As the Tour de France fast approaches, Felix Lowe wonders whether Chris Froome can make it four wins in five years
Our columnist looks at Chris Froome’s chances of making it four wins in the Tour de France
Earlier in the spring a video of a white van swatting a cyclist off the road went viral. Days later, Chris Froome tweeted a photo of his crumpled Pinarello after he himself had been driven off the road on a training ride near his home in Monaco.
It reminded me of a moment last summer when I was sent sprawling by the wing mirror of a white van – why are they always white? – in France. Luckily, a tomato quiche (my elevenses) strategically placed in my jersey pocket cushioned the blow. It also gave the impression that my injuries were worse than they actually were – covered as I was in sticky red goo in a gutter in Tarn-et-garonne.
What I’m trying to say, in my roundabout way, is that you can never be too careful while riding your bike in France. Which is why Froome will need to be on his toes come July. You can prepare all you like for a big race and then some police motorcyclist may decide inexplicably to park his bike on the side of the road – just ask Geraint Thomas.
In fact, ask Froome himself: he and former teammate Richie Porte collided with a TV motorcycle on Mont Ventoux last year, famously sparking the bizarre moment when he actually started running uphill. This was a race where the supposedly ‘robotic’ Froome employed innovative tactics such as teaming up with Peter Sagan in crosswinds and squatting on his top tube on a zippy descent in a manner suggesting that, now a father, he was happy to draw a line under any future reproduction.
So what tricks will Froome attempt this year? And what tactics will his rivals employ to stop him? Don’t forget, there are only three major mountain-top finishes – most notably the Col d’izoard via the eerie Casse Déserte – and two short individual time-trials, so Froome will have to pick his moments to look ridiculous yet effective in the saddle.
The steep and unknown Col de la Biche on Stage 9 could be a good spot for an ambush. With 1,000m of vertical gain in 10km, the road has ‘dang’ written all over it – primarily because it is so narrow the painters couldn’t fit in the ‘er’. Followed by a 22% ramp on the Grand Colombier and the stinging Mont du Chat – where Poulidor pooh-poohed Merckx in 1974 – this could prove Froome’s richest test (the gastronomical temptations of the truffle, foie gras and wine stage to Bergerac aside).
While Froome spends his summers gazing at his stem, it’s my job to appraise his gaze and graze on the phases when this gaze strays. I do Eurosport’s online live coverage for all the major races, and if I were Froome’s rivals I’d etch the word ‘Formigal’ on my stem.
It was en route to this Spanish ski resort where Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador caught Sky napping in the Vuelta last year – and there’s a short stage in the Pyrenean foothills to Foix that closely resembles this day of comeuppance. It includes the Mur de Péguère, a ramp so steep it won’t suit Froome’s frenetic seated surges. After cycling and running… he may have to dance.
Although they’ll be hungrier, stronger and presumably less trusting of police escorts after what happened in the Giro, Team Sky will have their work cut out to avoid a repeat of such doziness. Quintana’s Vuelta victory last year was proof that the Colombian rides his second Grand Tour of the season better than his first, while Romain Bardet and Porte should both put up a fight.
On paper, though, strong and stable Froome is Theresa May to everyone else’s Jeremy Corbyn. But upsets happen. After Leicester City, Brexit and Trump, Froome may actually lose a Tour. But only if errant policemen, vans or fans have their say. You see, I doubt Froome’s innovation stretches to carrying quiches as padding just yet. If it is a Four de France, Felix Lowe at least hopes it’s not a Bore de France