'We’re saddled with an image we’ve brought upon ourselves by trying to correct a problem," Garmin-Sharp CEO Jonathan Vaughters once told Anthony Tan. Now, he writes from the base of Mont Ventoux, whenever we see remarkable performances, we find ourselves asking, is that a performance that can be believed, that is, will history stay the same, or, as has been the case many times in recent months, will it be rewritten?
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM


A lot of it is mental warfare going on with the other guys, who can dig deeper; who can suffer more. And I can't really say those kind of things are really calculated. It's got to be more on feeling … as the race unfolds, you've got to make that decision.

"Armstrong's back!" yelled a few journalists in the Tour de France salle de presse on Sunday, when maillot jaune Chris Froome, with six-and-a-half kilometres remaining in the 242.5km stage, the longest of the race, launched a blistering attack that shed the one guy I thought might be able to give the wiry grimpeur a fight in this centenary edition of La Grande Boucle.

I wasn't quite that damning. But I have to admit I, and many others perched on the edge of our chairs in Vaison-la-Romaine, were wondering, "Is that really possible to do that on bread and water?"

Before we had time to adequately ponder such a question, Froome had bridged to lone leader Nairo Quintana on le Géant de Provence, the exquisite climber par excellence from Movistar, who, only a few kilometres before on the 20.8km hors catégorie ascent, looked like he was going to be our Bastille Day stage winner.

The pair rode together for about 15 minutes, although to begin with, another violent serve briefly dislodged the 23-year-old Colombian, before the Kenyan-born rider's pace proved too much for the 57kg, 1.66m tall flyweight, Quintana left trailing 1.2km from the observatory that marks the finish.

Four days ago, shortly before the finish in Mont-Saint-Michel where the first individual time trial was held, and which Froome lost by just 12 seconds to world TT champ Tony Martin, I interviewed provocative sports scientist Antoine Vayer for the second time in a month, to gauge his feelings on what has transpired so far in this year's Tour.

Specifically, I asked the performance expert, who calculates power on climbs to determine suspicion of doping (or not doping), about Froome.

According to Vayer's measurements, on the climbs of La Toussuire and the east and west faces of the Col de Peyresourde, and published in his magazine entitled Not Normal, his average output at last year's Tour was 400 watts. "Christopher Froome's performances are even better than last year," Vayer declared.

"He pushed 410 (watts) average – (but) he could push 415, 420 – and now, it is more than 440 (watts). So, his increase in performance, through what we saw, is six to seven per cent, and it is enormous.

Could it come through more advanced, different training techniques, or…

Vayer interjected before I finished my question. "Sorry, but at the same time, many riders decreased their performances, like (Alberto) Contador; he is maybe 10 per cent less than what he was before. And (also) to him, we have to ask questions."

So, the next day in Tours, I asked Froome: "Can you verify whether these figures quoted by Antoine Vayer are indeed correct, and whether you've realised such a performance gain, compared to the 2012 Tour de France?

"I don't think it's humanly possible to average 440 watts for a whole stage. That's, er, out of the question. That's far from what I think is possible."

I didn't get a chance to clarify my question to Froome, that I was referring to his average power output on the climbs Vayer measured, rather than the entire stage per se. But I think he knew what I meant. Plus he also dodged my question about verifying his performance gain between this year and last. The pro riders that release their power data are very much in the minority, and Sky Procycling fall firmly into the 'not for public consumption' camp.

While he may have won last year's Vuelta a España in spectacular fashion, ever since Contador returned to the peloton after his backdated suspension, the Spaniard's performances have been irregular and, particularly this season, including this Tour, largely unremarkable. Same goes for Alejandro Valverde, who, before last Friday's Saxo-Tinkoff ambush en route to Saint-Amand-Montrond, was lying second overall, only to lose all chance of a podium finish by consequence of a mechanical.

"Does that mean Contador and Valverde are riding clean now?" I asked Vayer.

"I don't speak about clean, but something has changed. And it is (up) to them (Contador and Valverde) to give the answer.

"I mean, you look at our magazine, and you look at the palmarès of (Ivan) Basso till the Fuentes affair; he was red, orange (or) yellow (respectively, 'mutant', 'miraculous' or 'suspicious'). And after, he was all green ('human') but with no palmarès.

"We do this magazine and do these calculations not to (definitively) say, 'they are doped' or 'they are clean'. It's just to say: 'Just look and form your own opinion'."

One week ago, at their rest day press conference in Saint-Nazaire, Contador was asked: 'Should we believe that you have always raced clean?'

"The only thing I can say is that I've always raced clean and always will. You can believe what you want," he replied.

To come right out and suggest to Froome, after winning atop Ventoux on Bastille Day, that his ride should be scrutinised, that, once again, he needs to restate he rode clean, a week after he insisted his results will stand the test of time - "I certainly know that the results I'm getting are not going to be stripped 10, 20 years down the line. Rest assured, it's not going to happen," he said - I felt was a touch unfair.

So, today in Vaison-la-Romaine, I threw this one at him.

"Chris, when you launched your first attack, dropping Contador with 6.5 kilometres to go and then Quintana, with 1.2 kilometres to go – although that wasn't really an acceleration – it was almost like I heard a collective gasp in the press room.

"I know it's not the first time you've done such a violent, brutal attack – you did so at last year's Tour de France (when you won a stage) to La Planche des Belle Filles. But when did you learn you could attack like that, on a longer mountain, because Belle Filles is a shorter climb – how much training have you done to do those types of violent efforts?"

"I think so much of it is on feeling … I like to think that, in those kind of moments, I can feel when it gets really hard," Froome replied. "Personally, I'm hurting, and I'd like to think that, hopefully, the other guys are hurting a little bit, so an acceleration at that point would be enough to distance a few guys.

"A lot of it is mental," he added.

"A lot of it is mental warfare going on with the other guys, who can dig deeper; who can suffer more. And I can't really say those kind of things are really calculated. It's got to be more on feeling … as the race unfolds, you've got to make that decision."

Rest assured, Chris, "the other guys" are hurting a lot. In fact, with seven stages remaining and a four-minute-plus advantage, I would say they're reeling.

But can we believe you?

Well, for now, without conclusive proof, and despite what some say, I'm prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt.