Felix Lowe

As the Tour de France fast ap­proaches, Felix Lowe won­ders whether Chris Froome can make it four wins in five years

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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

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