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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links