Book Review: The Yellow Jersey Club

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Yellow Jersey Club book cover

The Yellow Jersey Club by Edward Pickering

The premise is simple, a look at the last 20 Tour de France winners and Lance Armstrong. Each member of the “yellow jersey club” gets a chapter dedicated to their exploits. At times the 21 winners share little more than victory in the same race such is the range of personalities and career paths.

Better still this is not 21 versions of how the Tour was won with mechanical reproductions of Rider X attacking on Stage Y to take a time advantage of N minutes. Instead this is often a look at the different types of winner, their characters, personalities, tactics and career paths rather than any shared trait that defines a Tour winner.

Take 2008 champion Carlos Sastre, you’ll come away with the impression of an under-rated climber who finally had the stars align and seized the moment; as opposed to him being seen as an accidental victor at times, able to ride away up Alpe d’Huez while the Schleck brothers sat tight or because Cadel Evans didn’t deliver in the final time trial. 1987 victor Stephen Roche is “the nicest guy who’ll ever stab you in the back” and by the end of the chapter you get the impression of schemer, a manipulator but all done in charming style whether with a smile or caressing pedal stroke, a rider used tactics and rivalry to win a Tour de France rather than brute force.

If there are few shared traits among the winners a recurrent theme across the chapters is that the easy wins seem boring for Pickering as he explores what the French call l’art et la manière, the style and manner of a win:

[Marco Pantani’s] attacking riding and time-trial defeats made him easy to support, in contrast to the Indurain and Ullrich, whose defensive and negative Tour wins were impressive but too well planned, too cold to be emotionally engaging.

Pickering cites writing by Hugh Dauncey and Julian Barnes on what makes a sportsman popular in France and it’s often a question of style and panache. Victories, especially dominant, don’t please the crowds. There’s probably a whole book, even a sociology thesis, to explore why, in Pickering’s words “French sports fans especially appreciate the aesthetic value of sport and are extremely susceptible to the idea of glorious defeat” although presumably it’s because people want a lively show. Pickering seems to have a francophile appreciation of sport rather than the win at all costs approach or the risk management methods. There’s an appreciation of Miguel Indurain and Bradley Wiggins, especially with Wiggins and his character, but little cheer for the spectacle of their wins. Instead this is often reserved for the one-off winners than the dominant names and sometimes it’s the story of other races lost as much as their Tour win that is recounted, for example how Jan Ullrich slid from 1997 winner to regular loser.

At times it’s personal as Pickering recounts in the first person how he got into the sport thanks to Greg LeMond or how 1976 winner Lucien Van Impe “came before my time as a cycling fan. I was three years old” and there are subjective reviews of various Tours along the way with different editions rated for their interest and style. Pickering writes well and it’s an easy read rather than a list of personal picks. Interestingly often he’s presenting subjects for you to decide. Wiggins’s win in 2012 was “depending on your outlook on life, either a masterpiece or a dud”. Pickering is inviting you to think for yourself.

The same invitations appear on the discussions of doping, inevitable of course with a series of winners spanning the EPO-que. You’re left to join the dots when it comes to Miguel Indurain’s transformation into a five time Tour winner or the sudden slowdown in Alberto Contador’s climbing speeds in recent years. The “cognitive dissonance” over Contador is interesting, there’s an exploration of whether Contador is among the great riders of his time or the great cheats and the reader is left to make up their own mind… or endure the dissonance.

Froome vs Wiggins

You get to compare viewpoints and stories. Each chapter is isolated from the next and presented in chronological order so you get the view of Carlos Sastre and Andy Schleck getting the better of Cadel Evans before it’s the Australian’s turn; you get the story of Sky’s internal strife in 2012 before the chapter of Chris Froome.

There’s some overlap with the supply of books available now. You might already know about Greg LeMond’s career thanks to Richard Moore’s Slaying The Badger or have the read the full story on Bernard Hinault in William Fotheringham’s badger biography. So should you read this? That depends on your appetite for reading but The Yellow Jersey Club has a different take, for example the chapter on Hinault covers his strength of character. Both Hinault and Lance Armstrong come across as men more like alligators or sharks, they just can’t help doing what they do. Armstrong’s inclusion is debatable since he’s been stripped of the wins but makes the book while Floyd Landis doesn’t. Similarly Andy Schleck is in the book but he was only awarded his “club” membership because of Alberto Contador’s positive in 2010. The concern was that Armstrong had to be crowbarred in because of the celebrity sales potential but read it and the chapter is unflattering to the Texan and gives us a good insight into his long reign and the doping era it was part of and the book is better for it. You can feel the extra pages devoted to Greg LeMond.

Bernard Thevenet

Bernard Thévenet was more than the man who beat Merckx

Reading this means reappraising some riders. Bernard Thévenet and Joop Zoetemelk are often cited in comparison to Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault but here they get the spotlight shone on them for a moment and it’s welcome. The same with more recent club members like Oscar Pereiro and Carlos Sastre who have faded fast from the collective memory.

The Verdict
You can look up a list of Tour de France winners on Wikipedia but mercifully this is more than a 300 page listicle. Instead it’s a well-written collection of essays and often the story of character and humanity as well as tactics and sport.

On one level this is a handy history primer with 21 profiles to get you up to speed with many of the big names of the Tour de France if you’re new to it all. If you’re already keen on Tour history you’ll still find more, especially as the book succeeds on the more profound level where it analyses the wins and the characters of the victors and often invites you to think more. “Which do we prefer? Winning ugly, or losing pretty?” asks Pickering. Read this and you can think about an answer.

It’s available as a hardback book, an e-book and the price varies according the format and region and published by Bantam Press /

Note: this book was sent free for review. Find more book reviews at

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GeorgeY August 31, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Those of us who are young enough to remember the eighties can recall the Italian football style of defense: catenaccio, an all out defense system with hardly any attacks. Italian teams won often, but the matches were terribly boring. In recant times Sky team tactics are often a cycling-catenaccio, they produce TdF winners but hardly generate new fans of the sport. My preference, as a fan, will always be a pretty loss.

Alan T August 31, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Agree about catenaccio, which started much earlier than the eighties of course, and Italian teams are still somewhat like that but Froome is hardly defensive and Sky weren’t even the dominant team in the last tour, Movistar were. You could say it applies to Wiggins but didn’t he, and other dominant winners who were mainly strong in TTs, ‘attack’ a TT with the effort they put in. It doesn’t have the acceleration of a climber’s attack and is less televisual but such riders are not hanging back or being cagey! The really big split in French opinion on the Tour was in its heyday between Anquetil (greatest TTer ever?) and Poulidor (primarily a climber/poor form in a TT). All the others are a kind of repeat of this great rivalry and Poulidor was always higher in the popularity stakes, except with women perhaps!

dave August 31, 2015 at 4:39 pm

+1 – great comment this one.

gabriele August 31, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Uhmm, football comparisons are sooo much @UK cycling expert 😉
(thanks again to whoever shared knowledge about that wonderful Twitter account).

Maybe we should consider that even catenaccio was about ‘attacking’ because of the effort they put in? Also note that even catenaccio teams must win, sometime, which means the tactics needs to include fast, effective, energetic and whatever else… attacks.

Let’s see.
People say that ITT are “defensive” as a metaphor, mainly thinking about the fact that strong time-triallists will subsequently have to defend themselves in the mountains.
What is more, an “attack” in cycling is associated to the “fuorigiri”, that is, rising rhythm *over* the theoretically most efficient threshold with the objective of dropping your rivals, preventing them to use slipstream to compensate their supposedly worse climbing performance. Another function of “attacking” is – when you’re a theoretically weaker rider – prompting your rival to follow you in a dangerous “over the limit” zone, where variability is higher.
All this is considered “attacking” because you’re exposing yourself to higher risks and deliberately choosing a less efficient power production in order to obtain some kind of effect.
More or less the same goes for long-range attacks, which aren’t very efficient “per se” but whose objective is precisely to change the power distribution over time/terrain hoping that in a different “performance area” your rivals will suffer more/perform less (or just won’t dare to follow you and end up tangled in tactical games).

It’s easy to understand why ITT aren’t considered “attacking”, isn’t it? Even if, obviously enough, some sort of “attack” can be performed there, too, for example pushing a split to put pressure on your rivals and induce them to some error (Di Luca in the last ITT during the 2009 Giro). It must be said that this “attacking” tactics, however fascinating, tend to fail even more (much more) than attacks in a normal stage. ITT are mental, sure, but the best course of action is easily (or not-so-easily) calculated and doesn’t involve taking many risks as they’ve been defined before. Especially if you’re the best guy around.
Same goes (in a different sense) for sprinting or for the last 1-2-3-4 kms attacks which go all the way to the finish. They’re more “offensive” than just staying in the bunch, no doubt about that, but the fact that the optimal effort covers all the terrain to the finish line (when things are properly done to match that plan) eludes the idea of “attacking racing style” as it has been defined above.

As I said, I don’t think that these comparisons make much sense, but in the POV I presented I guess you can understand why Team Sky is seen as utterly defensive, even by those who don’t mean to imply any derogatory meaning.

DV August 31, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Agree with most of what Alan says. The train tactic is only useful if you have the strongest rider in the race, in 2012 SKY had the 2 most strongest and by some distance. Wiggins climbed with Nibali for most of that tour. Why is it SKY are to blame for the others not performing? This year Froome attacked then hang on which made for a thrilling finish, and this Vuelta who knows what will happen.

I am a big fan of Quintana but no matter how pretty this years loss may have been, it didn’t have to be a loss.

gabriele August 31, 2015 at 9:31 pm

I’m a big fan of Quintana, too, and I’d say that it wasn’t pretty at all, either (even if I would’t say it went as far as “ugly”).

gabriele August 31, 2015 at 9:39 pm

PS I don’t blame SKY for it, but 2012 can be properly defined as “defensive” – that’s what the debate was about; besides, despite him making the void with his whirling progressions, I’m not so sure I’d generally define Froome – and the corresponding team tactics – as “attacking”, either, even if I wouldn’t label them as “defensive”, not all the time at least.
And why should people be blaming “catenaccio”, by the way? If it’s a legitimate and effective way to win, that’s what football is about. It generates troubles for the show, that’s for sure: hence, something must be done to adjust the game and its rules in order to make that strategy less effective. And that’s the way football went, if I’m not wrong.

The Inner Ring August 31, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Sky’s 2012 Tour is even described in the book as “catenaccio” but they don’t always race like that, far from it. It suited Wiggins and the course in that year but doesn’t make it right for Froome etc.

GeorgeY September 1, 2015 at 8:40 am

@ Inner Ring
Great minds think alike. Ha ha.

@Alan T
I don’t think the ITT is defense, far from it I wholeheartedly believe it’s “the race of truth”: no team tactics only a man against the clock. Of course it involves planning and strategy (Anquetil was a supreme tactician, as I have read). Unfortunately, ITT is not an exiting event to watch, even more so the way it is covered on TV, despite advances it technology.

Your facts are scientifically correct but as you point out the problem is lack of excitement. From a scientific perspective Froome is absolutely right in refusing to follow an attack and staying at his threshold pace while Contador is pushing over his limit by attacking and wasting his energy. But for me, as a spectator, my interest is seeing an all out race and not a lab test which will be decided by the highest FTP score. So once more I agree with you: let’s change the rules to keep the sport exciting.

Lanterne Verte September 1, 2015 at 12:57 pm

For me the fascination of the ITT is what is going on in the riders’ minds during the race as they suffer, the struggle with the self and the motivational imagery. Unfortunately that is impossible to show on TV except by interviewing the riders afterwards and asking them about it. Other than that we must simply use our imagination. A good commentator with a sense of poetry and drama is needed to convey it, also someone with a very thorough knowledge of the riders’ personalities and histories. I don’t see too many of those around, perhaps there are some working in languages other than English.

RocksRootsRoads September 1, 2015 at 9:43 am

You obviously missed La Pierre Saint-Martin.

RocksRootsRoad September 1, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Also “they produce TdF winners but hardly generate new fans of the sport”

Evans Cycles, one of the UK’s largest bike chains reported a 35 per cent surge in sales and website traffic following Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win. Also in the same year, Halfords, another UK chain reported sales of its Boardman and Carrera Tour De France road bike increased by 12% and 18% respectively.

Numbers vary, but it is thought that the UK cycle tourism market is worth in excess of £1bn per year. That is up from £600m in 1997. Also estimates of 200,000 overall taking part in Sky Rides.

I am not saying all of this will generate pro-cycling fans per se, but maybe you should revise your statement.

Anonymous September 2, 2015 at 3:34 am

Did sales go up or down when Froomy won?

Alex m August 31, 2015 at 3:32 pm

In Froome’s case, both losses and victories are ugly.

dave August 31, 2015 at 3:49 pm

thanks for the review. good as always. sounds like a good read.

not to reignite doping debate but glad to hear someone casting a little doubt on Contador’s pre2010 results – he’s a great rider no doubt, but the adulation he receives now I still find a little bizarre compared to the hate directed at Valverde *(also Gatling in Athletics!).

Contador’s doped end of and not admitting it despite being busted sours my opinion of him, even if I have always enjoyed watching him.

I’m not even sure I really care that much about someone making the decision to dope, but the subsequent lies and endlessly debates on did he, didn’t he are unbearable. Wish he’d just come clean, especially as pre2012 results will likely be busted sometime in the future and mean further damage to cycling.

I really wonder what he said to CIRC? They can’t be that naive to believe his dodgy steak story (given what we know now of the climbing times decrease, and the fact he came up under Bruyneel), did he give honest evidence or just continue with the laughable lies? Did they crack up?

dave August 31, 2015 at 3:50 pm

sorry pre2010 results

gabriele August 31, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Oh my gosh. I hoped nobody would elaborate further on that unfortunate point. Don’t you think you’re contributing to the endless debate with this comment? 🙂

I just share the point about the different treatment reserved to different persons by “public opinion” in cycling, and sometime to the same person in different years (note that I’ve always defended Valverde as a classy rider – still, I couldn’t but be surprised by the fuss about him last year whereas his novel podium didn’t prompt as much *polemica*). All that just shows how much a good number of cycling fans are hugely influenced by media campaigns and, more generally speaking, manipulation. I guess it isn’t specific of cycling at all.

Back to Contador: your *lapsus* shows just how difficult it is to set a clear line to break Contador’s career in two different and separate parts. I’ve shown several times on this pages how complicated it is to match with facts the “doping decline” narrative, especially because other kind of technical explanations work a lot better: to start with, we shouldn’t forget age decline in the case of an athlete who started fighting at the top when relatively young, but, besides of that, the 2012-2013 bend looks like what most athlete pass through when they can’t compete for several months, be it because of a doping sanction or an injury.
The 2014 Contador was probably one of the best “edition” ever, prevailing over rivals such Quintana and Froome in equal form conditions with absolutely dominating performances.
And whoever should underestimate 2015’s performances, with the kind of Giro he was forced to face, is just short of cycling sensibility (despite the superficial “look & feel”, the overall performance was, IMHO, even superior to 2011, a season during which we could probably see some of the most devastating examples of Contador’s ability).

But what really amazes me is the “climbing speeds” fairy-tale. His climbing speeds didn’t really went down, whatever that means (and it doesn’t mean a lot). There are a lot of factors involved in climbing speeds, which implies that I personally don’t think they are a good meter for anything, but, hey, some people are just repeating again and again the same lies hoping they’ll stick. And it looks like they’re sticking, indeed.
Contador climbed the Mortitolo faster in 2015 than in 2010. On Arrate, a typical form-meter with few tactical variables, he was faster in 2012 than in 2009. 2015’s Port de Bales was faster than 2010’s. The “disappointing” 2015 Alpe d’Huez was just 17″ slower than the good 2010 one with Brajkovic. 2011 Galibier was brutally faster than in 2007 and the same goes for Telegraphe. Plateu de Beille 2007 was better than 2011, indeed, but… 2015’s was faster than 2011, too (even if not as good as 2007). The only example I find more or less compatible with the “pre-2010” (?) theory is Mende, which was faster in 2010, then we have 2007 and 2015 is the slower one. Can’t find many other data, but these are quite telling.
I struggle to see any definite pattern, but in any case we have more than enough material to, at least, falsify the “Contador was visibly faster before…” thesis.

Vedrafjord September 1, 2015 at 12:28 am

You’re doing it again… jumping through hoops to deny what’s obvious by now to everyone else. You replied to a post saying Contador climbed faster during 2007-2009 than 2010-2015 by mostly comparing 2015 against 2010 and 2011 to try and disprove something that wasn’t claimed.

The rest of us can see that in 2007 riding on a known dirty team he was doing track stands up climbs with Rasmussen, and in 2009 at Verbier he produced a performance that stands head and shoulders above all the dopers of the last 15 years, and beyond that, even above Riis, Pantani, Indurain and the rest of the performances from cycling’s wild west era.

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 2:21 am

I used all the data set that was easily available for me, focused on the comparison of “climbing times” (which was the expression stated above). If you have a data set of comparable “climbing times” from Contador, I’ll happily give a look to see if some pattern emerges.

You’re using mere bla bla bla, stating simply what you want to see.

For example, you maybe could explain why you and Dave decided that 2010, the year in which Contador gave out his positive test, among other things, and, above all, an year during which all the performances I cited belong to a period previous to “being busted” (and therefore, I don’t know what do you guys imagine?, stop doping?)… well, why the heck do you decide that it should be included in the supposed “clean (or cleaner) Contador” era?
As I observed many times, and in my comment to which you reply, too, people who love these silly theories have got a lot of troubles setting a coherent defining line. Some say after 2009, some say after 2010, some say after 2011… come on! Know what? It’s because that thin line just isn’t out there. Possible variations in Contador’s doping curve are simply less relevant than a whole lot of other factors, hence you can’t detect those specific variations through performance.
Sadly enough, the riders aren’t repeating climbs again and again to make people who imagine plots and schemes happy.
But, ok, let’s play the game. In the data set I have got and reported here, I can see that, EVEN BAR all the comparisons internal to the 2010-2015, we’ve got two 2011 climbing times faster than 2007’s. One 2012 time faster than 2009. One 2010 climbing time faster than 2007’s, and just one 2007 time faster than the corresponding 2011 one.
As you can see, I wasn’t even near to what you suppose I was doing. I guess you’re another one of those *imaginative* types who like to make up what other people say or do.

Let’s speak of “race impressions”, as you try to do now.
Have a look to 2007’s final ITT. ITTs are a good doping-meter. Contador lost more than 2′ to Leipheimer and one-and-half a minute to the “clean benchmark” Evans. In the mountains, the superman-Contador inflicted mere 3′ to the same Evans. He won that Tour with a 30″ or lesser margin over the rest of the podium. And he would probably have lost if Rasmussen stayed in the race. It was a very good Tour from that young a rider, but nothing as supernatural as the photo snaps you base your analysis upon would suggest. That’s not by far as good as what we’ve seen from him in 2011 or 2014.
You insist a lot on Verbier. 2009 was an impressive Tour, mainly because of the mental factor and the lack of team support. Performance-wise, there were a couple of impressive single shots (after two thirds of the race that were totally lacking action) – and between the two, I would have named the Annecy ITT, if anything. Besides that, well, a lot of control. I can name the very good Le-Grand-Bornand stage, when he didn’t get rid of the Schlecks, anyway (and Nibali came in 4th 🙂 ), and barely any selection in the other two mountain stages, including one of the worst and most depressing Ventoux ever.

I think you read a good deal of journalistic spam but have got a few *watched* races in your memory buffer…

PS I didn’t and I won’t say that Contador has been a rider who didn’t ever use forbidden products. I just find *very* funny that people who suppose to know the “obvious” must state falsities to prove their fanciful points.

Foley September 1, 2015 at 2:53 am

Contador has ridden on some deeply disreputable teams and has been caught doping. He has not won the Tour de France since (and if) he stopped doping. So there is good reason for the “cognitive dissonance” many people feel over Contador. If he were a lesser rider he’d get a lot less attention vis-a-vis dopage, but since he is obviously tremendously gifted and fans can’t help but wonder how good he would have been without dope. I do agree, though, that quasi-scientific analysis of climbing data sheds very little light on his particular case.

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:41 am

Fans could (and should? Or just shouldn’t?) wonder about that same question regarding many more top riders.

The first part of your first sentence, which I consider deeply true and highly relevant, could be applied to the majority of the bunch, even more so since a proper “disreputable teams” list isn’t probably limited to what would be suggested by Cyclingnews – or by the UCI.

I personally find the second part of that same sentence quite laughable, but I won’t enter into the subject since we’ve discussed it quite a lot and I think that everyone of us will simply stick to his own POV, and rightly so, I suppose. Anyway, I consider that making an argument of it is especially weak, knowing as we now know how distorted was antidoping in 2010 in general and how unfair was that case in particular (according to CIRC, both on favour and against Contador… with the “against” parts quite more serious, I’d say).

Let’s be serious. Winning the TdF isn’t any sort of a proof. Too uncommon an event, and even a bit random, at least in recent years. Especially if you can’t ride (or prove the form you have got, like in 2014) in 3 out of 8 years after your first win. Besides, it’s a bit absurd not to consider the age element. I think that Contador had his top years, from a physiological POV, from 2009 to 2011. Don’t really know about 2012, but I feel that 2014 was kind of an exception, a sunset blossom, like Boonen’s in 2012. We’ll see.

What’s sure, and that was the *only* point I was trying to make, is that making out any doping hypothesis based on a supposed “climbing times slowdown” is simply a nonsense: people should be discouraged from doing that. And calling it “obvious”, on the top of it…

Foley September 1, 2015 at 7:11 am

Thanks for the response. I did not realize that you considered the statement “Contador was caught doping” to be controversial or in need of elaboration. That makes a big difference to the discussion. I did not offer his lack of a post-ban TdF win as any kind of “proof” of anything, just as a contributing factor to the “cognitive dissonance” over his reputation, which in my mind is “clearly best/most gifted stage racer of his generation, but…”

Chris September 1, 2015 at 8:17 am

“I did not realize that you considered the statement “Contador was caught doping” to be controversial or in need of elaboration.”

Sure it is – remember? It was beef. Driven in from another country by a friend. They had a receipt and everything. And the plasticisers? Um… The beef ate plastic. Or it was a plastic car. And Operation Puerto? Well, his name was taken off the list after originally being on it, so it’s all good. Just forget it, alright? And being in the tour squad on Bruyneel’s team? Completely clean; Bruyneel would never let anyone who dopes race on his squad.

BenW September 1, 2015 at 4:12 pm


Thanks for that, I needed a laugh today 🙂

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Funny thing, what the judges say it’s fine until they dismiss the transfusion theory and suggest it was a food complement. You people must decide if you accept the TAS decision or not. You pick what you like best, don’t you? Nice attitude. The plasticisers thing is laughable, among other things. Guys who thought they found the Holy Grail of antidoping, but, know what? No Holy Grail around for now. Your jokes are nearer to truth than you imagine. Me and you probably have our good share of plasticisers in the blood (and possibly the steak too, indeed ^___^). Without transfusions, on my part at least. Wouldn’t put my hand on the fire for you or the cow. Perception flaws: we consider Contador’s clenbuterol positive *strange* (hence clue or proof of doping) because it’s – relatively – uncommon in cycling/in Europe. The problem is that most samples in the history of testing (I’d say at least 95%… probably much more) haven’t even been tested with the precision which would have shown the presence of such a reduced quantity of the substance. In an equal context of testing maybe (only maybe) that test would have looked differently and the contamination the TAS hinted at wouldn’t look more incredible than some delayed positivity due to transfusions (also observe that a goood bunch of guys used transfusions, and this specific trouble never manifested itself…).
Saiz, Bruyneel, Riis…? I totally agree with you, and never said the contrary.

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:16 am

I’ll tell you more about 2007. Those *faboulous two* climbed various climbs slower than a good number of riders would do in 2013 or 2014. What is more, most of the previous climbs presented by the mountain stages were paced at a slower rhythm.
The big performance I find numbers about was Plateau de Beille, where the two, anyway, climbed just 1’23” faster than this year’s group which included the likes of Thomas, Rolland, Pinot, Van Garderen… not to speak of this year’s significant headwind.
Not exactly supermen, but, yes, they were really fast.

Troubles for the *flying dopers* theory start… more or less everywhere else (as long as I’ve data about). I’ve the numbers of stage 9, 14 and 15.
Stage 7 didn’t provide action involving Contador, whereas in stage 8 he was relatively on the back foot, losing ground not only to Rasmussen (because of a breakaway) but also to Evans or F. Schleck.
In stage 16, sadly I don’t have references for comparison on the Aubisque, but Contador wasn’t brilliant there, either, more than half a minute behind Rasmussen, some second behind Leipheimer and taking just 8″ over Evans.
I strongly doubt that the stages 7, 8 or 16 were the ones you remind (or you remember them quite badly).

I believe you’re recalling Plateau de Beille (14), about which I’ve written above, as well as the Galibier stage (9) or, even more probably, the impressive Loudenvielle stage, with attacking fireworks and stand-offs between Contador and Rasmussen (15).
Let’s see what “climbing times” we’ve got there.

On the Alps, it’s an easy story: a very short stage, Contador attacking hard on the Galibier, only a flat preventing him from winning. Not only was he climbing slower than himself in 2011 (2007-2011 is ok for you?), but he was even slower than Samu Sánchez, Hesjedal, Evans, Rolland, Frank Schleck, Cunego, Jeannesson, Danielson, Szmyd, Basso, Jerome, Gautier, Charteau, Voeckler, De Weert, Vande Velde, Leipheimer… in that same 2011. For if you were asking, no, they weren’t riding together, they were split in smaller groups, often without collaboration. In both case there were no relevant difficulties before the Telegraphe-Galibier double, the stage was short, in 2007 it finished downhill, in 2011 they had to cllimb Alpe d’Huez, after. Third week in 2011, beginning of the 2nd week in 2007.
The Telegraphe was climbed 3′ slower than in 2011.

Let’s go to the third week.
On the Peyresourde they were riding as fast as Kiserlovski, Horner, Nibali, Pinot, Valverde, Rodríguez, Pozzovivo and Urán in 2013 or Pinot, Froome, Wiggins, Van Den Broeck, Rolland, Nibali, Van Garderen, Horner in 2012. To be more precise, they were a couple of seconds slower than all these guys. I’m not raising my eyebrows for that 2007 performance which astonished you that much, I’m sorry. They inflicted to the rivals who followed some 19″, that is, the same time difference that they would have, on the contrary, *suffered* if they climbed at that same speed in 2010, by a not-so-selected group including Szmyd, Charteau, Kreuziger, Lloyd, Capecchi, Hesjedal, Wiggins, Verdugo, Rui Costa, Casar and others, amongst whom Armstrong (!).
Were they especially fast on the previous Port de Bales? Nope. They rode it about two mins slower than the top guys in 2014 (Pinot, Nibali, Peraud, Gadret…), half a minute slower than Contador with Menchov and Samu Sánchez in 2010.
Oh yeah, wait, wait, I know, crazy rhythm by the Rabodopers on the first climbs of the day… Nope. They climbed Portet d’Aspet and Menté respectively two and one minutes slower than the peloton in 2013.

Hence… man, what are you talking about? Bla bla bla, as I said. You got impressed by a couple of memorable performances, but apparently you didn’t notice the rest of the race. If we look at numbers, and a good number of numbers, I’m very sorry, the whole picture of Alberto climbing at the 2007 Tour wasn’t anything special compared with what not only the same Contador, but a good bunch of secundary characters are doing in recent years. And he wasn’t winning at all with a wide margin, like “I don’t need to climb fast”. Quite the contrary, I’d say.

So, you’ve got to take some stance… Contador wasn’t really better in 2007 than, say, in 2011? Was he doping? Wasn’t he? Is he? Exactly when? They’re all doping in 2011-2012-2013-2014 as the climbing times would suggest, according to your crazy theory?
Or, maybe, only maybe, “climbing times” and, more generally speaking, performances, aren’t just doping-related, but they depend on many more factors? Thus, we can’t jump to any conclusion based on them? ^___^ If you don’t get it, you can try harder and again.

dave September 1, 2015 at 10:34 am


Apologies to the thread. I kicked off a big debate without particularly intending to. I shouldn’t have brought it up, got what I deserved.

Think Gabriele’s defence is bonkers and almost fanatical – whether or not C doped, to not at least accept that there’s MASSIVE suspicion on someone who was busted, cycled for Bruyneel and has the fastest climbing rate ever above Riis, Pantani, Armstrong, Ullrich seems complete madness.

All the numbers in the world can’t disguise that the majority of cycling fans would say they’ve never since seen the same Contador of Tour 2009, Giro 2010 and this has to be a little suspect….

Treat Froome, Wiggins, Nibali, Quintana with suspicion as this is the legacy cycling has dealt itself, but to defend Contador to the death is surely a hiding to nothing.

And yes, numbers can be all over the place as here and here illustrate *(and there are likewise many caveats to Gabriele’s numbers);

But how anyone can say hand on heart, even his staunchest fan, that Contador 100% didn’t dope makes any sense to me.

I’m not really sure if I even care now even if I stunned by the vigour of the above.


Vedrafjord September 1, 2015 at 11:39 am

I made a graph a while back of the average watts/kg on climbs of the TdF top 6 since 2000. We know from comparing power meter data from Gesink, Ten Dam, Kwiatkowski etc. that the estimates are very accurate, so don’t go all Brailsford on us. Here you go:

I’m not just looking at Contador in isolation here – there are some obvious trends that involve everyone:
* Big drop off due to Puerto in 2006.
* Big increase from 2008 (when AFLD did testing and actually did a pretty good job) vs 2009 (when UCI took it back). Armstrong came back presumably after seeing 2006-2008 numbers and concluding he could win but he must have got quite the shock.
* Big drop after the passport properly came on stream, but increase in speeds every year since 2011, as riders learn how much they can push the passport and stay under the radar.
* Contador in 2009 still stands out like a sore thumb in the post Armstrong era.

You think I’m picking on Contador, but I’m not – I just think that, like probably 3/4 or more of the guys on that graph, he doped to whatever level he thought he could safely get away with, which varied by external circumstances (passport, better tests, who ran the tests) and internal (closer scrutiny after his ban). that’s the unfortunate reality of grand tour general classifications from the last 25 years.

Ben R August 31, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Applause from me for EPO-que

steveh September 1, 2015 at 8:21 am

It’s this clever use of language that makes this blog so much fun, as well as being so informative.

BenW September 1, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I, too, come for the cycling analysis and stay for the puns.

Matt F September 1, 2015 at 6:58 am

When the most high profile cyclist of all time is found to be a drug dealing, bullying fraud – it does engender a certain level of scepticism, even in the absence of hard facts. Unlike the big Texan, however, both Contador and Valverde have done time for doping and achieved great things subsequently. They are unrepentant and their only regret is that they got caught. Why waste so much time and effort defending them and their ilk?

Foley September 1, 2015 at 8:05 am

Some commenters seem to have a strong interest in convincing us that “their ilk” includes “everyone else in the peloton,” as though we are naive to think of sanctioned riders any differently than we think of riders who have not been caught. These commenters are often notably dismissive of the “unrepentant” angle in particular, and they do have a point to make there. Sometimes it seems like they don’t believe in the possibility (I said possibility) that the sport has cleaned up quite a bit, and they don’t want you to try to believe it either.

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Not necessarily “everyone else”, if I’m to be included among those “commenters” 😉
Maybe *you*, Foley, aren’t that naive, but I’m afraid that your *us* isn’t as extended as it could or should hopefully be.
However, the strongest interest I have is just to avoid that the simplified and manipulative narrative of cycling that most media spread, in one sense or the other, becomes an habit.
That includes mispractice like making inferences about doping based only on performance data; or, if I’ve got to be more specific, urban legends like “Contador wasn’t the same after 2009/2010/2011/[insert year as you please] and that depends on doping, for sure”; or myths like Contador 2007 as an apotheosis of unnatural climbing…

Anonymous September 1, 2015 at 9:06 am

People do have different opinions. For example to me the concept of “repentant/unrepentant” means nothing. Why should it? You made a decision, you can’t undo that decision again anyway. Live with the consequences and hopefully learn from it. Cycling isn’t religion, where you sin and your sins can be forgiven by the holy public, if you just feel bad enough or at least act as if you do (or is it…?). Plus people can say “Oh, I did something wrong, I am so, so sorry”, smile at you and turn around to dope again. This may make us feel better, because we feel the rider is a god boy again -but only till the next positive test. Others may say nothing, even contest their sentence – because in the end, riding is their job and a lot of people depend on them riding -,but will never dope again. Or they do the same and dope again. Some even may say sorry and really mean it. Puh. What I mean is: These are just words, what counts, is what the riders do and in terms of doping, this means positive tests or no positive tests. This is our only way of proof and in the end the thing that we should care about and build our judgement on. Everything else is just very bad for the sport. So to you the term “unrepentant” means something, to me not. All fine, luckily we are allowed to have different opinions, but please don’t use “unrepentant” to prove anything (or nothing).

ccotenj September 1, 2015 at 2:43 pm

agreed… whether they “repent” makes zero difference to me… it doesn’t ameliorate the fact that they doped if they have a “cry and promise they’ll never do it again” session…

and once they have served their suspension, i don’t continually look at them as some type of pariah.., they did the crime, they served their time, and then they are back… as far as i am concerned at that point, i only care what they do going forward.,.

many cycling fans simply need to learn to “let go”… you can’t change the past, and the collective hand-wringing about what might have happened in the past does the sport no good… the whole “lets retest samples from decades ago” routine (for example) mystifies me… what is the point? unless you test every rider in the peloton, it is completely pointless…

valverde isn’t my favorite rider in the world… but the harping on his lack of repentance is not only pointless, it is tiresome…

Sam September 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm

well, to start with ‘repentence’ or whatever one wants a doper to come out with, there has to be admission of guilt. And thats not something that Valverde or Contador will ever do.

ccotenj September 1, 2015 at 5:01 pm

and again, something that i don’t care about… i don’t care whether they admit it or not…

prisons are full of “innocent” people… 🙂

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 3:00 pm

+1 (both for Anonymous and ccotenj)

CM September 1, 2015 at 9:45 am

For a bloke who says climbing times don’t prove anything, Gabriele has sure collected a lot of them. With his approach to cycling I’m surprised he doesn’t warm to SKY. Interesting contributor though.

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:57 pm

“For a bloke who says climbing times don’t prove anything…”
Ars gratia artis, you know?
jokes apart, I had to find them on purpose

CM September 1, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Pecuniam vero pro deum meum, Gabriele (How Dare You 10cc)
Thanks. Good stuff.

Sam September 1, 2015 at 10:33 am

So….back to the book at hand…

Sounds an interesting read, I’ll give it a go

dave September 1, 2015 at 10:39 am

just a shame it doesn’t go back further, having read slaying badge etc, kinda wanna hear more on preww2 TDF and some of the less famous. read something recently on the Octavio Botteccia’s murder and was fascinating, what a story.

I also didn’t realise there were three winners in between J.Anq’s first and second winners, what happened to him in this time?

Oh he contrived to have Bahemontes win *(wikipedia’ing while writing) how did the work?

Sam September 1, 2015 at 12:01 pm

What happened to him between his first and second wins? Keeping the womenfolk of Italy happy, and evading irate husbands, is tiring work – give Maitre Jacques a break 🙂

Anonymous September 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

Yes, it sounds good. Unfortunately after reading many of them, I need a long, long break from this kind of book. There are just so many certain takes on a certain part of history I can take. I am more into reading italian and french (would like to read spanish, too, but can’t – at least for now) books and their point of view right now. Maybe after a break, I will be more interested again and if so, this one will surely be on the list.

dave September 1, 2015 at 1:34 pm

great post Vedrafjord

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm

I’ll take advantage of this lost post to make some point about the above discussion and dave’s reply above ^___^
I can understand that you didn’t fully read my posts (it’s me going against netiquette), especially all the way down to some post scriptum, but I’d appreciate that you didn’t make assessments on it without appropriate reading.

I’m not “defending” Contador nor dismissing suspicions. I explicitly said quite the opposite in a couple of occasions. I’m just very critical towards the lack of seriousness towards the subject. Saying that Contador “slowed down” from an undefinite point in time on and relating that to doping isn’t serious. Pointing out whom he was working with is different, for example.

We were speaking of “climbing times”, that’s a fact. Well, I went and found all the comparable climbing times that were available to me and no clear pattern emerges. That’s another fact. Then people started to change the angle… speaking of their impressions and memories from this or that Tour. Quite different. Quite hard to debate. I find 2011 more impressive than 2007, but who knows? Hence I went and found all the info I could about 2007. You can read that above.
Note that Vedrafjord made another shift and forgot about 2007 and his impressions. Besides, now it’s all about w/kg, not “climbing times” anymore. So you can mix up different climbs and race situations under the unifying law of power estimation.

I’d like to underline that I may even share (with a good pinch of probabilistic doubt) Vedrafjord interpretation, when he suddendly and luckily goes general. Still, I see that as an exercise of mere hypothetical imagination, albeit I can agree with the results. To draw hypothesis is a noble practice.
I’ve got my doubt about the data which are prompting the mind exercise.
I provided you with raw materials, read it and do what you please. A graph is impacting, but hides the way it has been built.
To start with, well, I struggled to find enough climbing data, thus I really couldn’t say how complete is the material from which the graph has been taken.
Every climb? Or maybe uphill finishes? Or, more generally, final climbs? That would be quite an error. The pace on previous climbs is highly relevant (I hope we won’t have to debate this). Besides, you should weigh the relative duration of each climb. You can’t mix up the watts you produced on, say, Mende and, say, Plateau de Beille as if they were two absolute and totally equivalent numbers. You can’t weigh the 20′ of Verbier as much as power produced all along Colombière or Ventoux.
Let’s give a look to Vedrafjord’s graph. In 2009 we see that Contador stands well above the Schlecks. How is that if he was way faster only in Verbier and climbed more or less as the brothers on every other climb (less than 30″ as the *total* advantage he got on them in the whole rest of climbing)? I must assume that all the difference we see in the graph or most of it depends on Verbier alone. Is that possible? If it’s like that, it must mean that very few climbs were included and that they weren’t probably weighed on their duration.
This way, obviously enough, a single performance like Verbier can shift the average quite a lot.
What about that single performance?
The article you posted informs about the length factor even if in quite a dismissive tone. Not a bad article, but not really honest, either. First of all, because they name the factor influencing VAM that they prefer, average gradient, while ignoring an even more decisive factor, that is, homogeneity of gradient (which raises VAM). From that POV Verbier is more favourable than Alpe d’Huez, not to speak of Hautacam. Even more important, they speak of “length”, deviating the attention from the true key factor, that is, time. Now, everyone who has some vague idea about cycling, power and physiology knows the importance of the 20′ reference. Power doesn’t vary in a linear way when related to effort time. There’s a huge, huge difference precisely between any 20′ effort and larger efforts of say 40′ or 50′. It’s a totally different power zone you can recur to. How is it that expert trainers decide to give secundary importance to this essential element?

Well, I won’t annoy you any longer, but if we want to speak of beliefs, as Foley suggest, everyone can stick to his or her certainties (or doubts). If we decide to speak of climbing times, averages and the likes, to give some sense of *reality* to our respective narratives, things should be done… well… correctly?

gabriele September 1, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Another thing, dave… you speak above of “Giro 2010”. Since Giro 2008 wasn’t anything special (nor Tour 2010, to say the truth), I infer you’re speaking of “Giro 2011”. I may agree, with a possible extra about 2014 (the Tirreno, Dauphinée or the Vuelta anyone?).
I just can’t make this fully coherent with your previous theory about “pre 2010 results” (is 2011 pre 2010?). Nor can I make it easily coherent with Vedrafjord’s graph and ideas you appear to share: 2009 and 2011 lie more or less on the opposite extremes of the “doping panorama” we’re supposed to deduce from the image. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you sure need to make multiple and complicated assumptions.
Isn’t it more logical to suppose that, as it is very common in cycling history, Contador had a physiological peak of performance between 2009 and 2011, especially when single burst of power are involved, then saw his characteristics shift to more effective fondo (as it is very common in human physiology), with an especially hard period after having spent several months – nearly an year – with barely any racing at all?
Repeat: I’m not saying that he wasn’t doping or that he hasn’t been doping, I’m just saying that maybe focusing on technical factors explains more and more consistently than complicated and very variable doping plots. The doping-explains-all theories look more and more like creationism, at the same time very simple, *useful*… and including big, big, big assumptions.

ccotenj September 1, 2015 at 5:23 pm

“The doping-explains-all theories look more and more like creationism, at the same time very simple, *useful*… and including big, big, big assumptions.”

well put… unfortunately, many “fans” have been conditioned to immediately think “dopage”…

agree with you, i’m not saying who or who isn’t doping… but it is overly simplistic to look at one variable (when there are MANY in a sport held on the open road) and state “doper”…

one thing that it seems like it is difficult to explain to some… and that is “someone has to win”… honestly, i don’t think that some would be happy even if all the riders in the peloton crossed the line in the same time in every race…

another thing some can’t understand… “athletes have physiological peaks in their lifetime, and when they hit that peak, it doesn’t mean they are doping”…

Special Eyes September 1, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Reading Inrng’s review on this book, I am not entirely sure if the inclusion of Armstrong in the book was merely “crowbarred in because of the celebrity sales potential”.
It seems to set a baseline for the reader’s thought line – “Here is a Doper / But is (*insert name*) a Doper” ?
A kind of guilt by association, if you like.
Is that a fair assessment Senor Inrng ?

I am led to say this from your line “it is left for the reader to…”
Perhaps that should read “Peters suggests to the reader that…”

Why can Mr Peters not just come out and say it, if that’s what he thinks ?
Or is it some kind of third party hired hit-man attempt ?
Why is Indurain’s transformtion into five time Tour winner merely called in to question ?
Is that all that Mr Peters can legally get away with, in his desire for book sales ?
Surely if there is evidence, he can present it. If not…

It really does seem to me that Armstrong’s inclusion is far more central and cynical than a sales push.
If he is so interested in Bradley Wiggins’ character, perhaps we can find out what Mr Wiggins thinks of his inclusion alongside that of Lance Armstrong ?
Maybe his thoughts on that would be even more interesting.

Pro cycling is trying so hard to shed it’s past, why yet another look back like this ?
It seems to be clear what Mr Peters is trying to get the reader to think.

The Inner Ring September 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm

It’s Pickering, not Peters and many of the issues you raise are dealth with in the book, for example the circumstantial evidence about Indurain and EPO.

Anonymous September 1, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Come on, if I can be silent everytime someone writes Griepel instead of Greipel (courtesy of a certain website, which alwas writes it wrong), he can call Pickering Peter. As for your questions/comment, Special Eyes, I must honestly say, I am a bit confused about the angle/intent of your comment: Have you read the book or are your questions about the review (and INRNG’s concern about Armstrong being in the book)? And who should be hit and who has hired whom to do that? Aside from that, I don’t think in so many years of cycling, in so many different personalities, lifes, circumstances, doping is the most interesting thing. Indeed I think doping is not the non plus ultra in life and cycling.

Special Eyes September 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Yes, fair points (and Sam below).
At the same time, we’ve invariably gotten on to the dreaded subject of doping and my point was that Pickering’s book seems to lead the reader that way, however else the book may be dressed up.
It’s a shame really. There are countless Internet threads, books etc on the doping issue and it really becomes boring after a while.
Perhaps I do need to read the book but it just seems, and this was only my take on it, another chapter of that whole sorry issue when it tries to dress itself up as something else.
It was not a criticism of Inrng however, not at all.

Special Eyes September 1, 2015 at 3:02 pm

My apologies on the name error, I don’t know where I got Peters from !
Hmm, not sure on this book at all.

Sam September 1, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Then either don’t read it; or read it and then develop an opinion of its qualities or otherwise from an informed position.

brett September 1, 2015 at 3:52 pm

not sure if this is interesting or not, but I went to the kindle store to buy this book:

only to find this out:

Kindle Version: $39
Hardcover: from $10


ccotenj September 1, 2015 at 5:07 pm

i can only find it on the uk amazon site, the usa amazon site doesn’t list a kindle option… unless i’m missing it, which is entirely possible…

Alex222 September 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

£3.79 for the Kindle edition and £3.99 for hardback. Sounds interesting and for the price of less than a cycling magazine sounds worth a punt.

Beth September 1, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I’ve read the book and enjoyed it.

There’s a lot of focus in this comment section on doping. It’s a very much a book about people and what drives them. Some of them doped and this is not ignored – but neither does it dominate.

I found it even-handed and thought provoking. It would benefit from some pictures IMO, but the quality of the writing stands up for itself.

Will September 1, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I’d second the above comment. Read this back in July and thought it was a great insight into what motivated these individuals to become champions.

The Inner Ring September 1, 2015 at 5:06 pm

It seems to be the way with comments, if I mention doping in one paragraph out of ten it can often become the topic of conversation for many in the comments below.

dave September 1, 2015 at 6:09 pm

apologies. it was my fault.

Nick September 2, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Don’t blame yourself: you didn’t force them to dope.

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