AGRIGENTO, Italy (VN) — Chris Froome may have found an ally in the unlikeliest of places: ex-pro Thomas Dekker.
The former Dutch racer — who wrote a tell-all autobiography last year on sex, performance-enhancing drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll — said fans and media may be getting it all wrong about the Sky captain.
“The media and everybody wants to kill Froome. But [Salbutamol] is not a game-changer. I am convinced about that,” Dekker said. “To see everything in perspective, maybe Froome is the cleanest Tour winner we’ve ever had in history.”
Dekker was quick to add that he has no insider knowledge about what’s really going on at Team Sky, but added that the British team’s opaqueness doesn’t help the optics as Froome battles against a possible racing ban for high levels of Salbutamol from a test at the 2017 Vuelta a España.
“It’s a difficult story because maybe we are looking at the cleanest cycling ever, but we are still in all those sh—ty scandals,” Dekker continued. “I don’t trust 100-percent the whole Sky team, but Froome is skinny as f—k. He improved his skills, and he works his ass off. Maybe he is? I don’t know.
“I know a few guys who are riding at Sky, and I trust them. They are young Dutch guys and I believe them. I trust Tom Dumoulin, I really do. Maybe it’s naïve, but it’s my gut feeling.”
Now 33, Dekker is making his first foray back into the cycling world since retiring at the end of the 2014 season. He’s doing video interviews with riders before and after each stage at the Giro d’Italia for a Dutch newspaper. Riders and staffers stop by with a handshake and a smile.
These days, Dekker lives in Los Angeles. His girlfriend works in the art world, and he’s “traveling the world and enjoying life. I am still only 33.”
Dekker knows a few things about enhancing performance through creative pharmacy. And his views on today’s peloton are interesting because he was part of the doping culture that permeated the sport when he turned pro in 2005. He admitted to taking doping products throughout much of his career but vowed he was clean when he returned from a racing ban in 2011.
Despite today’s riders going as fast as the EPO-fueled bunch from a generation ago, he believes the peloton isn’t jacked up on the same PEDs he was using back in the darkest days of the sport.
“Everyone is taking it way more serious,” he told VeloNews. “Everyone goes to an altitude camp, even if you are a helper. Back in my time, people were doping and you could still have a nice life. You could go out, have a drink. Now it’s just a sport that is kind of freaky because you see so many skinny, anorexic guys. OK, there were skinny guys before, but those one or two kilos extra didn’t matter so much, or even three or four kilos, because you had the doping. But now, you cannot compete anymore if you are not as light as your opponent.”
Dekker said Salbutamol on its own isn’t going to help anyone win a grand tour. Dekker added if it’s safe to assume that the top riders are no longer blood doping, taking EPO, slapping on testosterone patches or injecting corticoids and human growth hormone, maybe the peloton is cutting corners in other ways.
“I was taking a lot heavier stuff, so maybe now the playing field is lowered,” he said. “Now you cannot do EPO, cortisone or growth hormone anymore, so maybe this is the new thing. I know that Salbutamol if you use it in pill form or injections, it also has an anabolic effect. I am not so deep in cycling anymore, and if that’s the case, [Froome] needs to be rejected from cycling immediately.
“Salbutamol is not a really big product,” said Dekker, who added he used inhalers to treat asthma during his career. “If you talked about this stuff 10 or 15 years ago, riders would laugh at it.”
Today, Dekker said he’s made peace with his past. His high-profile public confession and subsequent book helped him transition into private life.
While he believes cycling is very different than how it was when he entered the sport more than 10 years ago, Dekker admits he has lingering doubts about Team Sky.
“There is this whole dark thing around Sky. They started cycling with a clean image and that we are going to change cycling. During the last five or six years, the image is getting more dark and dark, and they are not so transparent anymore,” he said. “Sky are making it hard for themselves. If you are a certain journalist, you are not allowed to ask certain questions … I am curious how this thing is going to end, and it is hurting cycling again.”
And Sky’s decision to hire notorious doctor Geert Leinders, the same doctor who worked with Dekker at Rabobank, during the 2011 and 2012 seasons?
“Bad choice? Absolutely! Of course. If you pretend to be the cleanest and you want to change cycling, it’s not the best choice,” Dekker said. “Of course he did the trick, but I don’t know what he did at Sky.”