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Jack Tame: As fans, we never know

Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 22 Jul 2023, 9:40AM

Jack Tame: As fans, we never know

Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 22 Jul 2023, 9:40AM

Amidst all of the amazing sporting action we’re being treated to at the moment, I’ve been mad for the Tour de France.

I was sucked in by the Netflix series following last year’s competition, and I’ve keenly prioritised watching the highlights over the last few weeks of racing.

The Tour is almost over and the final result is essentially a foregone conclusion. Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard is about to back up his win last year and ride to glory along the Parisian streets.

For most of the tour, the racing has been incredibly close. Vingegaard and his arch rival, former Tour champion Tadej Pogacar have been duking it out, blow for blow. Their teams have been heroically positioning them for the gnarliest climbs, and towards the end of these  gut-busting stages, they’ve been taking turns attacking and trying to out-sprint each other, high on alpine passes.

But the Tour took a turn in the individual time trial, a really short race – just 22kms - in which riders race solo. After two weeks of utterly brutal racing, in which you’d expect all of the riders to be wrecked, Vingegaard blasted away his competition so comprehensively, that he admitted even he was surprised by the stats on his power-meter. Against the best riders in the World, in a race lasting only a fraction of the time of previous stages, he beat Pogacar, his next closest competitor, by more than a 1’30”.

‘How did he do that?’ I found myself wondering in awe as I watched the race.

Seriously. How... did he do that?

It is a decade now since Lance Armstrong finally came clean. A decade since he sat on the couch with Oprah and admitted he was a cheat. In the time since, riders in the Tour de France have performed differently. For starters, most of them have bad days, which didn’t used to happen. But the subject of doping hangs about the Tour de France like a mist in the Pyrenees.

To most of us mere mortals, they all seem extraordinary. How anyone can put their body through so much pain, day after day, is superhuman. And as much as I love the competition, I can’t help but find myself pausing and reflecting a little more on the word.

The impact of doping is multi-faceted.

The riders who are clean, who were literally in primary school when Lance Armstrong competed in his last Tour de France, are constantly forced to justify themselves and their performances. They know there’s little they can do to convince the sceptics.

Jonas Vingegaard says he’s been tested four times in the last two days. He’s being filmed the whole time he’s off the bike for two different documentary series. He’s not failed a test, and the mere logistics of doping would make it impossible for him and his team. He’s asked repeatedly about doping, and he’s emphatic.

“I wouldn’t take anything I wouldn’t give to my daughter.”

I hope he’s right. His team has pointed out that unlike his main rival, he hasn’t competed in other gruelling competitions so far this season. His preparation was solely focused on the big kahuna. It’s entirely predictable that as the Tour continued, he’d slowly grind down the more exhausted riders.

But a real tragedy of doping is that as fans, we never know. Given the history, we can never be 100% certain of anyone in the Tour de France. And as much as you can suspend reality a bit and soak up the day-to-day racing, any especially notable performance and those invasive thoughts come crashing back.

Superhuman? Or superhuman?

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