At Sunday's Chrono des Nations Chris Froome reinforced his ambitions to lead Team Sky at next year’s Tour de France. The Tour runner-up also talked about Sky’s anti-doping declaration, suggesting that he had mixed feelings and didn’t support the proposal 100 per cent.
Last week Sky announced that they would ask all staff to sign an anti-doping declaration, confirming that they had no links to doping in the past. In conjunction with that, Dave Brailsford and the team’s psychologist Steve Peters would carry out individual interviews. The policy comes in light of a series of stories. The Lance Armstrong case may have focused on doping at US Postal and Discovery, but its tentacles reach much further and Sky also recently faced questions over their hiring of ex-Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders.
Froome’s own interview with the team took place on the eve of the Chrono des Nations, at the team’s post-season debrief in London, England.
“I had it while I was there,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I said I had no involvement in anything that has been going on. Personally I think it's more for the older employees on the team but obviously they've got to apply the same pressures to everyone.”
“It took ten, fifteen minutes. I asked them some questions too. I wanted to find out what the process would be and it if was 100 per cent about anyone that had ever touched anything. It seems that's the way it is, despite whatever loses it might mean to the team. It would set a new beginning and new platform to go from there. That's their thinking.”
Sky’s unilateral approach has been criticised by some. Garmin pair Jonathan Vaughters and David Millar have both been critical, implying that Sky should give second chances to staff who have made a clear break from the past. And Froome appears to agree, suggesting that a cull of staff might have a negative result.
“I can’t say I 100 per cent agree with it because there are individuals out there who probably have touched something in their careers when they started but for whatever reason they may not have carried on as cycling evolved and ever since may have been doing something good for the sport, possibly. They'll be painted with the same brush so I can't say I agree with it 100 per cent in theory. However, it is where we need to go with the team.”
One reason Froome does back Sky’s policy is because he believes that it will help to appease those that doubt the performance of him and his teammates. Sky were a dominant force in almost every stage race they applied themselves to this year, with wins in Paris-Nice, Volta ao Algarve, Bayern, the Dauphine and the Tour de France.
“Whenever I, Brad or anyone does well at races, the thing with Leinders kept coming up. We don't need that as riders. We know we're doing it the right way but not everyone can see that or how hard we're training to get the results. It's better for the riders if we don't have association with anything that could happen to anything.”
“A lot of people have questioned our performances this year,” Froome readily admits.
“People in cycling, especially the fans have been let down so many times so I understand why they question everything. Then again now that everything that's come out with Lance, it's all really sad what it's doing to the sport. Saying that it's good that the questions are being answered and it is in a way cleaning the slate so that a new generation can go forward and people can start trusting in the sport again. There's no way it's happening anymore.”
Asked if cycling now had a fresh start, Froome replied: “I can't really answer that to be honest. I'd hate to think that there are things still going on but through my own performances I'd say that the peloton has cleaned up a massive amount. There are always going to be individuals who are bending the rules and trying to do something but the vast majority have cleaned up. My results speak for that because I wouldn't be able to get the results I get if it was still going on.”
Has a cleaner peloton therefore been the major shift that has allowed Froome to move from grand tour obscurity into the bracket of overall contenders?
“I wouldn't say that it’s the factor but it’s definitely a factor. If all of that was still going on now there’s no way I could be able to keep up with guys changing their blood every few days and using EPO. I just wouldn't be in the picture any more. I don't think I or Brad would be. It would be a different speed as the French call it. I wouldn't be able to perform the way I am now if doping was prevalent.”
Froome is aware that doubts and suspicions have been raised over Sky’s performance. It’s not that Sky have been necessarily singled out,
“Wining is number one but also the way we won,” he admits.
“We were so dominant throughout as a Tour group, through so many races. There have been a lot of comparisons between us and Discovery, and us and US Postal and people are drawing similar conclusions now which is understandable.”
“From our side we think it's unfair. We know what we've done to get there. It didn't involve any needles or any pills. As a team we've been really careful to talk to the media. We've not been out there being vocal and maybe that's something we need to do, open up more to people so they can see more inside the team.
Certain elements haven’t helped Froome and his teammates. Hiring Geert Leinders, a doctor who has been linked with doping during his spell at Rabobank looked sloppy at best. Training in Tenerife, the same location used by US Postal to administer fresh blood,didn’t help either.
“Even if you have someone at your training camp, anywhere, there will still be questions as to what you're doing when he's not there. I think it was possibly a bit naive not to look into people's past before employing them,” he says regarding Leinders.
“But bear in mind that this still a relatively new team, it's been three years, so we had to start somewhere but maybe looking into people's pasts more would have been a good idea. I'm sure they will now.”
Sky’s policy of interviewing their entire staff could throw up several difficult decisions. According to Dave Brailsford those decisions will have to be treated unilaterally. However if they were caught off guard by a Leinders, then isn’t it possible that even one of their highest profile riders could also have skeletons in his closet?
“It might be a bit to the detriment to the team, all these new policies, but that's the way the team might be going. It could possibly jeopardise growth or the current momentum of the team but maybe it's for the better in the long haul.”
Tour de France
After a year that has seen Froome cement himself as a genuine grand tour contender talk has already shifted to 2013. Murmurs have already surfaced of Bradley Wiggins aiming at the Giro d’Italia due to the nature of the time-trial-friendly parcours. Such a scenario would clear the way for Froome to lead the team at the Tour de France after he sacrificed his chances this year in support of Wiggins.
´ “If the Tour is going to be as hard as they say it is then I would like to make that my target and hit that next year,” he told Cyclingnews.
And what if Wiggins decides to defend his Tour title, could Sky enter the race with two leaders of equal authority and stature?
“That would be up to the management to decide on how to work it tactically. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. A lot will depend on the route and I think that the team are quite fair like that. If they are going to send the best depending on the route, then Brad’s strength is time trial and mine is on the climbs.”
Froome’s vocal stance on his grand tour ambitions is a stark contrast to Wiggins, who has remained quiet up until now. As the defending champion his voice will be louder than his teammates, but Froome is certain on one thing: if leadership at the Tour is not passed to him then he will look to the Giro or the Vuelta but he is clear on one key element.
"I’d like to be at the Tour but if not then Vuelta or the Giro. But I want to be 100 per cent ready to race with a team behind me. That's got to be the next step.”