23 July, 2009

LeMond, Doping Scourge, Questions Contador's performance

Read the column in French. (if you can read french, translate it for us)

Here's the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on the dust-up the column caused.

A nugget from the story:

"LeMond, referring to the 8.5km climb at an average gradient of 7.5 per cent, wrote: 'Never has a rider in the Tour climbed so fast. How do you explain such a performance? According to the last information published by former Festina trainer and specialist in performance Antoine Vayer in [the French newspaper] Liberation, the Spanish rider would have needed a VO2 max (consummation of oxygen) of 99.5 ml/mn/kg to produce such an effort.

''To my knowledge this figure has never been achieved by any athlete in any sport. It is a bit like if you took a nice Mercedes out of the car showroom, lined it up on a Formula 1 circuit and won the race. There is something that is wrong. It would be interesting to know what is under the bonnet.'"

LeMond is fixated on VO2 max, possibly for good reason. He was alleged to ahve a VO2 max in the 90s, I think 94, when he was at the peak of his powers. And yet at the end of his career, he was getting dropped on climbs by much heavier riders. He has long postulated that for them to climb that fast, they would have needed a VO2 max in the 100s. (VO2 is based on weight, so if you lose weight, your lung capacity relative to weight goes up and thus a higher VO2)

I don't think VO2 max is everything, nor is hematocrit. It is an interesting question, though.

I think it's possible that Contador has a higher VO2 than Lemond, could it be 99? Even if it isn't, maybe Antoine Vayer figured things out wrong, maybe there was a tailwind, maybe the wheels roll better than the model predicts. I wonder if the biggest problem is rider weight. When teams publish weight data, I think it's often wishful thinking. The only way weight data can be reliable is if a neutral party is weighing all the riders. At the Tour, it might be possible, as there at least used to be a show physical before the race.

They should ask Allen Lim, the garmin-slipstream physiologist, about Contador's climbing skills. After Riccardo Ricco was busted at the 2008 Tour, Lim said that Ricco's w/kg was something nlike 6.5 for 20 minutes at the top of the last climb on the stage he soloed to victory, and that to do that, he either needed drugs or was a greyhound-human hybrid. (though the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari seemed to think 6.7 w/kg was the magic number for climbing to victory in the tour)

It is also interesting to note that when Carlos Sastre rode to victory at L'Alpe d'Huez last year, he put in a time that was significantly lower than Pantani and Armstrong at their best. Lim speculated a much lower w/kg for Carlos than Pantani in 1998, and Contador's climb was faster, according to the various models, than Pantani in 1998.

If the expert Cyclingnews quoted, Dr. Andrew Coggan, is right about his speculation on Contador's power (450w) and weight (62kg) for that climb, then he managed 7.26 w/kg. He seems to estimate a far more earth-bound 80 VO2 max. I have a power profiling chart from Coggan. he puts the best 5m effort in the world at 7.6w/kg-- 471w for Contador. He puts the best hour effort in the world at 6.4 w/kg or 396.8w for Contador. From what I've read, it seems that for 20m, 7.26 w/kg is pretty much off the charts, in that a 60m effort should be minimally higher than a 20m effort.

Here's a story on Allen Lim discussing what kind of power Christian Vande Velde would need in order to win the Tour. "He has been riding with the GC contenders and that is great, about 5.5 to 5.9 w/kg on climbs longer than 10 minutes. That's right where he needs to be. If he can sustain that, I think he has a good chance (at winning the the tour)."

The le grimpeur blog has Sastre climbing the Alpe last year at 5.3 w/kg.

Of course, these numbers could be off. And they're really just elegant speculations turned into calculations. If we get the rider weight wrong by a kilogram or two, misjudged the length or pitch of the climb by a little, that could have a major impact. And maybe a tailwind on a climb could change things enough as well.

Don't think I'm ready to call someone a doper with so many unknowns or finicky numbers.


Anonymous said...

I find it puzzling that Contador beat everyone in the final ITT. I don't have stats, but just from my armchair I have to wonder, how did this guy beat the ITT specialist? By the margin he did? I read there was some chatter about the motorbikes, but beyond that, how was it that he rode so fast? It makes me really wonder if he possibly took something.

jason said...

To me, AC's TT performance seems more out of place than the mountain efforts. But using "scientific/mathmatical estimates" bothers me just as much if not more, as Allen Lim said, "there are too many variables." Also, Lemond's credibility is now non-existent, his basic argument always starts with "when I was...", putting him squarely in the company of grumpy ex-pros who belittle current riders. I grew up with Lemond - love the guy, but his memory seems damaged. I remember in '90 he barely won - without a stage win - by seconds over chiapucci and Indurain. In '91 he looked the same as Indurain in '96 and Lance now - just not quite good enough to make the jump, after that he just got worse, fatter, less riding in the spring and more excuses. Now, his story of "I was flying but the slow guys were dropping me"! doesn't ring true. Like Kimmage, he can't accept what happened and is bitter. The truth is another matter.

Anonymous said...

I think Lemond has considerable credibility. He's got a column in one of Europe's leading sports papers, for instance. He was key in the Landis trial. He is asked to speak at many important talks about doping in cycling and other sports. I don't find him bitter at all actually. He seems very level headed and tries to use practical reasoning to make his case. I am not saying he is necessarily right about everything.

As for Kimmage, well, yeah, many see him as a bitter ex pro who couldn't cut it. But if you read his book Rough Ride (I'm assuming you have, Jason) you may not find a lot that is necessarily bitter, at least I didn't. I think that adjective was cast on him by an angry few and became attached to him for good. I didn't honestly find his book bitter at all.

Just my two cents. Interesting discussion at any rate.

jason said...

re; anon - Lemonds comments have cost him his bike brand, trek cancelled him for inappropriate accusations towards saint lance. Getting published likewise is no guarantee of cred - just look at politics... Kimmage comes across as eloquent on his own but when a third party reports on his attacking riders at press conferences, calling David Millar some pretty nasty things. Just because they're smiling and earnest doesn't mean they're not "bitter". Maybe "fanatical"? In any case, I think they both go too far. Their attitude is "guilty until proven innocent" and that doesn't work for me.