Paul Kimmage: Chris Froome in the eye of the storm - Part 2
Last week Paul Kimmage sat down with cyclist Chris Froome and the current Tour de France champions gave his most candid interview to date.
In the second and final part of his no-holds barred interview, the champion cyclist discusses the issue of doping that has blighted the sport, his experiences of it and proclaims that he has "no skeletons in the closet".
‘I watched the 2002 Tour de France with my mouth agape. It was the first Tour I ever saw. Ivan Basso and Lance Armstrong’s duel in the mountains was like an epic dogfight between to World War One pilot barons. A residual of hero worship for Basso lingered with me until I came to learn the shady pharmaceutical secret of his success. You never get over that feeling of betrayal. Basso was my first and last hero of he peloton.’ - ‘The Climb.’
Paul Kimmage: You saw the Tour for the first time in 2002.
Chris Froome: That’s a guestimate.
PK: Where were you?
CF: I was in the boarding house of St John’s College in Johannesburg. Our house master was into cycling and he had put cycling on the common room television and I can vividly remember Armstrong and Basso in the mountains together and watching them dueling.
PK: Why did you root for Basso and not Armstrong?
CF: It was some point soon after that Basso went down with his involvement in . . . I don’t know what doping case.
PK: Yes, I know what happened afterwards, but most kids (in 2002), I imagine, would have been rooting for Armstrong. What was it about Basso?
CF: I think because he was the weaker of the two, the underdog. And I also thought he had more style. He looked good on a bike and I liked the way he came across in his interviews . . .
Michelle Cound: His demeanor.
CF: Yeah, demeanor is a good word. He was very calm as opposed to Lance, who seemed a lot more in your face and not necessarily my type of guy.
PK: Someone who shouted a lot?
CF: (smiles) Possibly, yeah.
PK: It was ’05 when they went head-to-head, not ’02.
CF: Was it?
PK: Basso was 11th in ’02, 7th in ’03, 3rd in ’04 and 2nd in ’05. And a year later he was busted in Operation Puerto.
MC: Then you were much older . . . you were about 20, then.
CF: Okay, that’s strange. I really thought I had seen them going head-to-head in the boarding house.
MC: Unless it was a specific stage?
CF: Which was the one were Lance basically gave Basso the stage?
PK: I’m not sure what year it was.
(It was 2004.)
CF: That stays in my memory, that day.
PK: The formative influence in your cycling career was David Kinjah.
PK: He spent some time in Europe.
CF: Yeah, and for an African, a Kenyan, to actually get over onto the European continent was a huge victory in itself. He found his way onto the Alessio Aluminium team and spent a winter training with them, I think in Tuscany. But they announced they were folding just before the first race and that was pretty much the end of his pro career.
PK: So he didn’t actually race?
CF: He didn’t race at all.
PK: Did he mention doping to you at all?
CF: He talked about things he had heard, that riders would sleep with alarms or some kind of monitors to wake them up to make sure their heart rates wouldn’t go too low with the EPO and stuff. He’d tell me about these stories and I just thought, ‘Wow, that sounds just another world’. So he did talk about doping in that sense, but I don’t think he had ever seen anything used in front of him.
PK: It took you a long time to get good at this sport.
CF: I think there were flashes of it I mean, as a neo-pro going into the (2008) Tour after my mother’s death . . . I had taken two weeks off the bike before going to the Tour - and it’s not a result as such - but was able to stay with Denis Menchov on the early slopes of Alpe D’Huez.
PK: Yeah, that was a good performance.
CF: My goal was just to get to the end of the Tour, to get the experience of doing a Tour, but to have (finished) 16th in the final time trial was a real feather in my cap. And then (if) you take out the guys who (tested) positive in front of me, that made me feel really good and gave me a lot of confidence going forward.
PK: You rode your first Tour with the Barloworld team. Those guys were no angels.
CF: Well, I see that now. I knew from the doping headlines and the stories I’d heard that the sport had been riddled with this problem in the past but I thought: ‘I’ve managed to turn professional and I haven’t doped so it’s obviously moving in the right direction.’ And in 2008 I really did believe I was in a clean sport.
PK: Yes, you say that in the book. What was that belief based on?
CF: The fact that they were catching people and making examples of them and banning them from the sport. That, to me, said, ‘Okay, there are still a few old school individuals in the peloton but they’re getting caught. And it’s only a matter of time until those guys are gone so keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.’
PK: Did you witness any doping at Barloworld?
CF: No, definitely not.
PK: Your team-mate, Duenas was done?
(Note: The Spaniard, Moises Duenas tested positive after the fourth stage and a number of banned products were found when police searched his room.)
CF: Duenas was doing it and that was a big shock, well to me it was anyway.
PK: You use that word but I don’t understand how you would have been ‘shocked’ by it?
CF: Well, he was sitting 16th in the Tour or something like that, so it’s not as if he was winning everything. He was riding the way I thought he would ride having focused his preparations on the Tour, so it was a big shock. This was a guy who I’d speak to on the bus occasionally and he always seemed very polite and quiet. He seemed like a cool guy to me.
PK: Someone who wouldn’t cheat?
CF: Not a cheat. A cheat, to me, is a different kind of character so that to me was scary.
PK: What about recuperation? Did you have any injections during that Tour?
CF: No. On Barloworld they did do injectable . . . was it Fluimacil? It was an amino acid or something and the doctor would administer that at certain points. And I did have some Fluimacil. I don’t know if I had it on the Tour but there were . . . it’s possible once or twice.
PK: Who was the doctor?
CF: (Massimiliano) Mantovani. And before he’d do it he would show it to me and say: ‘This is Fluimacil, an amino acid. It will help you to recover.’
PK: You would ask to see what it was?
PK: When was the first time you had an injection as a bike rider?
CF: It would have been on Barloworld.
PK: Because for me, syringes and sport was not a natural association?
CF: No, and not one I had before either.
PK: When was the first time?
CF: I don’t necessarily remember the first time; I just remember it was a few times when I was at Barloworld. It would have been one of the earlier Spanish races that I did. It was definitely in a stage race, about half-way through or two-thirds of the way through. The doctor came around to everyone’s room and said, ‘Okay guys, you’ve had three hard days, here are some amino acids to help you recover.’ At first I thought, ‘This is a bit weird’ but he explained there were no problems with it and that it was completely allowed.
PK: In the book, when you’re talking about that first year at Barloworld you say: ‘Cheating would not be an option for me.’ Why not?
CF: It’s not what I stand for. It’s not who I am. In my mind it’s stealing, because the guys who cheat and get results are the ones who demand higher salaries, which means the guys lower down get lower salaries. And it’s stealing from those guys.
PK: (I laugh) That hasn’t been a problem for a lot of bike riders.
CF: Yeah maybe it was something my father instilled in me in terms of my morals or . . .
MC: Yeah, you’ve got really strong morals, even as far as our relationship goes. I know I can trust you 100 per cent. You hear stories about some riders and . . . (laughs) . . . they don’t necessarily have the best morals.
PK: There were other riders busted in that Tour.
CF: Oh, the whole Saunier-Duval team was sent home. And there was Schumacher and Kohl and I got to the end of that race and thought ‘What have I got myself into!’ I had to try and say to myself: ‘Okay, well, all these guys have been given bans. It’s going to be clean now, surely.’ But I’ve come to learn that there are always going to be cheats and people breaking the rules. I just have to have faith that the testing is up to scratch.
PK: You spent two seasons at Barloworld and joined Sky from their launch in 2010?
PK: And you’ve been presented as someone with no pedigree (before his breakthrough ride at the 2011 Tour of Spain) but you had a decent pedigree.
PK: But it wasn’t the pedigree of a Grand Tour winner. Is that fair?
CF: Yeah, but I think a large part of that was (my) mentality; I’d go into the races with different jobs (to do) and was almost never thinking, ‘Okay, I’m going to be as conservative as possible until that moment in the race when I need to move with the big guys.’ And there was losing weight. I lost a lot of weight. I had always raced on Barloworld at about 70/71 (kgs) and I think I got down to about 69 in my first year at Sky.
PK: The point you make about the way you raced: those roles are designated for you based on what the team perceives as your ability.
PK: So up until that point (the 2011 Tour of Spain) Sky would have seen you as a domestique?
MC: They knew you had an engine.
PK: Well, you clearly had an engine because you finished what, 36th in the Giro (with Barloworld) in ’09?
MC: I think you went a little backwards with Sky at first.
MC: They where putting you into those roles, whereas at Barloworld you had a bit more freedom. Also, they had set-up Chris’ bike as a back-up bike for Brad.
CF: No, I don’t know if that’s . . . we mustn’t say that. They changed my position the first year at Sky. They lifted my saddle up and forward and I really battled with that position and started getting knee pain and back pain.
MC: And when Chris complains about pain it’s a lot of pain, because he never complains about anything.
PK: You say in the book that you watched Wiggins (riding for Garmin) in the ’09 Tour: ‘Wiggins was carrying no extra weight. I knew that if you wanted to ride clean, your diet and nutrition are huge issues and I was always exploring that side of cycling. I had been training for a long time without breakfast but race days were different. You couldn’t go out to race without food inside you . . . I watched Bradley wondering how I would forge the gap.’ So it was in 2009 that you became aware of the weight issue?
CF: I have always been aware of the weight issue, but I had always taken it for granted that when I pushed my weight I could get it to about 69 (kg) and that was a good place to be. I don’t think I necessarily thought that I could go much lower than that, and apparently I have. I’ve gone a good three kilos lower which is huge.
MC: He starved himself before the Vuelta, and then he came back to South Africa and that’s when we started dating. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in sports nutrition and my view was that he could still train on more protein and cutting back on the carbs at certain times. And also making sure he wasn’t hungry, so having more meals, more often, things like that.
CF: But smaller portions. Basically, I think I lost the weight for that 2011 Vuelta
in an unhealthy way; I was starving myself trying to get the weight off and I don’t think that’s healthy or sustainable. But since I’ve been with Michelle I’ve learned to do things in a . . .
MC: It also keeps your weight more stable throughout the year, so you’re not starving yourself, and then after a Tour you want to eat everything.
CF: (laughs) I still do.
MC: Especially the carbs, he’s got such a sweet tooth. But he’s found now that if he does cut back on carbs the weight does come down a lot easier than it did in the past. And cutting out foods like breakfast cereals and a lot of the wheat products and bread but still eating enough food – the right food – that he is able to not feel hungry during the day. If you look at his build from the 2011 Vuelta compared to now, he’s still lean but his muscles look a lot more defined. So now he has found a way of doing it . . .
CF: That doesn’t involve starving myself, basically.
PK: Go back to 2010 and joining Team Sky. One of their catchy phrases was ‘the thin blue line’ between winning and losing. You say in the book: ‘Micro coaching and long-term planning wasn’t a marginal change. It was massive. To me it is a big challenge to the legacy of the mass-doping era. I believe the prevalence of cheating and the fatalistic belief that ‘everybody’ was doing it retarded the progress of clean science in cycling training.’ What is the difference between ‘clean’ science and ‘dirty’ science?
CF: I think the principles are obviously . . . In the old school system, you don’t need to pay as much attention to things like the real specifics of the intervals you’re doing, and the training you’re doing, and the nutrition, if you’ve got a substitute that will give you larger gains, ie the doping. But I believe, without the doping now, that our advantages are in the training and the nutrition.
PK: And by nutrition, are we talking carrots and potatoes or supplements?
CF: I’m talking more about the food, soup, beetroot juice and all these superfoods.
PK: What supplements are you taking?
CF: I take a protein drink, fish oils, energizer greens – a CMP vegetable drink -nothing out of the ordinary. I take Loratadine every day, an anti-histamine that helps me with skin reactions to sun creams and the rubbish that seems to flare up my skin. I take my inhaler every day.
PK: Is that Ventolin?
CF: Ventolin only if I’ve got effort. Fluticasone is a daily one, more a preventative, so I take two sprays.
PK: And it was Ventolin you used in the Dauphine?
CF: Yeah, so that was on the bike before a big effort.
PK: But is that using the inhaler to boost your performance? You’re taking it before a big effort, not because you . . .
CF: I eat breakfast before a long race. Is that not doing something to boost my performance? If I don’t eat I won’t have any energy; if I don’t have my inhaler before a really big effort I’m probably not going to be able to breathe very well. I know I’m not going to be able to breathe very well.
PK: But is that (health) not the essence of competition?
CF: Inhalers are not performance enhancing; if any normal person who doesn’t have asthma takes an inhaler, they’re not going to ride any faster. Their lungs are not going to open any larger than they were before. But someone who does have asthma, the airways are going to close up and that inhaler just helps them to close less. It just helps me be more normal and I definitely don’t see that as an unfair advantage.
PK: Any other supplements?
PK: You never use cortisone in training?
CF: No, never.
PK: What about Telmisartin?
CF: I never heard of it before.
PK: The team (Sky) had a pretty ordinary season when you joined in 2010?
CF: Well, I think with any team starting off there are going to be (teething problems.)
PK: Dr Geert Leinders was brought on board for 2011, and if you look at the graph of performance, it is a somewhat unfortunate coincidence that it goes up as soon as he joins.
CF: Could it not have been Bobby Julich joining?
(Note: An American coach and former rider who joined the team in 2011.)
PK: It could, absolutely. The second unfortunate coincidence is the rumoured abuse of a new drug – Aicar – that allows athletes to shed weight without losing their strength. Because that has always been the trade off, hasn’t it? When you shed weight, you lose power?
CF: Yeah, if you’re breaking down muscle that is, and that’s why the weight loss process is really important. If you look at me, as Michelle pointed out, in the Vuelta that year (2011), I think my muscles were probably lighter. I was quite gangly. You wouldn’t look at me and say, ‘That’s someone who’s strong’. Whereas now, my diet is a lot more protein based. I’ve cut back on carbs completely but I’m not losing muscle.
MC: The first time I heard about Aicar was when someone tweeted about it during the 2012 Tour. I told Chris about it. He had never heard about it either but apparently they’ve got a test now and they’re going to do retrospective testing so . . .
CF: I’m sure there’s going to be another product next year. Right now, everyone is talking about Xenon gas or something but I’ve no idea how it works. New products are always going to come out, but I don’t have a (guilty) conscience. I’ve never used any products like that.
PK: I’m interested that you didn’t mention (Tim) Kerrison’s name when I suggested the improvement might have come from Leinders. You mentioned Julich?
(Note: Kerrison, the Head of Athlete Performance, is generally credited as the ‘Genie’ at Team Sky.)
CF: Personally, I never worked with Tim.
PK: You never worked with him?
MC: Not until this year.
CF: Not until Bobby left. I was working with Rod (Ellingworth) at first and then with Bobby when he came. Tim was always working with Brad and the more top-end guys. I think Tim would set training that Bobby would assign to me, so it was indirectly coming from Tim, but I had very little contact with Tim at that point.
PK: What about Leinders? I want to remind you (of your description) of ‘Omerta’ in the book: ’No matter what you have seen or what you have heard, you say nothing. If a doping story breaks, you are always surprised. You never heard anything, you never saw anything and nobody ever spoke about it.’ The one thing I find absolutely astonishing about Leinders and his association with the team is that nobody ever worked with him. He spent two fucking years with the team and nobody had any dealings with him!
CF: (Laughs) I don’t know what you want to call dealings. Each rider is assigned a doctor on the team and you go to that doctor for your day-to-day problems. I wasn’t assigned Geert Leinders put it that way.
MC: You were with Usher then? Weren’t you?
MC: Because when I was looking up the Bilharzia things, you emailed Usher and asked him about somewhere you could get your Bilharzia tested around this area, so . . .
CF: When I’d be on a race with Geert Leinders; I think I did Romandie with him.
MC: And you did the Vuelta with him, you went to see him with your skin condition.
CF: When he was on the races I would see him, definitely . . . Like the skin problem I had in the Vuelta; I woke him up at two in the morning and he gave me the hydrocortisone cream.
PK: Do you not need a TUE for that?
CF: No, not for creams. You just need to declare it on the forms.
CF: I don’t think I had any other issues that he has treated. I mean, the way I saw Geert Leinders was I knew he had come from Rabobank, and that he had come from a (doping) past that . . .
PK: You’re the only person at Sky who has admitted that. Nobody else knew.
CF: I knew he had come from Rabobank, and I knew riders had doped on Rabobank but I didn’t know if they were doing it on their on back or with the doctors (compliance). And it wasn’t something I discussed with Geert Leinders. He never tried to push products onto me.
PK: And given that a lot of the reservations about your performance are based on that association with Leinders. Are you not angry about that?
CF: It was definitely a mistake by the team not looking into his past, not doing their research, especially given that they had said they were not going to hire any (non-British) doctors.
MC: You renewed with the team in 2011 based on a lot of their policies. You didn’t want to go to teams where there was Bjarne Riis or (people like that). So you believed in their policies.
CF: And to an extent I still do. I know there is no organised doping within Team Sky.
MC: This whole latest thing with Dr Peters making statements to David Walsh (that the team had a no TUE policy) as well, it puts you in a difficult position.
CF: I definitely feel that the teams stance to set out to be the cleanest team has put us under that microscope, and put us in the firing line of people who do have issues with that. I understand that, but that’s a decision the team has made and taken on. I feel as a rider I can only do so much.
The Enemy Within
‘While Froome is battling for the maillot jaune, he’s been battling and enemy from within over the past several seasons. On Tuesday, Froome said he continues bi-annual check-ups and treatments to rid the parasite entirely from his system. “I do go for a check-up every six months. The last was in January and it was still in my system,” he said. “I take Biltracide. It kills the parasite in the system.” - VeloNews, July 2013
PK: The other issue that’s often raised about you is the Bilharzia, because when people question your pedigree (and the transformation in 2011) it’s often referred to as the key to it all.
CF: I wouldn’t say it’s the key to it but a factor. I was healthy and not fighting Bilharzia.
PK: Tell me about the diagnosis. It was at the end of the 2010 season and you’ve returned to Nairobi?
PK: And you have to have a UCI blood passport test?
CF: Yeah, a quarterly test. Every quarter we have to go and give blood and have certain parameters checked. And you do that in your own time, or within a time frame set out by the UCI. I was staying with my brother Jeremy at the time and he had been to this doctor called Dr (Charles) Chunge, who was working in a tropical disease clinic. My brother had been feeling under the weather and they had found Bilharzia. He said to me, ‘Listen, they’ve got a lab there and can do all of your blood tests. Why don’t you see this doctor?’ Because I had been getting this recurring chest infection; I’d start getting lean and good in my racing and get a chest infection and have to stop and start building up again. It was a recurring cycle so Jeremy said, ‘Just go to Chunge and do your bloods there.’
PK: Do the UCI not specify where you are to have the blood test done?
PK: So it’s any lab close to you? They take the blood and send it to the UCI. Is that how it works?
CF: Is it sent to the team or sent to the UCI? I don’t know.
MC: There’s a journalist, Nick Harris, has been looking into it. He contacted Dr Chunge.
PK: This is what’s confusing me. I was under the impression that you did the laboratory (test for the UCI) and a test with Dr Chunge. But it was Dr Chunge who did the UCI test?
MC: No, well, there are two Dr Chunges. There’s Dr Ruth Chunge, who runs the lab, and Dr Charles Chunge, who does the tropical medicine.
CF: His wife does the lab. She runs the lab. Basically, I went to Chunge and told him how I was feeling and he said, Okay, first thing we’re going to do is a complete blood screening for you.’
PK: So you saw him before you saw Ruth?
CF: Yes. I went to Charles and he said, ‘Okay, you can do all your UCI stuff in the room next door – they will do all of your blood parameters – but what I’m going to ask for is that they also test for Bilharzia and Typhoid.’ I went in next door and gave blood and they called me - I think within 24 hours – and said: ‘Listen, you are riddled with Bilharzia. The levels are very high. It has been in your system a good while, possibly a year or two years.’
PK: A year or two years?
CF: I don’t know.
MC: There is no way to tell.
CF: There were a lot of eggs; they measure the eggs or antibodies and there was quite a high reading.
PK: And you got the treatment then?
CF: I got Praziquantel.
PK: This is Biltricide, is it?
MC: It’s the same thing.
CF: It’s a form of Biltricide, another name for it.
PK: And then you had another treatment (of praziquantel in June 2011) after the Tour of Suisse?
MC: I think that one was (the result of) a sample from a lab in Nice/Monaco – a stool sample that came back positive.
PK: I find it curious that you had just spent a season with a team that prides itself on attention to detail. You were feeling poorly all year. Surely someone at Sky could have sent you for a blood test?
(Michelle starts laughing)
CF: To be honest, yeah it is (surprising) . . .
MC: I think that’s the whole angle of Nick’s story - that they (the team) dropped the ball with Chris with the Bilharzia thing. I mean, it’s not something that would be picked up in a standard blood test, but why didn’t they assign a doctor to monitor Chris? Instead, we were running around trying to find people that could help Chris. It wasn’t an issue that the team paid much attention to.
CF: Bobby (Julich) was good.
MC: Bobby felt it was something he needed to stay on top of. And the team did make you go and have a test in 2012. But the big misconception is that Biltricide is 100 per cent effective. In the UK and in Europe, they believe it’s 100 per cent effective but it’s not.
PK: Yes, and that’s where a lot of the confusion has come from because I read some stuff (expert opinions) saying that he should have been it after that first course of Biltricide but it took several treatments.
CF: I think the crux of it is: this wasn’t something the team was used to treating, or anyone in Europe was used to treating, so it was something I had to sort out.
And I think a lot of the confusion would come when guys like Dave (Brailsford) or Bobby or someone on the team would be asked about it and misquote things. And I’ve got to admit I’ve also messed up dates myself.
MC: (laughs) He doesn’t have the best memory.
CF: I get my years mixed up.
PK: Before the Vuelta in 2011, Sky weren’t going to renew your contract?
CF: Garmin had shown interest, so I had a bit of hope but Alex Carera, my agent at the time, showed me some text messages from Dave saying basically ‘This guy has done nothing.’ I’d like to think that was a bargaining tool to get my price down but basically, Alex was saying: ‘These guys don’t believe in you. We need to look elsewhere.’
PK: And you almost didn’t make that team? It was only because (Lars-Petter) Nordhaug pulled out that you were selected for the team?
CF: Apparently, I didn’t know that at the time.
PK: There were flags raised in the team about your performance (in that Vuelta). Did anyone from the team ever raise this with you at all?
PK: Nobody asked: ‘What’s going on here, boy?’
CF: No, never.
PK: Now this parasite (Bilharzia) attacks your red blood cells?
PK: Richard Freeman (a Team Sky doctor) told David Walsh that your performances had tripped an alarm in his head. He looked at your (blood) profiles and there was no inconsistency. But if you’ve had a parasite attacking your red cells, surely there should be (some inconsistency). Surely that should show up?
CF: I would imagine so. I don’t know what the blood passport looks like. I’ve never looked into it.
MC: I think if there were issues at all, the UCI would have raised it. They’re not going to take it for granted that it was in the media that Chris has had Bilharzia.
CF: Logic says your red blood cells would be lower because your haematocrit is being eaten by those parasites. I’d imagine if there were any changes to my normal (profile) it would probably still be within the parameters so . . .
MC: You definitely weren’t in the advanced stages of Bilharzia.
CF: I was pretty full on.
MC: But you weren’t in the advanced stages, so it wasn’t necessarily going to be eating that much of (the red cells). But it was definitely affecting your performance.
CF: Yeah, but I don’t think either one of us is qualified to say exactly what stage of Bilharzia (I was at). But as far as the blood passport is concerned; I don’t know what it looks like or anything, but I’d imagine if it was outside the parameters questions would have been asked.
PK: You would have no problem with anybody else looking at those profiles?
PK: Would you have a problem with that? Because I know the team were asked about your power data last year during the Tour and released it (to Fred Grappe, a French Sports Performance expert) but the data was from after 2011 I think.
CF: I have training files I’d be able to show from before (2011) or even race files.
MC: Do you remember that coach you bumped into last year who did tests on you at Barloworld?
CF: No, that was the doctor. That was Mantovani.
PK: When was this?
CF: At the US Pro Challenge last year. He said, ‘Chris, I can send you the data from the tests that we did. You were pushing pretty much the same watts.’ Or within maybe five per cent of the watts people are claiming I’m pushing now. But at that time I was 72 kilos or something. He said, ‘If you’re at 66 (kg) like you say you are, and pushing the same watts, then its normal that you are going this fast.’
PK: What about a VO2 test? There’s a tirade of noise on the social media asking: ‘Why won’t he do a VO2 test?’ And experts like Antoine Veyer saying he has asked but the team has refused. I don’t understand why you’re not banging on his door saying: ‘Antoine, what’s the problem here? How can I help? Show me the bike and I’ll do the test. What other questions do you have?’
CF: What’s going to be gained from a VO2 test other than being submissive to people who are basically just going to use that in one way or another to try and prove their point.
MC: Antoine Veyer has his own agendas and Tim did sit down with him last year and . . .
CF: I’ve done one VO2 test I think in 2007 with the UCI school (in Aigle). The results were online - I think my VO2 was between 80 and 85, and that would have been at about 70 kilos. VO2 is weight specific, so take away 4 kilos and that could possibly raise it I guess, I don’t know.
PK: You say, ‘Why should I be submissive?’ What do you have to lose?
CF: Yeah, maybe it is something we would look at doing one day.
MC: It’s not something that the team does.
CF: And I mean, people with really low VO2s have been amazing bike riders. And people with high VOs have been useless bike riders, so its not a measure the team uses. I’ve definitely never done a VO2 max test with the team.
PK: And you don’t see the point in doing one just to shut these people up?
CF: At some point I probably will.
PK: Do one next week before the Tour.
PK: It might reduce some of the heat when you turn up in Yorkshire?
CF: And if it comes back as 70 or 90? What’s that going to change?
PK: I’m not an expert. What they’re saying - given the result of your previous test, and the power you’re producing now – is that you are on the limit of what is viewed as being physiologically impossible.
PK: The absolute limit.
CF: Okay, but I mean I’ve got to have some level of talent having being able to win the Tour. (laughs) So I would like to think I’m in that higher bracket but . . . yeah, I don’t know.
PK: I am really impressed that you invited me here to answer these questions.
CF: I want to answer these questions. It frustrates me that I’m under so much speculation, so much . . . because all I’ve done is try to be open. I mean, read the book - my weight, my absolute best powers are in the book.
PK: The admission that you have set a faster time than Armstrong on the Col de la Madone set off a few alarms. But that’s the climate, isn’t it?
CF: Yeah, I mean I can’t give a reason as to why I go faster than some of those guys, I can’t. I just know that I do my training and . . .
MC: Armstrong is not built like a climber for starters. He was never a climber.
CF: (laughs) Let’s not go there.
MC: Armstrong gets very upset if I mention anything about . . . He wasn’t very happy when I spoke about the Madone last year.
MC: Philippe Gilbert tweeted a photo of the Madone (to Armstrong): ‘Oh look, there’s your climb.’ And I replied and said: ‘Haven’t you heard? It’s Chris’ climb.’ And he retweeted it, hoping for some Armstrong hate against me I’m sure.
CF: No but, I mean . . . to be saying that there are physiological limits to our performances. I might as well give up now if I can’t strive to be better. That’s the whole goal of everything I’m doing. I live my whole life to try and get these margins, to push those limits higher and if someone is going to turn around and say, ‘That’s too much.’ Are you kidding? That’s my job.
MC: I mentioned to Paul about the team that did that report on your training . . .
CF: Yeah, I am very particular about my training.
CF: Obsessive, I want to understand the efforts I’m doing. When Tim (suggests) something to me I’ll say, ‘Sure but we can do a bit more here.’ I’m always trying to hit those efforts 100 per cent. I also think the style of racing has changed. It was quite funny, Richie (his team-mate Richie Porte) and I were looking at Hautacam (the Pyrenean climb). We were going to go recon it and wanted to see it online before going to ride it. We brought up a video of Armstrong and Pantani racing up Hautacam and it was comical watching it – it was as if they were sprinting all the way up. We looked at it and felt, ‘That just doesn’t happen anymore.’ So for people to say now that I’m going faster up the climbs than Lance, I can’t explain that. What I can say is that I believe the racing has evolved in the sense that, back then, they would probably have climbed the climbs before the final climb, at the same speed. That’s not the case today. If we go that fast up the first climb, there’s no way we’ll go that fast up the last climb. And I think that’s probably a big tell as to the EPO that was used then.
MC: I mean, yeah, if you were to do Madone once every day for a week . . .
CF: Well, I think Lance even said that that time he set up Madone was at the end of a five-and-a-half hour training ride where he had been doing efforts and stuff. And then he came to the Madone and then set the fastest time up there. When we do the Madone now, we roll out from Monaco and go there within ten minutes and go straight into it when we’re fresh. So I mean, the sport has changed. The style of racing has changed.
Ethics and Rules
Ethics: the moral principles governing or influencing conduct.
Rule: a regulation or principle governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity.
- Concise Oxford Dictionary
PK: Okay, a couple of points about things in the book that ‘jar’. You saw your attitude to Basso changed when he went positive (‘You never get over that feeling of betrayal. Basso was my first and last hero of the peloton.’) and it’s a point you make several times about your attitude to people who cheat.
PK: I’m trying to square that with the Vuelta in 2011. Brailsford has come back to the table and has offered you a new deal. Why would you meet Bjarne Riis, someone who, for me, epitomises cheating?
CF: Well . . .
CF: Yeah, bargaining power, I was interested to see what was on the table. I recognise that these guys are in the sport - guys who have doped or had a part in doping - but I also recognize that’s just not the way it is any more, and that just because riders ride for Bjarne doesn’t mean they dope.
CF: Yeah, another guy who . . . he did test positive, right?
MC: I think for blood doping.
CF: Yeah, so another guy who has been involved in doping in the past but any involvement with him now wouldn’t necessarily mean . . . I wouldn’t say that (Vincenzo) Nibali and every rider on Astana is now doping because of Vinokourov. Times have changed and these characters are still in the sport - that’s just the way it is at the moment. That’s where Team Sky, with their code of ethics, is one way of ruling out that association.
MC: At the end of the day, all you can do is ride the best that you can within your own abilities and do it right.
PK: What price do you put on ethics?
CF: Yeah, (exhales) like you said, I don’t believe there should be . . . I mean it’s not as if Team Sky go around trying to (impose) their ethics on everyone else: ‘Why are you employing ex-dopers?’ They can’t hold everyone else to their set of ethics?
PK: What about your ethics? You use the word ‘betrayal’ about Basso and I’m thinking ‘That’s exactly what I want to hear.’ But then I see you at Vinokourov’s retirement party and being photographed with him. So what happens to betrayal?
CF: Yeah, I mean going to Vinokourov’s thing . . . this guy is a big icon in cycling. He has a retirement party here (Monaco),and there’s going to be a lot of influential cycling people here . . .
PK: He’s a fucking cheat.
CF: (Laughs) You said that.
MC: I don’t think Chris fully understood that (Vinokourov) had doped.
CF: No, I knew.
MC: Not fully.
PK: I want you to say it Chris. You say, ‘You said that’ but I want you to say it. As a cycling fan, I want you to say, ‘You know these fucking cheats? I’m sick of them. They’ve ruined the sport. They’re ruining my life. This is the price I’m paying for these fuckers, so I’m not going to have anything whatsoever to do with them.’
PK: I want you to say that.
CF: I’m not going to point the finger at Lance or Vinokourov or Basso or Bjarne.
PK: Why not?
CF: Because it’s not one person who fucked it up for us. It’s a generation of cheats. I’m more pissed off with the governing body of cycling for allowing that to go on for so long. It was allowed to happen in the sport . . . well, I don’t want to say allowed but it did happen for so long, and I think that goes back to the UCI and it’s their mess that they didn’t sort this out sooner.
PK: That’s a fair point. But you’re not going to hold the riders to account for their part in that?
CF: No, no, the riders should be held to account for that.
PK: But you’re not going to do it?
CF: It’s not my job to do it.
PK: Whose job is it?
CF: It’s the UCI’s.
PK: Is it not up to everybody who loves the sport?
CF: Definitely, I mean if people want to start banging on those guys doors now, their teams, and asking them to close their doors then that’s obviously . . . But you’re talking about getting rid of three-quarters of the teams.
PK: So be it.
CF: I’d be happy with that. I’d go along with that. From a personal point of view, I’ve got no skeletons in the closet.
MC: I made some points about that (on Twitter) earlier this year, and a lot of people drew it back to Contador and I got severely abused by many Spanish fans. The point I was trying to make is that there are riders in the current peloton that have tested positive and yet Chris is the one who is being faced with all the doping questions. Why are we not asking the guys who actually have knowledge of the doping? Surely they have a bit more knowledge on the subject? And that’s my issue with it now. They are coming after Chris like crazy but ignoring the fact that there are people with a lot more knowledge of it in the peloton now, still today.
CF: That’s the predicament the sport finds itself in at the moment. Do you say: ‘Those guys should have nothing to do with the sport?’ Or do you allow them to continue in the sport given that they follow the rules now.
PK: Do they follow the rules?
CF: I believe they do . . . Oh, fuck me! I wouldn’t be able to get on my bike and train the way I do, if I thought these guys didn’t follow the rules. I’ve got to believe my rivals are clean and doing it by the book or I’m done before I’ve even started a race.
MC: I think they should have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and let everything come out. Let them expose everyone that was involved at the UCI and WADA, I mean, why not? Why should they be allowed to continue in their jobs as if nothing had happened and just punish Bruyneel and Armstrong when there’s obviously a much bigger problem? If they can release your TUE information, what’s to say that they’re not releasing test information?
CF: The big thing for me is that I have to put faith in the system, in the testing. And for me that’s where I feel WADA and the UCI are dropping the ball because people are questioning me. Why are they questioning me? Because they don’t believe in the tests. I’m passing all the tests, but still getting criticised. If people understood the level of testing we went through and that the tests are comprehensive now, you can’t dodge these tests. You can’t hide under your couch when testers come or you’ll get banned anyway.
MC: They woke us up at six/seven this morning. Three mornings ago they did the same thing.
PK: This morning?
PK: Who was it?
CF: The AFLD (the French Anti-Doping Agency) . . . it’s the first time actually that they’ve come.
MC: The UCI came a few days ago. He sleeps like a rock – I’m the one that launches out of bed.
CF: In the past 10 days since the Dauphine, I’ve been nailed, I’ve been tired. I’ve had two rest days, one today and one four days ago and on both rest days they’ve been there at seven in the morning. It’s frustrating but I’m happy to do the tests – that’s the price we pay. But I believe the UCI and WADA need to be more vocal about the testing we are going through, and to get the credibility back into the sport.
MC: I don’t understand why they can’t . . . they don’t have to release the test information, but maybe just the (frequency) and the names of the riders. I’d like to know that everyone else is getting tested as much as Chris – I don’t think they are. I mean up on Tenerife, for example . . .
PK: Yes, I was going to ask about that. A few weeks ago, you tweeted that you hadn’t been tested during your training camp up there (Mount Teide). Why didn’t you do it last year or the year before?
CF: Because this year was the first time . . .
MC: The frequency of your tests has become a lot more apparent.
CF: We were tested once up there I think in 2012, so I wasn’t going to tweet it then. I never went there in 2011; in 2013 we went up there and we weren’t tested.
PK: At all?
CF: Not in Tenerife.
PK: So why not tweet about it then?
CF: Because it didn’t seem such a big issue for me. I felt ‘Okay, it’s Team Sky here’ and that they had obviously got a good measure of our levels and didn’t need to test us quite as much. But when I saw the whole of Astana up there (this year) and other teams, and that no one had been tested I was like: ‘Hold on, we’re all getting ready for the Tour de France which is less than six weeks away and no one is being tested! Something is not right.’ So I believe it was my place to say something.
PK: They came to your apartment at seven o’clock this morning?
PK: What was the procedure?
CF: They came in and said ‘We need to do a blood and urine test.’ I sat there, filled out the forms, went into the toilet and gave a urine sample, came out and did some more forms.
PK: What were the forms?
CF: The time, the date, your passport number. They check your ID and (ask) if you accept to let your sample go (for) study tests after it has been used. I always accept that. Emmm, what else is on the form?
MC: Any medication you take.
CF: And the only ones I mentioned on the form this morning are the ones I’ve mentioned to you: Leratadine, Salbutamol, Ventolin and Fluticasone – the other spray I use.
PK: What’s Fluticasone?
CF: The other spray I use. It’s more a preventative spray.
PK: This is asthma related?
CF: Asthma related.
PK: The asthma wasn’t mentioned in the book?
CF: No it wasn’t. It something that I’ve always had since I was a kid. I’ve never felt it has been something like the Bilharzia that’s got out of control. I’ve always had those sprays throughout my career and never really seen any reason to draw any necessary attention to it. It’s always something I’ve dealt with quite well.
PK: Another issue is Tramadol: ‘There has been much speculation over the use of the painkiller Tramadol in Team Sky. I do not take any painkillers or stimulants while training or racing. People have described ‘finish bottles’ containing crushed-up painkillers and stimulants. I do have a finish bottle on occasion, but it contains nothing more than a double espresso. I fully support the introduction of TUEs for Tramadol and any other medication which may be viewed as performance enhancing that is being used without a valid medical reason.’ You say, ‘There has been speculation over the use of Tramadol,’ but this isn’t speculation. This is your team-mate (Michael Barry) who says he saw it, and used it and saw several other riders using it.
CF: There is speculation about if we are still using it, and that’s a definite ‘No’ unless you have a medical condition.
MC: I don’t think they would use it in any way, shape or form. As far as I’m aware, they decided not to use it two years ago.
CF: I have tried Tramadol; I have used it. In my first year at Sky, more with my back pain that has eventually led to this SI (sacroiliac) problem that I have in my lower back. On long stages especially I’d be getting a lot of lower back pain and it was something that I’d tried to use to block out that pain, but it didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t feel any benefit for using it for the pain or performance wise.
PK: Because again, people look at Sky and what they set out to be and they see this (the abuse of Tramadol) and think: ‘What’s all that about?’ This is ethically wrong. It’s cheating. You can dress it up any way you like but if its ethically wrong it’s cheating.
CF: Well, again we go back to what are ethics and what are rules? It’s not something the team uses now. Initially, in its first years, it’s something riders may have requested. And it would have been given to riders when requested but once the policy was set in . . . I don’t know, was it the end of 2011?
MC: I think so.
CF: I don’t know when it was set in, but it didn’t change anything for me because it’s not something I race with.
PK: You didn’t say in the book that you had used it.
CF: Emm, I have (used it) not even a handful of times, several times and just felt it doesn’t do anything.
PK: On that question: What are ethics and what are rules? What’s the difference for you?
CF: How far do we go with this? My double espresso? Is that cheating? Because it’s a stimulant, I don’t know. Some people might say it is because I take before the final climb.
MC: You generally don’t drink coffee, although you did now (before the interview), probably because you only got home after one in the morning.
CF: And I was up at seven.
MC: But it’s not something that Chris usually drinks. He specifically avoids it until the point where he needs it in a mountain stage, because if you drink it every day it’s not going to feel like much.
PK: So you are using it as a stimulant?
CF: I am using it for that focused feeling of being in the moment and . . . I don’t know, do people see that as cheating? Possibly. I don’t think it’s cheating having a double espresso but that’s what helps me feel alert and . . .
MC: Obviously when it comes to medications that are not necessarily on the banned list, you wouldn’t do anything like that.
CF: No. I don’t believe people should be racing on pills or anything that makes them less, what’s the word, coherent or affects the way they ride.
MC: I don’t think anyone should be on medication unless they have a proper medical reason.
CF: When I have these back issues, I don’t think its unreasonable to take a couple of paracetamol but it’s not something I’d use for a performance gain . . . I think people have a really warped perception of what happens in teams. The other day, when I crashed in the Dauphine, explains it pretty well. I crashed in the Dauphine and it hurt me quite a bit; I fell hard and took a big battering there. I was on the massage table and the doctor came into the room and said to me: ‘Okay Chris, you’ve obviously had a big fall, tonight you’re going to be uncomfortable. Here’s two paracetamol, take them before you go to bed tonight and two more tomorrow morning.’ He walked out of the room and the soigneur (masseur) packed up laughing. He said, ‘The general perception is probably that you’re on all kinds of IVs but you look like you’ve been through a lawn mower and the doctor is giving you headache medicine!’ I know people must think that cyclists must be up to everything but it’s not like that.
MC: Not in your case.
CF: (smiles) Yeah, I can only speak for myself.
MC: Chris has the best view possible of it. He can’t be going out training every day thinking that everyone else is doping. I’ve maybe got more of a sceptical view but in his head, he needs to think that.
CF: If I’m thinking they’re going to be going faster than me because they are doing something, I’ve lost the race. I’ve got to believe that with my training, and the way I prepare, that I’m going to get my gains there and try and be better at them in that part of the race
PK: Thank you very much Chris for answering the questions.
CF: I hope that’s useful.