Christophe Ena, AP
Chris Froome gave cycling fans a thrilling, dominant performance in winning the 100th Tour de France Sunday.
Then he offered a promise.
“This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” he said. In other words, he's not like all of those other guys.
Forgive us if we are skeptical.
Pardon our relentless questions.
And please don’t take it personally if we just can’t embrace what Froome accomplished. At least not yet.
It is a bit of what my mother once warned me would happen if I chose the wrong friends — I would be guilty by association.
The British cyclist tried to erase 20 years of rampant cheating with one phenomenal performance and a well-meaning promise. He’s supposed to be part of the new breed of cyclists who weren’t lured or bullied into doping in order to compete.
But as one expert said, we won’t know for sure if that’s true for years.
The sweet words may also be hard to believe because he reminds us of a man who inspired us — on and off the bike — with how we thought he handled challenges. Lance Armstrong, who stood on that podium making those promises seven times, turned out to be a liar.
The emphatic denials made us feel ashamed for doubting. And then it turned out the skeptics were right.
It was a slap in the face to the faithful.
It was a kick in the teeth to the sport.
Worst of all, it seems having athletes at the top so entrenched in doping made it impossible for up and coming cyclists to succeed without joining the cheaters.
So now comes Froome.
Froome’s climbing ability was so fierce, fans and media couldn’t quite believe it. The comparisons to Armstrong were unavoidable.
Consider that his winning margin of 4 minutes and 20 seconds is the largest since 1997. That was the year when Jan Ullrich beat Richard Virenque by 9:09. Sadly, both men have admitted to using performance enhancers. The only other winner to have greater margins of victory is Armstrong, and his name has literally been erased from the Tour de France record books.
Froome’s three-stage victories were the most for a tour winner since Armstrong won five in 2004. But that, officially, never happened.
So reporters and fans ask how Froome could manage to do something so magnificent without drugs.
It is what we do now.
Any athletes who offer us anything incredible now face the possibility that we just won’t believe it’s possible without cheating.
It’s sad that this is what the wonderful world of sports has become. But it’s also understandable.
Athletes have always pushed boundaries. Sometimes organizations haven’t had the will or the ability to catch those willing to win at all costs.
And despite the enthusiasm for what we hope is a new era, a new age of champions who don’t cheat, this isn’t a problem that is solved.
Doping will continue. As athletes continue to look for every and any advantage, other issues will arise. Let’s hope, however, that the widespread doping that marred cycling and baseball will end. The only hope of that is a real fear that cheaters will get caught and severely punished.
In addition to the new abilities of drug testing, let’s hope that a new generation of athletes really does feel betrayed by the actions of their predecessors. And that a desire not to cheat themselves will be an even more powerful motivator than punishment from the enforcement agencies.
Froome seems to understand, and said he’s willing to endure the doubt.
But his win really is an accomplishment worth applauding. He acknowledged that in post-race press conferences where the joy, for once, eclipsed the bitterness, questions and doubt.
“I’m a bit lost for words,” he said in a press conference before Sunday’s final stage. “It’s a dream to arrive in yellow on the Champs-Elysees."
His ability has made us hunger for the ability to trust in an athlete's accomplishments again. His patience and openness made healing a real possibility.
While his racing ability may have reminded us of Armstrong, the way he handled the constant questions couldn't have been more different from his now banned predecessor. And that should give us reason to hope.
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