• Double standards... A performance without peer is treated quite differently in tennis versus cycling. (AFP)Source: AFP
There's a certain irony that we ask our star athletes to be themselves and not be so contrived, yet in cycling, when they do, they're often admonished for it, writes Anthony Tan.
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1 Feb 2016 - 11:47 AM  UPDATED 1 Feb 2016 - 11:53 AM

"When you're playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger's resumé, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that matchup than most of the other matches.

"So that's why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I mean, I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it."

"Imagine if Chris Froome told the press corps that his ride up Mont Ventoux on Stage 15 of the 2013 Tour de France was 'flawless'?"

This is what Novak Djokovic, the world's number-one tennis player, said after he clinically and ruthlessly disposed of a previous world number one, Roger Federer, at the Australian Open tennis semi-finals in Melbourne last Thursday night.

Federer, the generally cool, mild-mannered Swiss champion, is a crowd favourite wherever he goes, whereas the fiery Djokovic has a slightly more complex, and at times tense, relationship with the fans.

After a "flawless" first two sets, Federer managed to get himself the third. But the aging champ, now 34, was no match for the Serb six years his junior - as Djokovic said himself, "I feel like I'm in my prime right now" - and lost the fourth without much ado, ending his Australian Open campaign, an event he has triumphed in four times but last won six years ago.

Djokovic would then make light work of another much-loved underdog, Andy Murray, in Sunday night's final, to claim his sixth Australian Open crown and eleventh Grand Slam title. Another flawless first two sets, followed by a match-deciding tie-break in the third.

Now, just for a second, imagine if Chris Froome told the press corps that his ride up Mont Ventoux on Stage 15 of the 2013 Tour de France was 'flawless'? Or that, three days later, his stage-winning time trial where he beat Alberto Contador was 'ridden to perfection', knowing he would win because 'Fact is, right now, I'm simply the best bike rider'?

How would those comments have gone down?

What about the ride he did on the cobblestones one year on from his 2014 Tour campaign that previously ended his race? For a GC rider, wasn't his performance on Stage 4 of the 2015 race almost as good, if not as good, as Vincenzo Nibali's the year previous that we all gushed about?

Of course, there's also that tenth leg last year to La Pierre Saint-Martin, the first real mountain stage of the race, where he and then team-mate Richie Porte decimated the field before Froome further cemented his lead with a solo victory atop the hors catégorie ascent...

Flawless, no. Suspicious? Hell, yes!

Given that cycling is played in a far less controlled environment than a tennis stadium, and, over the course of three weeks' racing, you understand and appreciate all the things that can go wrong when exposed to the elements, the terrain, and the whims of some two hundred others around you in a rapidly-moving peloton, to say he rode flawlessly that day, it'd be a fair comment for Froome to make, I think.

Yet, where most tennis pundits appeared to agree with Djokovic's remarks after his jettisoning of Federer, had Froome said the same thing about his own performance or that of his team in the 2013 and 2015 Tours, many in the cycling world would have burned him at the stake.

The way I see things, the Kenyan-born Brit can do all the lab tests he wants but that in itself won't change a thing. Those that believe his performances to be credible will continue to do so, and those that don't won't budge in the slightest.

If you speak to any sports scientist, I'm sure they'll tell you his data - or that of almost any other best-of-the-best elite athlete, for that matter - can be interpeted (read: manipulated) to show what you want to read or hear.

(For what it's worth, I give Froome the benefit of the doubt not because of the data itself, but because of his willingness to provide it, and more in the future. Can you name another Tour winner who has been prepared to provide what Froome has to date, and endure so much public scrutiny?)

It is up to the UCI, and the anti-doping labs working in conjunction with the governing body and anti-doping authorities, to police the sport, to introduce new controls, and to make the sport as clean and credible as possible.

Who knows when that day might be, but I long for a time when a rider like Christopher Froome can thrash his way up a mountain in that utterly unconventional way he does, smash his rivals to bits, then like Djokovic, tell us how he did so without the reams of innuendo that, to date, continue to dog him, and the sport as a whole.

In pro cycling, where do you sit on the scale of believability?
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