I’m a cycling fan AND a cyclist. In fact, I even define myself as such when I introduce myself to new students I’ll be teaching to for a good while. And they never disappoint : it never takes more than a few seconds before I get a joke about doping. And a bad one to boot.
Let’s review the list of stupidities and inaccuracies heard about doping and cycling, shall we ?
1-Cycling is just too hard a sport
2-The Tour de France is “inhuman”
3-All pro cyclists dope or did dope… or will dope
4-Doping has always been the major part of the game, it’s always been this way
5-There’s no difference between doping in the 60’s, doping in the 80’s and doping in the 90’s : it’s just doping
6-EPO was just the new thing, nothing less, nothing more
7-You had to dope to “level” things a little
And the list goes on…
I am sorry to report that if you’ve already said those things once in your life, you are guilty of brainfarting, as these sentences do not require any intellectual skills. No they don’t. Sentence 3, in particular : “All pro cyclists dope or did dope… or will dope”. That’s such a lazy sentence. I’ll call it “ the Barstool”. I can smell the fumes of alcohol every time I hear it. In fact, you have to be a Barstool yourself to articulate the Barstool.
You see, I just don’t believe in 100% probabilities. And if, at one time, there was a vast majority of pro riders doping, we have to keep in mind there probably were clean riders in there too. And those were cheated on, spat at, dragged in the mud. And we don’t even know who they were. Because, to add to their misery, they had to keep their mouths shut.
You see, clean riders have it all wrong. Not only do they see victories being stolen from them by thieves, but :
-They can’t claim they are clean : they will be perceived as “hypocrites”
-They cannot prove they are clean
-Oh, ultimate irony : everyone will tell them they took dope, no matter what, they will be treated as if they had
Take our man Greg LeMond, for instance. I can’t say he didn’t dope, because I can’t prove it. I can say I believe he didn’t dope. I can say I like the idea that he didn’t dope. I could say he likely didn’t dope and add a 2 pages list of facts that lead me to believe he didn’t dope. But I won’t, because I’d just confirm things for people who are already convinced and the Barstools would hang on to said Barstool. Even today, when Greg probably has more support than ever, I hear the Barstools over and over, claiming he is an hypocrite for being vocal against doping. I guess you could say that the Barstools livestrong. But that wouldn’t be nice, now, would it ? Take it from someone who has been called “cancer lover” for a decade on various cycling forums.
But, always the optimistic, I believe people can be educated. Or at the very least entertained. So I’ll try to make this article not boring. I’ll take stupid sentence number 6, for example : “EPO was just the new thing, nothing less, nothing more”. Oh, really ? I propose a trip to the Lac de Vassivière ! And I’ll be driving a time-traveling DeLorean while I’m at it.
The Lac de Vassivière saw the Tour de France 3 times for the same competition : the last Individual Time Trial (ITT) of the Tour de France. That last ITT is always special as it comes in the very last days of the race. ITT skills are not as important as recovery after nearly 3 weeks of intense racing. There are more than a few interesting things about that race :
-Dates : the race occurred precisely 5 years apart each time, 1985 – 1990 – 1995. Not only will we have the opportunity to compare data but also the progress of that data.
-Circuit : although they are marked as being respectively 45,7 then 45,5 then 46,5km long, those 3 races seem to share the exact same profile. See for yourself : out of the 3 profiles, only the total distance seems to differ. All the other check points match.
However, we seem to have highlighted a slight change at the beginning of the ITT, as pictured on this map (85 & 90 route variant is in red over the blue route of the 1995 ITT). We simulated the variant on Garmin Connect. We found 420m more for the 1995 circuit. Profile / steep change seems irrelevant.
-Weather : although I have no indication on the wind factor, the fact that this circuit is indeed a circle around the lake diminishes the impact of this factor a lot because it works both ways : front wind/tail wind. I’m not saying it has no impact, because it does but MUCH less than if it was a straight line kind of race. Regarding temperatures and sun, things are clearer : hot & sunny in 85, 90 then cloudy in 95.
A. Average speed
That’s a first strong indicator. Let’s see, shall we ? In 1985, Greg LeMond won the stage with a 43,627km/h average speed. That’s very good, given that the profile of the stage is not flat at all. Mind you, this performance comes from the guy who still holds the best average speed for an ITT in the Tour de France (for which he is still perceived as a doper by the almighty Barstool masses).
In 1990, Erik Breukink won the stage using a set of aerobars and managed to bring the average speed at 44,270km/h. Not bad, uh ? He also did beat Greg’s time by a mere 11 seconds. Five years later. Over the course of a little more than 1 hour’s worth of racing. That’s a 0.29% progress. Wow ! I’m impressed. We managed to go from here to there in just 5 years. Phew ! How wonderful the human body is. Or is it ?
Forget about all this, you bunch of pussies. Here comes Big Mig. Miguelito for the ladies. In 1995, the Spaniard will show the world how it is done. And indeed he does, bringing the average speed of the Vassivière at a supersonic speed of… 48, 466km/h. Now THIS is progress. 8.11% progress, actually, if we just take into account the times : 1h02’51” in 1985, 1h02’40” in 1990 and finally 57’34” in 1995. Caramba ! I might just as well drink another glass of Puerto… er…. Sorry, Porto ! Might I add that the 1995 course is supposed to have had 1 kilometre… MORE than the 2 previous editions ?
How does Greg fit into all that ? Well, Mr LeMond always said he never was as good after his 1987 hunting accident than he was before that. And here’s some proof : in 1990 it took him 46 seconds MORE to do a tour of the lake. And, to those who believe Greg won the 1989 Tour de France only because of the aerobars, please take into account that Greg DID NOT have the aerobars in 1985 whereas he did in 1990. But that’s not the most important. The most important fact is this : with his 1985 time, Greg would have achieved the 2nd time in 1990, then the… 28th time in 1995, same as Jesper Skibby. Now, with all due respect to Mr Skibby I doubt he ever was in a position to win the Tour de France, was he ?
Ok, that’s one thing.
B. Big Mig
I see you coming, you Barstools. I hear all the bad comments and stuff : how can you compare data from different riders at different times, blah, blah…?
You’re right. Absolutely. It’s not as if I had some valuable benchmarking data to compare meaningful times from the same rider… I mean, where was Miguel Indurain in 1990 ? OH BUT WAIT A SECOND… In 1990, he was on his way to his first Tour de France top ten at general classification (10th). Some were saying he could have had a shot at winning if he had not sacrificed for his leader Pedro Delgado. He was the only one able to follow Greg LeMond to the top of Luz Ardiden, beating him for the stage win. IF THAT ISN’T GOOD DATA I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS ??? So where was Mr Indurain in 1990, let’s see… Mmmmhhh… Well, well, well : he finished 4th of the stage, just ahead of Greg LeMond, 40 seconds behind Breukink which gives him a 1h03’20” time.
Wait. Is that correct ? I see Mr Indurain did some training during the 90’s, didn’t he ? He managed to improve his own performance for a staggering 5 minutes and 46 seconds (9.1%) ! Well done, Mr Indurain, you’re a hell of a rider… and you sure helped cycling ride straight into hell. With his 1990 time, Mig-Hell would have finished 35th in 1995, just behind time trial specialist and clean sport poster boy Marco Pantani. A reference. Kind of.
…And when you think you’ve just hit rock-bottom, it gets even more hilarious. See Claudio Chiappucci, for instance. You know, “Il Diablo” ? In 1990, he is fighting for his life. He is wearing the yellow jersey, only 24 hours before the Champs Elysées. He is having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity : a shot at a Tour de France win. And he does reasonably well, being the climber he is. Claudio ends up at the 17th place in 1h05’58”. Only 3’18” down the stage winner. Not bad at all. Well… Wait for it. In 1995, now fighting to enter the top ten of the general classification in the Tour, which is considerably less important for him (and he will fail for 5”), Chiappucci ends up being at the very same 17th place in that same time trial, now 4’20” behind Mig-Hell.
Same place. Funny, ain’t it ?
I told you : wait for it. Because he achieves that riding in 1h01’54”. That’s right. Had he pulled out such a performance 5 years earlier, he would have won the final ITT AND the Tour de France altogether. LOL. And now the insightful comment Il Diablo made in 1990 actually makes sense : “I could have won the Tour had I been less naive.”. I’d use the word “practical” myself, rather than “naive”, but that’s just me… I don’t have no horns or anything fancy.
D. Dutch wonder
Whatever happened to 1990 winner Erik Breukink, you might ask ? That is a fair question. In 1995 he is in his last year in the “Once” team, which is quite a pedigree in itself. He is struggling for a top 20 in the Tour de France, finishing this time trial at 14th place. His time ? 1h01’17”. You’ve read this right. He exploded his previous winning time by 1’23” and just enters the top 15 in this mad race. LMAO.
Here is the 1985 top ten :
CIRCUIT DU LAC DE VASSIVIERE
45.7 km ITT
1. Greg LeMond in 1h02’51” (Average : 43.627 km/h)
2. Hinault + 5″
3. Anderson + 31″
4. Kelly + 54″
5. Roche + 59″
6. Marie + 1’29”
7. Bauer + 1’43”
8. Sergeant + 2’30”
9. Pelier + 2’35”
10. Schepers + 2’39”
That’s a total of 38.515 seconds for the whole top ten.
Here is the the 1990 top ten :
CIRCUIT DU LAC DE VASSIVIERE
45.5 km ITT
1. Eric Breukink in 1h02’40” (Average : 44.270 km/h)
2. Alcala + 28″
3. Lejarreta + 38″
4. M.Indurain + 40″
5. LeMond + 57″
6. Ruiz-Cabestany + 1’28”
7. Lauritzen + 2’01”
8. Delgado + 2’21”
9. Louviot + 2’26”
10. Leblanc + 2’27”
That’s a total of 38.406 seconds for the whole top ten, which makes it an overall progress of 0.28% in 5 years.
Here is the 1995 top ten :
CIRCUIT LAC DE VASSIVIERE
46.5 km ITT
1. Miguel Indurain in 57’34” (Average : 48.466 km/h)
2. Riis + 48″
3. Rominger + 1’05”
4. Gotti + 1’41”
5. Escartin + 1’46”
6. Zülle + 1’49”
7. L. Jalabert + 1’58”
8. Mauri + 2’18”
9. Virenque + 2’37”
10. Mejia + 3’07”
That’s a total of 35.479 seconds for the whole top ten, which makes an overall progress of 7.62% in 5 years, 7.88% in 10 years.
Even funnier : according to the 2012 Tour de France regulations ( http://www.letour.fr/le-tour/2012/docs/reglement.pdf ), riders racing an ITT 25% slower than the stage winner are subject to elimination. If we take Mig-Hell’s time as a basis, riders had 1h12’ to complete the stage. In 1985, it meant “bye-bye” to the last 21 riders of the 144 finishers, including the winner of the Champs Elysées sprint the following day, Rudy Matthijs. In 1990, it meant “farewell” for the last 10 riders of the ITT, out of 156 finishers, including previous Tour de France stage winners Acacio Da Silva and Jean-Paul Van Poppel. Incidentally, one can note that only 115 riders actually finished the 1995 Tour de France.
LM… Ok, I’ll stop that now. That’s not funny for a second. Irony just helped me go through writing this piece.
Just ask any serious athlete if he/she would like to improve his/her performances by 1%. Any Strava user is struggling to obtain that kind of results every day. Then ask him/her if it’s easy to do this kind of progress… Times 7, 8 or 9. Right.
That’s madness. This is the dark side of the lake.
In the early 90’s I lost touch with cycling. I really did. I blamed it on Greg LeMond’s demise, on my own personal story with the bike. But the more I think about it, the more I see that I was kicked out of cycling by a whole generation of mercenaries and devilish characters (I mean… Mig-Hell, Il Diablo… and it was way before Texan Satan). Seeing them today in the TV commentators booths, in the team managers cars… it just drives me mad. I still watch pro cycling, but I have a hard time actually rooting for someone.
But… I found my way back on the bike. When I turned 30 I had the opportunity to ride in the mountains for the first time in my life and I had an epiphany. It is so hard a sport, and so rewarding at the same time. Then it all came back to me, what got me on the saddle in the first place : my father, my brother, Greg LeMond… All the way down to this blog. It’s all about sharing the love. And that’s all that matters now with the Lac de Vassivière. Riding it thinking about Greg, having fun with my fellow bloggers. That’s what it’s all about. There’s always a dark side to a good story. Might as well enjoy the ride. You can read all about our trip to the Lac de Vassivère in our Pilgrimage blog article.
By Nicolas – NL_LeMondFans