Monday, July 16, 2018

Naming a New Winner for Tour de France

     Here's a modest proposal for us fans of the Tour de France who are bummed out by the dark questions surrounding Chris Froome, winner of four Tours who uses a drug that opens air passages to his lungs:
      Let's give a special award to the top rider who does not use any drugs, including those allowed presently by authorities under the category "therapeutic use exemption."
That will give us fans something to cheer for, even if someone like the drug-using Froome once again manages to finish first.

      Perhaps the leader in that competition could wear a jersey. How about one with red, white and blue stripes? The tri-color of France.
       Here's the background:
       (1) Froome has submitted documents stating he is an asthmatic. He has won four Tour de France races using salbutamol, which "is a medication that opens up the medium and large airways in the lungs," according to Wikipedia.
       (2) Getting more oxygen to the lungs has obvious advantages during the brutal three-week Tour de France, particularly in the grueling mountain stages.
      (3) Cyclists need to seek "therapeutic use exemptions" before they're allowed to use many drugs, with medical doctors certifying that the TUE is necessary for a rider's health. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky's first Tour winner, had TUEs for asthma and other conditions.
       This is from Cycling Weekly: "According to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules, 1,600 micrograms of salbutamol can be taken by an athlete via inhaler in a 24-hour period without the need for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) certificate. So Froome doesn't necessarily need a TUE for his asthma."
       (4) Research indicates that asthmatics using drugs tend to do better. One example: Runners World magazine in 2012 noted that asthmatics in the Olympics are "roughly twice as likely to win a medal as their non-asthmatic peers." Team Sky has been particularly successful with asthmatics. Bradley Wiggins won the Tour in 2012 for Sky, making five times Froome's team has won with drugs legally allowed.
         (5) Last year, at the Vuelta de Espana, Chris Froome tested well above the accepted limit of salbutamol. The well financed Team Sky found experts who stated the tests for salbatamol were flawed. After months of indecision, bicycle doping authorities dropped their case against Froome.
        (6) So under present rules, we fans don't know how much of this beneficial drug that Froome is taking. This makes for an ugly situation in which the Tour victory could go to someone who (at the least) can be suspected of cheating.
         One difficulty with my plan to name a drug-free winner: it would require the Tour -- or all the teams -- to declare who is using performance-enhancing drugs under TUE. Generaly, this information is secret, apparently under the assumption that a person's medical issues are not a public concern. Wiggins' and Froome's were made public by a Russian hacker group. And of course, we fans maintain we should have a right to know.
         So riders and teams -- step up: Tell us who is racing completely clean, and then let's have a new category for winning the Tour de France.