Michael Hutchinson assesses the test numbers released by Chris Froome, but says there's little to compare them to

Not a lot of elite pros release physiological tests, and this means that there’s not a lot of other data to compare Chris Froome’s with. It’s certainly interesting to see numbers for a current Tour de France winner, but that lack of comparison undermines any attempt to prove anything definitive with it.

The main criticism Froome faced over the summer was simply that he was too fast to be plausible, especially uphill. Attempts to work out Froome’s power-to-weight ratio were largely calculated from TV coverage (yes, really). There were suggestions of values up to 7 watts/kg – Lance Armstrong territory.

The values in the lab data are lower – 5.98w/kg. Froome was heavier at testing than he’d been at the Tour, so the data was extrapolated to a value of 6.25w/kg if he’d been at race weight. Make no mistake about it, this is a very big number. But it’s a lot less than 7w/kg. Is it believable? For a Tour winner, yes. On it’s own it’s certainly not enough to prove Froome’s critics right.

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The lab numbers also match up reasonably well with the numbers released by Team Sky during the Tour. There they claimed his power-to-weight was 5.78w/kg – which fits tolerably with the Tour numbers having been taken at moderate altitude.

What else did we get? A lot of us are familiar with VO2 max as a one-number reference for fitness. It measures the size of a rider’s aerobic ‘engine’ by looking at how many millilitres of oxygen they can use in a minute, relative to their weight.

An untrained man of Froome’s age might have a VO2 max of around 40 millilitres/minute/kg. A decent amateur? 60 or so. A WorldTour pro? 80, maybe a little more. The very highest numbers ever for cyclists are around 90, or maybe just over.

Chris Froome leads Nairo Quintana on the final climb of Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France.

Chris Froome leads Nairo Quintana on the final climb of Stage 10 of the 2015 Tour de France.

Froome was 84.6 as tested, extrapolated to 88 at race weight of 67.5kg. Like his power-to-weight: it’s among the highest recorded. But again, for that level of rider, nothing that you could honestly describe as “unbelievable”.

The data from 2007 (from a different lab, almost certainly using different protocols, so not 100 per cent comparable) suggests that he was a similar rider back then – but a lot heavier at over 75kg. Allowing for the weight loss, his VO2 max was very similar. His power-to-weight was only 5.56w/kg – but the improvement in this was almost all down to getting lighter.

We got some blood results as well, which are within normal parameters. The problem with them is really that they only cover two samples, both taken over the summer. To tell very much we’d need more samples taken over the season to see the changes and trends.

>>> Wiggins: Froome releasing data is a small step, but it won’t change anything

For the same reasons, it would be nice to see physiological data taken across a full season. The other thing it would be interesting to see would be some anaerobic tests – that side of his physiology profile is ignored, yet it was very important in the early moments of the mountain attacks that attracted so much attention.

There’s no smoking gun here. Yet it’s hard to imagine it will silence the critics – because it doesn’t definitively prove anything either. If you could prove athletes were clean or doping with physiological tests, the World Anti-Doping Agency would have been doing it for years.

Watch: Best of the 2015 Tour de France

Some critics in the summer suggested that a power-to-weight ration of over 6w/kg was the dividing line between clean and not clean – in truth this was an arbitrary line, just as any line you draw in physiological data will be. In any event, most scientists would agree 6w/kg is too low to be taken seriously as a red flag.

>>> Opinion: Don’t get too excited about Chris Froome’s data, it’s only half the story

This is really about openness. In the summer, the media demanded field data, and got some. Then the demand was for lab data, now they have some of that too. For a team that came to cycling promising to be different, Sky quickly acquired a reputation for being secretive, especially with the French press. Their popularity suffered as a result, and that’s what they’re trying to deal with now.

As a PR offensive it’s unlikely to make Froome’s problems go away. But he’s likely to regard it as a step in the right direction.

  • Bodo Vosshenrich

    This discussion thread is a great example of “Belief” against “Reason”. Nearly all of the TdF champions of the past umpteen years have been convicted of doping. Someone like Froome, who turns from mediocre to champion (like Armstrong) in just one season is MORE than suspicious. That’s what reason tells us. It’s a little bit like, if you see heavy storm clouds overhead, see lightning and hear the thunder rolling, reason tells you that it’s going to rain.
    Yet, people don’t want to believe what they see. They’d so much love to have a clean champion (of their own nationality !) that they will continue to believe even confronted with striking evidence. To get back to my thunderstorm-analogy, they’d say: Hey, that was just one drop of rain. One drop doesn’t mean it’s raining. And they will repeat the same argument for the 1000 drops to come, untils they’ll be completely soaked wet.

  • J1

    Well if you’re right, it’ll come out sooner or later. I’m not sure either way….or care that much. Personally I’m skeptical about Dumoulin more than Froome at the minute.

  • ummm…

    i dont have a clue which? ur right i haven’t done anymore research than past doping cases and 100+ years of the sport. plus the pervasiveness of doping in all pro sports. is chris froom specifically doping? i dunno. does the best tour cyclist dope in a culture of doping? seems irrelevant to me. I just wouldnt go around defending these guys like it is a matter of life and death. enjoy the ride and PLEASE be safe.

  • Stevo

    “Odds are he’s doping”? Are you a bit thick or something? Either he’s doping or he isn’t, and you don’t have a damned clue which. Odds don’t come into it.

  • Shaun T

    How on earth do you come to that conclusion from a couple of non relevant points (not relevant to your point that is). Is this a new acronym you have learnt that you are trying to squeeze into a discussion in order to ‘appear intelligent’ Btw (and going off topic here again) you appear to have the concept of ‘BIRGing’ wrong (judging by your comments) perhaps you should read up on it yourself. The initial point is correct, there is comparable data to his earlier career years.

  • ummm…

    The article says it doesn’t prove doping, nor does it prove cleanliness. So, what are we arguing about? It is pro sport – odds are he is doping. We will watch anyway. There is work that goes into that. However, we won’t ourselves dope and risk health etc. for a pay check. Just sit back with your fat guts and root for your guy.

  • JoshLyons

    Get emotive about what?

    You may not realise it but you are suffering from BIRGing – look it up: part of social identity theory – that’s why you use terms like “intelligent enough to understand”, “emotive drivel” or “doesn’t even stand up as logically consistent”. That’s trying to assert authority where there is none. You just turn yourself in to a bigoted ass when you try to talk down to people foolishly.

  • Michael

    > “Do you really think I write all that without reading? ”

    The only other conclusion is that you weren’t intelligent enough to understand it. You said there was nothing to compare the data with, yet there was. You can’t be more wrong than that.

    You’re writing emotive drivel about donkeys and race horses that really doesn’t fit reality or Chris Froome’s history, nor indeed the history of other tour winners you suggest were “winners from a young age” (Not the least because many of those you say “were always winners” have either admitted to doping or have been caught doping)

    So your argument, such as it is, even disregarding the factual errors, doesn’t even stand up as logically consistent.

  • Chris Vine

    It quite clearly shows that he had the engine and the power when he was tested at the UCI center in 2007. It just likely that over those 8 years along with the dramatic weight drop and curing of his Bilharzia that his efficiency has also improved (although this data isnt presented). Also it is likely that he wasn’t able to produce that power at the end of 4 hours, whereas he can now do this. Going to a team like Sky where they are renowned for structure and attention to detail; weight loss and improved efficiency are certainly things that can be achieved and lead to the improved performances.

  • david thickens

    You clearly haven’t taken into account the effect Bilharzia was having throughout the early career of Chris Froome. Grow up and read why before you comment.

  • Peter Thomson

    Grow up? Who do you think you are?

    You were saying there is nothing to compare the data to. There is: his results from 2007. Which are comparable with his current test results. I think you under estimate the effect that improved training can have on an athlete.

    Your mind appears to be made up, so I won’t waste my time.

  • JoshLyons

    Do you really think I write all that without reading? Grow up.

    It is highly questionable when a UCI B-Level rider who has never won anything significant suddenly, out of the blue at age 27, in just one season after joining Sky, becomes a super-domestique who was beating his own team captain and then turned into a grand tour contender/winner – against true champions who have been winning since they were teenagers.

    Comparing careers of all the other grand tour champions against that of Froome’s is a joke. At least with Armstrong it was difficult to tell because he had been a triathlete as a youngster and had also won several day-races and even some stage-races. But with Froome there’s absolutely nothing to show in his palmares from before 2011 for us to even begin to think that he always had it in him. Hence there’s a huge red flag.

  • Peter Thomson

    Please, read that article properly before you comment. There is a comparison with data from 2007. Specifically a Vo2Max test and power data.

  • Peter Thomson

    Even the above article mentions the 2007 data. He clearly hasn’t read it correctly.

  • Tom Sharp

    Read the esquire article. It contains his data from 2007.

  • JoshLyons

    We can learn nothing because there’s nothing to compare them against – such as 2008/9 figures? Anybody can go into a test-lab fully doped and get “close to human maximum” results. Means nothing.

    Rather, explain how a donkey who’s ‘best ever’ performance was only a 17th place in a Commonwealth Games time trial and who couldn’t even keep up with the groupetto suddenly became a Grand Tour winning race horse after joining TeamSky in 2010.

    Exactly the same as Lance – from donkey to race horse overnight. If you care to read up on the careers of all other Grand Tour champions we clearly see they were all winners from a young age (race horses, not donkeys) but have a look at Froome’s career and donkey…absolutely nothing until joining Sky in 2010.

    We are all athletes and know our bodies and how things work very well. We know that the performance gains are always tiny – in the single digit percentage numbers – and therefore if we were to have CF’s testing results from years gone by we could make a comparison and even try to understand how a mediocre athlete suddenly has a huge performance increase aged 27.