TRY­ING CIR­CUM­STANCES Chris Froome’s Tour-Vuelta dou­ble lacked ‘panache’ but was a tac­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal mas­ter­piece that con­trolled the un­con­trol­lable

Cycling Plus - - THE HUB -

If, in­deed, God does love a trier, then the love’s been spread thinly across the pro pelo­ton in 2017. Take Bel­gium’s Thomas De Gendt, who by his own mea­sure got into the break on no less than 15 oc­ca­sions in 40 Grand Tour stages this year - in­clud­ing, ac­cord­ing to French news­pa­per L’Equipe, 1047km at the Tour de France at the front of the race - be­fore fi­nally tri­umph­ing on stage 19 of the Vuelta a Es­paña. “I win the last at­tempt. I wish some­one could have told me that,” tweeted De Gendt.

Al­berto Con­ta­dor went through sim­i­lar emo­tions in his swan­song at the Vuelta, adopt­ing a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ap­proach to at­tack­ing. Some­times they stuck, some­times they didn’t, but he made it count when it mat­tered with vic­tory on the best place pos­si­ble, atop the race’s now defin­ing climb of the Angliru in the fi­nal moun­tain stage of the race.

In an era of tightly con­trolled rac­ing where feats of win­ning solo, stage-long breaks are but sepia mem­o­ries, the blue­print for Grand Tour rac­ing suc­cess in 2017 is to chip away, to graft and to build small but in­cre­men­tal mi­cro-vic­to­ries. No­body has lived and breathed that more than Chris Froome this sum­mer. In mak­ing his­tory and be­com­ing the first rider, af­ter sev­eral near misses, to win the Tour-Vuelta dou­ble in its cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion on the cal­en­dar (and only the third ever af­ter Jacques An­quetil and Bernard Hin­ault), Froome ac­com­plished this mind-bog­glingly dif­fi­cult feat in a brain over brawn way - even if con­sid­er­able brawn was in­volved. All sum­mer long, by si­mul­ta­ne­ously fo­cus­ing on both the big pic­ture and the more im­me­di­ate tasks at hand, Froome, rather than the eye­balls-out tac­tic he’s em­ployed in the past to stun­ning ef­fect, eked out a string of mi­cro ad­van­tages that added up to a whole lot. His crit­ics point to the team of lieu­tenants at his dis­posal, like Wout Poels at the Veulta, him­self fin­ish­ing sixth over­all, who could lead a top team in his own right. It was a team that was largely re­freshed from the ‘A Team’ of the Tour, yet lost none of its po­tency for it. They’ll point to Sky’s meth­ods and paint them as stran­gu­la­tion tac­tics, as if they in­vented them, rather than sim­ply be­ing the best cur­rent prac­ti­tion­ers. Don’t for­get Con­ta­dor, the great en­ter­tainer, won (but was later stripped of) the 2010 Tour de France with­out win­ning a stage, some­thing Froome also did this year and Greg LeMond did in 1990. It’s no less le­git­i­mate a way to win, par­tic­u­larly when you’re at­tempt­ing the un­prece­dented. And it’s not as if Froome is de­void of flair - it’s de­ployed spar­ingly but it is there. It’s just that his av­enue to vic­tory de­manded a par­tic­u­larly strat­egy. In win­ning two Grand Tours back-to-back, car­ry­ing the leader’s jer­sey for 34 out of 42 stages and for con­trol­ling such un­con­trol­lable con­tests, Froome goes down as a leg­end of this sport. If not, on this oc­ca­sion, for panache, then for pre­ci­sion, fo­cus and per­sis­tence.

Froome eked out a string of mi­cro ad­van­tages that added up to a whole lot

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