Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford has written to the World Anti-Doping Agency offering to open the books on Chris Froome to prove the Tour de France leader is riding clean.
Froome has faced almost daily questioning on the matter since taking the yellow jersey almost two weeks ago with victory on stage eight in Ax 3 Domaines, and he started today’s stage 18 to Alpe d’Huez hours after L’Equipe had published an analysis of data Sky had released to them to make their case.
Although Brailsford has long maintained he would not make the team’s power data - numbers which show riders’ output on the bike – public, he did allow L’Equipe access to results from 18 climbs tackled by Froome since the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, as well as various other pieces of biological information.
L’Equipe did not publish the information as per their agreement with Sky, but they had it analysed by biomechanics expert Fred Grappe, who is on the Tour with the FDJ team, and he told the newspaper the data was consistent with that of a “clean” rider.
“His performances are coherent,” read their headline.
Brailsford later said the decision to give L’Equipe that access had been part of a pro-active response to the questioning.
“We have been in contact with WADA and UKAD (The UK Anti-Doping agency) and things are progressing,” he said. “I don’t know what the process is because we have never done this before but we are trying to react to a situation, trying to think creatively about a situation.
“Nobody asked me to do this. I suggested it would be a good idea to contact them, they didn’t contact me.
“I have gone to them and said ’Actually guys, we would like to give you everything that we’ve got. How do you feel about that?”’
Froome said the decision to open the books had been the team’s rather than his own, but he was happy with the results.
“I’m really happy to hear the findings and to hear them basically backing us up, saying these performances are very good, strong, clean sporting performances,” he said.
“It backs up what we’ve been saying all along.”
Brailsford first suggested opening his books to WADA during the rest-day press conference on Monday, with the team growing increasingly frustrated with the unrelenting focus on doping – something that was perhaps inevitable in the first Tour since Lance Armstrong lifted the lid on his own extensive doping.
But WADA responded to Brailsford’s suggestion by saying that, while it welcomed an open approach, it could only get involved if invited by a world federation - in this case the International Cycling Union (UCI).
Although the questioning of Froome has abated in the past couple of days, there are still reminders of why Sky feel the need to act.
Today’s edition of French newspaper Liberation carried the headline ’The Tour of Doubt’ above Froome’s picture.
Froome at least looked a little more human on the second climb of the Alpe d’Huez today, however.
When he ’bonked’ close to the finish, team-mate Riche Porte fetched him an energy bar from the team car but, coming with only five kilometres of the stage remaining, it constituted an illegal feed and both riders were penalised 20 seconds.
Nevertheless, Froome increased his overall lead to five minutes and 11 seconds on Alberto Contador.
“I’m only human,” Froome said after the stage, a reference to some of the recent slurs suggesting he was powered by less natural means. “Any athlete can have a sugar low.”
Asked if the signs of struggle might change people’s perception of him, he added: “I don’t know. All I do know is that what I’m doing is right. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done to get here. No one can take that away from me.”