Having already embraced big data for the first time, it looks as if cycling’s Tour de France race could have been affected by that other computing phenomenon, hacking.
According to a report from the race’s first rest day, Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford believes that the training data of 2013 Tour de France champion and current Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome has fallen into the hands of people who want to use it to discredit his performances.
The team hasn’t revealed precisely what has been taken nor how the data might have been stolen but the implication is that it was taken electronically rather than physically. The comments were made by Brailsford as part of the team’s rest-day press conference.
“We think someone has hacked into our training data and got Chris’s files, so we’ve got some legal guys on the case there,” Dave Brailsford reportedly told The Daily Telegraph.
“From an ethical and moral point of view, if you accuse someone of doping, then you do not have to cheat,” he said.
The type of data would cover biological metrics such as peak power outputs (measured in watts), threshold power output (measure in watts per kilogram) and the amount of work needed to produce this (measured in kiloJoules), all gathered by teams from each rider’s power meter as they train or race.
Such sports science data is normally confidential because it can reveal strengths and weaknesses in a rider’s form, all incredibly valuable to rivals.
It can also be used to infer whether a rider’s performance is ‘believable’ although this aspect is contentious due to disagreements about what constitutes normal in a sport scarred in the past by widespread doping.
Sky and Froome were queried by usually anonymous Internet critics during the 2013 Tour de France, particularly after an impressive ascent of the feared Mont Ventoux in southern France by Froome on Stage 15. Since then, critics have claimed the performance was impossible without doping, connecting it to the performance data of historic rides up the same climb by riders known to be cheating.
Froome and Sky have argued - with some justification - that they have been singled out for political or personal reasons. They are the richest team in cycling and that generates scrutiny and jealousy in equal measure. They are also outsiders in a very conservative French-dominated sport.
Hacking has visited cycling before. In 2011, disgraced 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis (whose title was later stripped) was accused of attempting to hack the French national anti-doping laboratory (LNDD) using Trojan malware to steal files connected to their investigation of him.