Tuesday, en route to Gap, Anthony Tan couldn’t quite believe what he saw at first. While there’s a segment of the cycling public who refuse to properly acknowledge events of the past, he says there’s also those who will never believe, no matter what.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

This was the last place on earth I expected to see what was essentially a homage to Lance Armstrong.

But thirty-eight kilometres into Tuesday's sixteenth stage, in the quaint village of Montbrun-les-Bains, nestled in the Drôme department in south-eastern France at the base of the second category climb of the Col de Macuègne, a flock of maillots jaunes were tied proudly to the barriers, two-by-two, and positioned on the left side of the road, as if in team time trial formation.

From inaugural winner Maurice Garin, to Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi; the first five-times winner, Jacques Anquetil, to another five-time champ, Eddy Merckx, and then another, Bernard Hinault; and onward to Greg LeMond, the first Anglophone to win the Tour, in 1986.

'I take it there won't be a yellow jersey for Lance,' I quipped to my better-mannered travelling companions Ian Chadband and Ian Parker, from the London Daily Telegraph and British Press Association.

Yet, as we unhurriedly drove past the maillot jaune of Miguel Indurain, then Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich, a yellow jersey for Armstrong, The Befallen One, hanging to the left of the late Marco Pantani, came into view.

I couldn't bloody believe it.

The man who singlehandedly brought the race to the masses, to the wider world beyond ye ol' Europe, before a decade's worth of transgressions almost destroyed it, was still considered a champion by the people of Montbrun-les-Bains, population five-hundred, give or take a few.

After I took this photo, there were still one-hundred-and-thirty kilometres to the finish in Gap; it gave me time to think about this a little more.

Why?

Was the sentiment expressed by the people of Montbrun-les-Bains representative of that of French cycling fans in general? Is all they want a spectacle, irrespective of the authenticity of what they see? Or does the truth hurt the race so much, it is better to hide it, or pretend it never happened in the first place?

I know for certain it is not illustrative of all cycling fans. Go to the comments section of this website, or any other website, or Facebook, or Twitter, and many of your damning appraisals of what you saw last Sunday leave no room for misunderstanding.

Many of you have already judged him. Or, to be more precise, prejudged.

Three decades' or more worth of dopage have cast a pall over this sport, no doubt about it. You, like I, have a right to be sceptical. Healthy scepticism, I call it.

But for those to continue to doubt anything out of the ordinary, anything remarkable, do you have a right to be downright cynical, pessimistic to the point of contempt?

Granted, each is entitled to their own opinion. However if your opinion is only that and nothing else, with no factual basis, but simply dripping with cynicism and innuendo, mocking what you see like a caged animal that fears being beaten if a daft party trick is not performed, then nothing will change your mind.

If you fall into this category, it goes beyond 'guilty till proven innocent'.

So, then, do not watch.

Monday in Orange, on the Tour's second rest day, Dave Brailsford, principal of Sky Procycling, suggested something novel at their team press conference.

"I can assure you that we are thinking very, very hard about the optimal way of proving to you guys that we're not doping," he said, in response to a question from me, urging him to provide his most compelling reason why we should believe not just in Chris Froome, but his entire team.

Brailsford suggested the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or UK Anti-Doping appoint an expert to analyse every single facet of their riders' training files, including biological passport data, blood readings, and weight and power data. "They can have everything that we've got. They can come and live with us, they can have all of our information; they can see all of our data.

"Someone sits there and pieces it all together and says, 'Well, yes or no (as to whether the team is riding clean)'," he said. "They could tell the world and you whether they think this (the performances) is credible or not."

This would satisfy me. And I think for those who still care, and perhaps more importantly, are willing to listen, it should satisfy you, too.

LeMond, now the only American to win the Tour de France legitimately – and who believes the maillot jaune is riding clean – "Froome looks like a talent; I would say the only question is, back it up with watts – said Sunday if teams released riders' data, be it biological or power-based, it "would end the speculation".

"It would be great to end that," he said. "It's for the riders. It would be ideal for everybody. You get rid of the speculation."

I'm not saying this is the definitive be all and end all, case closed, let's all move on type of thing. But if it was to happen, and Team Sky – or any other outfit – was awarded a clean bill of health, it would be a massive step forward.

You will never convince all – as I've said, die-hard cynics will remain die-hard cynics – but you will convince the majority, I reckon, and the doping questions would not stop, but abate, eventually becoming background noise to the wider – and more intriguing – questions as to how the race was won, and the man behind the bike.

"You tell me what would prove it for you, what could we do so that you wouldn't have to ask me the question?" Brailsford said yesterday to the swarm of journalists at their team hotel.

If you tell me you've heard such a statement from any other team owner/manager in the WorldTour peloton, I'll call you a liar.

For now, let's see Team Sky convert words into action, as well as applaud Froome's performance to date at La Grande Boucle.