Tour de France Open Thread

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 3, 2010

I have almost nothing with the Tour de France, or with any other big sport event for that matter. The only relation between the Tour and me is that it started in Rotterdam this year, the city where I work. I have no interest, no expertise, no patience. But since Bill Gardner “asked for a Tour de France open thread”:, here it is. Enjoy.



Chris Brooke 07.03.10 at 8:25 pm


Bill Gardner 07.03.10 at 10:54 pm

Thank you, Ingrid.

I would love to see Lance win, or Leipheimer, or Vande Velde (in order of increasing hopelessness), so go ahead and hate me.

More constructively, we could discuss what to make of sports where (odds are) most everyone violates the rules. Peter Singer’s thoughts are here.

Or, Allen Buchanan’s podcasted LSE lectures on biomedical enhancement.


Myles SG 07.04.10 at 1:16 am

Not to hijack the thread, but speaking of sports, it seems mighty odd that there isn’t a Wimbledon thread. After all, it is one of the most important events of the British summer season.


Kevin 07.04.10 at 1:39 am

I’ll be cheering on the Schlecks, and Andy probably has the best chances out of the GC hopefuls on Contador, despite his crash in training. Better support than Cadel or Wiggins in the climbs, imho. As to LA, he’ll make a bid for it, but I’m not sure about his form. Leipheimer will probably be top 5.

And while I love Sastre, Cervelo just doesn’t have the support he needs in the mountains this year; I’d have liked to see Tondo on the team. I’ll hope for a stage win on the Tourmalet for Sastre if he avoids crashing.

I’m annoyed that Cavendish is in instead of Greipel, but I think Ferrar is my favorite for green. Hushovd will go for a stage win, but I don’t see him being in the right shape to take green again this year.

On the topic of Garmin-Transitions, I’m always interested in how Hesjedal does. His win in California makes me hopeful for a stage win in the tour.

Who do folks think will be most likely to suffer on the cobbles out of the GC hopefuls? Anyone want to venture a guess on the KOM or young rider?


Reinder Dijkhuis 07.04.10 at 7:01 am

I’ve always found that d-squared’s comments on darts illuminated the Tour de France for me. The difference between darts and the tour is that 150+ human beings get destroyed at a time, the destruction takes 21 days, and it’s physical as well as psychological.
It’s a blood sport, I tell ya!


Bill Gardner 07.04.10 at 11:07 am

Kevin @4:
It is difficult to imagine anyone but Contador for the GC. Is he even a member of our species? If anything is still in doubt by Stage 17, he will deploy the anti-gravity drive on the Col du Tourmalet, and that will be it. Any talk about Sastre is delusional.

Still feel that Cavendish deserves the Green after being robbed last year, despite his apparent sociopathy. However, as an unrepentant sporting nationalist, I too will be cheering for Tyler Farrar. With two Giro stages this year, he certainly could do it.

On the cobbles… Robbie McEwen predicts “carnage” on Stage 3, given the concentration of cobblestones in the final 70 km. But perhaps Cancellara will just break away on that stage and deny the sprinters a chance. He just won the Roubaix, he obviously has form, he will likely have the yellow jersey, and above all he is death on wheels on a flat stage.

I have no idea about the KOM, so I will predict Fausto Coppi, acknowledging that he has the disadvantage of being deceased.


Bill Gardner 07.04.10 at 4:02 pm

Stage 1. The carnage arrived today, with crashes taking out both Cavendish and Farrar. I would have thought that Hushovd would have seized the opportunity, but Pettachi wins instead. Cancellara retains the yellow jersey, and was congratulated by the King — Eddy Merckx — and then some other guy named Albert II.


hix 07.04.10 at 8:37 pm

So do they still count as cheaters with their dopeing or is it fair game at this point since everyone does it and the last person in the audience knows they cheat aswell?


quanticle 07.05.10 at 4:57 pm

With regards to doping, I wonder why some sports, like cycling, running, etc. seem to have many more doping scandals than others. Is it just my perception? Or does cycling really have more high profile doping incidents than say, association football?


Norwegian Guy 07.05.10 at 10:28 pm

Cycling certainly have more doping scandals than association football. Performance-enhancing drugs are probably more useful in sports where a single physical quality like endurance or strength are important, compared with sports where a more complex or technical set of skills are needed, like many team sports. Doping won’t give you better technique. For instance, there is less doping in ski jumping than in cross country skiing.


Substance McGravitas 07.06.10 at 12:58 am

Is the regime for testing the same in the two sports?


Bill Gardner 07.06.10 at 3:13 am

hix @8:
I think there are at least two questions. First, are they breaking a rule? Second, is the rule justified?

Obviously, many if not all professional cyclists have been breaking the rules, and thus are cheaters in sense 1. (Same for professional track and field athletes, NFL players, etc.)

But consider that until the 1970s, there was a zealously enforced amateur code at the Olympic games. And many athletes cheated, in sense 1. I’m disinclined to call those athletes ‘cheaters’, however, because I think the amateur code was unjustified and I want to reserve the term ‘cheaters’ for situations where I intend opprobrium.

So what about performance enhancing drugs? Thinking aloud: there are some dangerous substances, like EPO, that should be banned and rigorously tested for. This is, however, an issue of workplace safety. I am not convinced that users of PEDs have otherwise crossed a bright line that threatens ‘the moral integrity of a sport’. (The quotes are meant to signal that the latter concept is unclear, but not that it doesn’t exist or is deserving of snark.)


Guido Nius 07.06.10 at 7:23 am

I think you’re right, Bill, but it would be good if people dared to come out and say that “strictly speaking, I was cheating” such that we can move on. A right place to start would be King Eddy, it really would.

But meanwhile we have “cleaner, than clean” stopping the race because people fell of bikes. The irony of it: cycling is a sport where sportsmanship is so advanced they wait for people that can’t ride a bike (and therefore crash continuously).


Bill Gardner 07.06.10 at 3:29 pm

Guido @13:
I agree that having everyone admit PED usage would be more satisfying. But I do not think that the public would accept it, and the team sponsors would flee, and they would all be out of a job.

I have to think that public attitudes toward athletic doping will eventually change. The norm that “PEDs are EVIL”, as opposed to unsafe, just doesn’t feel stable to me.

BTW, Steven Levitt today on doping in the TdF.


Doug K 07.06.10 at 7:46 pm

As an amateur cyclist I follow the Tours with interest. Additional entertainment is derived from the personalities who make it a bit like daytime TV, and the spectacle of bicycle touring through France which makes it a fine show.
The sportsscientists blog is provocative but I suspect they are right, their arguments and numbers are quite persuasive. Interestingly I find this doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the sport much, since the professionals always seemed to be from another planet anyway.


Bloix 07.07.10 at 1:59 am

Re the sportsscientists link:

The post, which depends on the use of VO2max (highest possible intake of oxygen), does not report Armstrong’s recorded figures.

It has been reported elsewhere that Armstrong’s VO2 max was tested at 84 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. This is high but not outlandish. Other cyclists have had higher numbers: Cadel Evans, 87; Miguel Indurain, 88, Greg LeMond, 92. (Anything above 60 is considered excellent; an ordinary25 year old man is likely to be in the 40’s).

The analysis also uses Armstrong’s efficiency in converting power into output – this was 23%, as tested in 1999 – and uses this figure to calculate what his VO2max must have been in two examples where his power output is said to be known.

The first is a a specific climb, which, it is calculated, would have required Armstrong to consume 82 ml/kg/min over a period of 40 minutes. Assuming he was working at an average of 90% of his maximum output over that period, this would have required him to have a VO2 max of 91. The post takes this as evidence of doping, because it concludes that a 91 VO2 max was beyond Armstrong’ s capability, and therefore he must have been improving his efficiency in producing energy – with drugs.

But 82 ml/kg/min is well within his tested range, and so the calculations need to be off by less than 10% for the conclusion to become untenable. When you look at how the calculations were done, a 10% margin of error doesn’t seem unlikely.

The post gives another calculation, based on an oral interview claim made by Armstrong regarding his own performance on a different climb. Here the figures are more likely indicative of cheating, requiring a VO2 performance of 87 and a consequent VO2 max of 97 – beyond what is humanly possible. But there’s no consideration given to the possibility that Armstrong was exaggerating or misremembering.

In addition, there is no allowance given for the possibility that Armstrong might have improved his efficiency through training and diet after 1999, although other riders have been shown to have done so. Given his exacting nutrition and training regimes that allowed him to reach peak performance for the brief window of the Tour, I would be shocked if his efficiency had not increased somewhat over the years that he won.

The problem I have with the calculations is that even without them there is no doubt at all that Armstrong was performing at the very upper limit of physiological capacity. The calculations show that it’s possible that he was performing just beyond that limit, but they don’t show that he must have been beyond the limit. So they don’t add very much to what we already know.


BenSix 07.07.10 at 6:10 pm


Henry L. 07.08.10 at 6:33 pm

On the subject of sports that have received somewhat less attention :

Re: #10-While I think this is generally correct, I suspect that the rewards available probably do a lot to determine how widespread doping is in any given sport. From what little I understand of this, a lot of doping is used to enhance recovery, which is valuable for almost any sport. If Laurent Fignon’s memoir is anything to go by, then the practice has gotten a lot more systematic, and expensive, as cycle racing–and, specifically, the TdF–has become a far more globalized sport.


h 07.09.10 at 12:21 am

It’s not just drugs. For me the breaking point was mechanical doping. I used to follow the TdF with a kind of “wow” admiration (wow, they are riding up a very steep slope faster than I can ride down a steep slope). Now I think: Yes they are fantastic athletes, but the winner is always the person who is the cleverest cheater. A really well conditioned athlete who is not the best cyclist can win if he can figure out a way to use an engine on his bike.


David 07.09.10 at 5:18 am

@norwegian guy. Your speculation that this race only involves physical endurance or strength as opposed to more complex skills and team behavior is sadly ignorant, although common. Bike racing in a grand tour is very much a team effort as much as an individual effort. And anyone who thinks that complex skills aren’t involved has probably never ridden a bike around the block.

As for top of podium, I’m rooting for Armstrong but would be perfectly happy to see Andy Schleck or Cadel Evans get it. Don’t like Contador, even though he’s a superb rider.


Bloix 07.09.10 at 12:22 pm

David, I think you’re misreading norwegian guy. Obviously road racing is not the same as weight-lifting. Racing requires courage, skill, team-work, strategy. But if you have a group of similarly skilled riders backed by experienced teams, then a single ability will decide the race: the ability to ride uphill at speed for an extended period. ear after year only two or three riders have a real shot at victory, and the race is decided between them in a single mountain stage. And among the rest of the racers, their place in the GC is determined by their ability to hold on in the mountains.

The ability to maintain sustained high power output is one that can be enhanced by drugs or blood doping. And that’s why racing is prone to doping.


Bloix 07.14.10 at 4:33 am

The mountains took their toll today. Evans, out. Everyone out, really, except for Schleck and Contador.


Bill Gardner 07.14.10 at 10:17 pm

Really looked like a difficult day.


Henry L. 07.18.10 at 6:09 am

When Evans took the jersey I was looking forward to a wide-open tour. That changed in a hurry. Obviously, the Pyrenees (& two trips up the Tourmalet) will decide quite a lot, but I have a hard time seeing anyone but Contador in Yellow in Paris (assuming he doesn’t feel compelled to randomly head-but anyone…).

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