Tour de France: Times hint race might have made drug-free climb to high ground

Signs are this year's Tour was relatively free of the doping that has blighted the event... but doubts linger

In yesterday's L'Equipe, one five-figure number – "39.794" – was given extra prominence, with inch-high bright red letters in the centre of the pages.

Why were they there? Because that is the average speed of the Tour (in kilometres per hour) this year, only the 11th-fastest in its history, and – although L'Equipe did not say it – one of the indirect indications that, perhaps, doping is gradually lessening in this drug-blighted sport. There were other indications, too. The French, traditionally considered one of the cleanest nations, have had an amazingly successful Tour, with five riders in the top 15, two of them Tour debutants, and Thomas Voeckler defending the lead for 10 days.

The average times for the climbs are much higher than before, too, and, for the first time since 1999, in 2011 a Frenchman has finished inside the top five of both the Tour of Italy (John Gadret) and the Tour de France (Voeckler). That, at least according to Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, "means something".

Cadel Evans' win overall is taken as another good sign. A steady but largely unspectacular performer – his one stage win in the Tour was in a very tight uphill sprint – Evans is traditionally taken as a barometer of clean cycling.

But, as L'Equipe pointed out, "the world of doping always stands on quicksand" and there have been so many false dawns before that bets that this will be a Tour free of major scandals are definitely off for now. There has already been one positive test, the Russian Alexandr Kolobnev for a banned steroid, and last year, when the French took a record number of stage wins, there was also a feeling the tide had turned.

That was proved to be wrong, and one of the unresolved issues of the 2010 Tour – Alberto Contador's positive for clenbuterol – still remains subject to a final verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Had Contador won this year's Tour, instead of finishing fifth, that, rather than "a clean Tour", would've been the headline.

While the ever-sceptical left-leaning elements of the French press like Libération remain cynical, even about the French – "Should we hire Europcar?" its headline ran yesterday – they grudgingly admitted that it has been a cleaner Tour. "But that doesn't mean the end of doping," they added immediately – although you can't help wondering what they would write about if, heaven help us, something actually did.

And while France's jubilation over local success is so great that – for once – they want to believe that cycling is cleaning up its act, one of the few voices urging prudence yesterday was long-standing anti-doping crusader (and as it happens, a director of a rival French team, Française des Jeux), Marc Madiot.

While admitting Evans' win was a good sign, Madiot urged "a period of waiting before reaching a final judgement". When asked why, he insisted "because past experience tells me to be cautious". It's hard to disagree.

James Lawton, page 51

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice