Cofidis rider Guillaume Martin has said that he "wouldn't put his hand in the fire" to declare the current peloton clean after several former pros raised doubts about the credibility of the high level of racing at the Tour de France.
The Frenchman, who finished 11th at the Tour having been in podium contention midway through, made the comments in an interview with Le Parisien following remarks from Christophe Bassons and Stephané Heulot over the past week.
Bassons, who railed against doping at the 1998 Tour de France before being hounded out of the race by his fellow riders, said "today there is a new obstacle with performances that seem abnormal."
Meanwhile, Heulot, an ex-teammate of current UAE Team Emirates manager Mauro Gianetti, said that "he felt the urge to vomit" while watching the Tour, and refused to backtrack on 2008 comments that Gianetti was "ingrained in doping".
Martin said that the winner of the Tour de France is suspected of doping every year, adding that he had read comments about his own performances on social media, too.
"Every year, the winner of the Tour is suspect," he told Le Parisien, "This is the price of the sport's troubled past. One has to live with it.
"I can't allow myself to have doubts and say to myself 'I'm 11th but he or he is suspicious'. Otherwise, I'll get too discouraged. Even though I'm not naïve: I wouldn't put my hand in the fire to say that the whole peloton is clean.
"Afterwards I see on social networks that some people even doubt me, even though I know exactly how I work. I can't do anything about the doubts. If Tadej Pogačar is clean, it's terrible to be accused of that."
Martin, whose 11th place was his best result from four Tour participations so far, said that cycling had a problem with so many team managers and directeurs sportifs having worked during "darker moments" of the sport, but added that everyone has a right to a second chance.
"One of the problems of our sport is that many of its leaders were in the driving seat in the dark moments. This is embarrassing for credibility. But, at the same time, there is a second chance. We have the right to change and not be condemned for life," he said.
"There is no clear ethical answer [if I could work with them]. If I feel that the sincerity of the repentant, I would say yes, but it's a question of feeling.
"The Tour recovers from everything. It recovered from COVID-19 when we said that it wouldn't take place. I believe in human optimism – even a new 'dirty trick' wouldn't bring it down."
'I was a protagonist in a very high-level Tour'
Beyond questions of doping and credibility, Martin said that he was satisfied with his race having come close to ending Cofidis' 12-year Tour stage drought on stage 4 atop Orcières-Merlettes, eventually ending up third behind Primož Roglič.
The 27-year-old – France's best finisher in Paris – was pleased to be one of the main players of the race, adding that the COVID-19 break helped him prepare, even if he only saw a small group of riders able to race at their top level.
"In a way, this Tour marks a real progression that wasn't visible in the GC. I was on the podium for half of the race. I attacked. I was an actor in a very high-level Tour.
"The confinement allowed me to regenerate myself – I felt it in my body and my biological values. I was fresher and I did two camps at altitude. This time we saw a Tour with about 15 riders in their best form. Look at the gap after that – 16th place is at 35 minutes."
With Martin as the top Frenchman just outside the top 10 and Julian Alaphilippe and Nans Peters delivering two stage wins for the country, it was a relatively disappointing Tour for home fans and riders.
He wouldn't be drawn on a Frenchman making the final podium in future – Romain Bardet was the last, in 2017 – but speculated that Ineos Grenadiers youngster Pavel Sivakov, who was brought up in France but races under a Russian license, could be the next French Tour winner.
"I don't want to be definitive about it. Last year, we were the most beautiful with Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot, and now we are the worst in the world," he said.
"My generation still has some good years left. And maybe the young generation arrives at the top very early and I don't know if they have a margin of progression. In 2019, we were told that Egan Bernal could win eight Tours. And now Pogačar will have the pressure to confirm. It will be different for him.
"And maybe the future French winner will be Russian if Pavel Sivakov changes, as he suggested, his nationality."
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