410).

Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani both crossed into “mutant” territory at times, most other Tour winners since the early 90s were at times “miraculous”. The last rider to win the Tour with “human’ power numbers was Greg LeMond in 1990. After that, EPO became increasingly widespread in the peloton.

That’s where Vayer has a problem. He boasts that he was the first modern professional trainer in cycling. That was when he worked with the Festina team from 1995 until 1998, the year the team was at the centre of the biggest doping scandal in Tour de France history.

Vayer, it seems, did not administer the drugs but his measurements meant he had a pretty good idea of what was happening. He is typically bullish in confronting the hovering suspicion by using “Festinaboy” as his Twitter name.

'Human' again

Vayer believes that, in general, the power numbers on the Tour have been falling in recent years and that this year they are finally in the “human” range again.

He has two explanations. The first is a change in attitude among young cyclists who belong to what he calls the “non-PEDS generation”.

“If you say to them ‘take this and you will win’, they say ‘No!’ That’s a big change,” Vayer said.

Meanwhile, those teams and riders who still have no moral objections to doping are, he said, afraid of the biological passport, the record of an athlete’s test results.

The biological passport was adopted by cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), in 2008, but Vayer says it is being used far more vigorously this year.

That change coincides with a change in leadership at the UCI late last year. Pat McQuaid, one of Vayer’s targets, was voted out of office and replaced as president by Brian Cookson.

The new president immediately ordered a review of the UCI’s anti-doping policies with the intention, according to its web site, of “reinforcing the independence of anti-doping activities and improving their effectiveness.”

This year, in the runup to the Tour, one of Froome’s Sky team-mates, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, and one of Contador’s main support riders at Tinkoff-Saxo were both suspended for biological passport “irregularities.”

Nasty crashes

Froome dropped out of this year’s Tour after three nasty crashes in two days in the rain. Contador pulled out a few days later with blood gushing from his knee after a fall on a descent. Both were visibly in pain.

Vayer has no sympathy. He harbours no doubts that their withdrawals were fortunate given the new approach of the UCI.

“If Froome and Contador had been here, it could have been a big mess for the Tour,” he said.

Date created : 2014-07-24

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