It was a passage in the Esquire article on Chris Froome's latest attempt to shake off the doubters and post publication discussion that made me realise we had well and truly crossed over into a new realm in terms of fandom.
"On 13 July, Froome’s haemoglobin was 15.3 grams per litre (g/l) and 0.72 per cent of his red blood cells were immature (the normal adult range is 0.5–2.5 per cent). EPO stimulates the bone marrow, flooding the blood with immature cells, whereas a blood transfusion results in an excess of red blood cells, which suppresses the bone marrow and results in fewer immature red cells. His OFF-score, which approximates to the balance between the amount of red cells in his circulation and the rate of their formation, was 102.1. On 20 August, Froome’s haemoglobin was 15.3 and he had 0.96 per cent immature red blood cells. His OFF-score was 94.21."
You got that, right? Probably not. That passage requires deeper reading. In fact it requires that you actually engage and do further research, but for the majority of fans it’s probably just too much commitment.
The issue for many of us is not just time, but fatigue. Sport today is not a simple affair. It requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief just to watch.
And that's a problem for cycling as much as it is for other sports, probably more so. A frustration expressed here by The Times journalist Jeremy Whittle.
But I don’t want to be a rocket surgeon even though I play one on Twitter. Do you?
The difficulty with the science is that it is not particularly clear who is a goodie or a baddie, unless they are caught with their hands in the biscuit tin or fess up on Oprah.
If we had some nice clear thresholds that indicated an athlete should not pass go and head straight off to the sin bin that would be easy. But it isn’t, as the call for Froomey to reveal more data indicates.
Clearly, the more you know the more you don’t know. It’s a continuing education for all of us.
For a subset of us digging deeply into anti-doping protocols or even sporting criminality (I’m looking at you FIFA and IAAF) is exactly what we're looking for. We want to know more.
But imagine what it’s like for new entrants to our sport of choice, who come for the racing, personalities and scenery but are instead bombarded by discussion about numbers they neither care about nor understand.
The danger for cycling and many other sports is that this may turn off a large number of possible converts because the bar for entry is so high, requiring as Whittle says, a degree.