Michael Pavitt

Working through the four confirmed positive drug tests at the Pan American Games in Toronto last week, the ugly side of the Tour de France was also rearing its head as the now traditional doping controversy begun to gather pace. 

Although the actual drug related story of the race had already occurred with the Italian veteran Luca Paolini leaving the three-week stage race due to a positive test for cocaine, the real focus of the questioning and allegations were being once again aimed the rider wearing the yellow jersey.

The build-up to the 2015 Tour de France had been centred around the showdown between the “big-four” general classification riders - Britain’s Chris Froome, Spain’s Alberto Contador, Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.

Having been deprived of a showdown between them last year when Quintana opted instead to ride - and win - the Giro d’Italia and both Froome and Contador crashing out of the Tour de France it was billed as being one of the most exciting races in recent years for the yellow jersey.

It has not  turned out that way, however, with Froome’s blistering attack on stage 10 and comfortable lead almost certainly killing the contest stone dead.

Perhaps this is in part where the increased scrutiny and questioning has come from this year with a race expected to have twists and turns just about rendered a damp squib by the 30-year-old Kenyan-born Froome, leaving spectators feeling short-changed when they expected a gladiatorial contest.

By contrast, despite the occasional question thrown his way last year, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali enjoyed an easier experience last year both on and off the bike.

The scrutiny surrounding Chris Froome's has increased as result of his domination ©Getty Images
The scrutiny surrounding Chris Froome at the Tour de France has increased as result of his domination ©Getty Images

With Froome and Contador forced out of the race his dominance was viewed with a less sceptical eye as he was the last clear favourite remaining.

Naturally, it also helped that French riders were occupying the public’s imagination by lying second and third.

The dominance of Froome and Team Sky in this year's race has been so great it has been viewed in some quarters as a throwback to the now former seven-time race winner Lance Armstrong and his US Postal team.

Undoubtedly the re-emergence of the American on a charity rider taking place a day ahead of the race has not helped the Briton’s cause throughout the year, refocusing the doping issue into the forefront of people’s minds.

Part of the legacy left by the Texan and the likes of Floyd Landis has now made it near impossible for an outstanding performance in the sport to be believed.

For instance, Froome’s stage victory in the 100th edition of the race atop one of atop one of the races iconic summit finishes, Mont Ventoux, on Bastille Day was an astonishing piece of cycling. It was one of the great performances of his career.

Yet in the immediate verdict was that he must be doping. 

Chris Froome's team mate Richie Porte revealed he had been punched by a spectator during the race ©Getty Images
Chris Froome's Team Sky colleague Richie Porte alleged he had been punched by a spectator during theTour de France ©Getty Images

That has been reflected by the animosity Froome faced on the roads the past week, Yesterday he revealed he had urine thrown at him and by a spectator who called him a "doper". His Australian domestique Richie Porte, meanwhile, also claimed he had been punched by a roadside supporter.

It is a strange state of affairs that two riders who have not served bans for doping are the subject of the abhorrent acts of those who claim to be fans.

Yet cyclists who have served suspensions, such as Contador, are not subject same level of questioning or abuse, with the Spaniard having coasted to victory at this year’s Giro d’Italia with hardly an eyebrow raised.

Maybe it is because the cycling public know where they stand with Contador, as athletics fans can do with Justin Gatlin, as they can be placed easily in a category marked drugs cheats and we chose we opt to ignore their performances.

Those athletes, however, have been part of the gradual stripping away of the public’s confidence in their respective sports, with culture having seemingly shifted from innocent until guilty, to guilty until proven innocent.

It has been seen recently by the accusations aimed at American athletics coach Alberto Salazar that Britain’s Mo Farah must in turn plead his innocence, while back in London 2012 the double gold medal winning performances of Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen were immediately viewed with suspicion despite no evidence to support claims of wrongdoing.

There is, of course, the need to have a healthy dose of scepticism and journalists asking questions does play a key part in bringing the truth the light, the unhealthy guilty until proven innocent aspect is one, in my view, that needs to be scaled back somewhat.

The reappearance of Lance Armstrong at the race has brought the issue of doping back to the surface ©Getty Images
The reappearance of Lance Armstrong at the race has brought the issue of doping back to the surface ©Getty Images

The fortunate thing with sport is that why we may not trust our winners anymore, the drama present in races and matches will continually keep the public coming back and wanting to see more.

As a counter to the abuse faced by Froome and his Team Sky colleagues, there was the good news story of Steve Cummings, a first time stage winner at the race giving his South African-registered team MTN-Qhubeka, a wildcard entry into the race, a maiden victory on Mandela Day.

Similarly the triumph of Germany’s Tony Martin in taking the yellow jersey earlier in the Tour having been denied on three consecutive days was another moment that will be remembered more fondly it the coming years, in spite of whose name is in the record books as the overall race winner.

In spite of the chaotic and stained world of cycling and the Tour, those type of sporting moments will be the ones to keep the flickering faith alive.