Sky’s the limiting factor for Froome in Tour popularity stakes
In 1963, the Tour de France organisers devised a route to discomfit Jacques Anquetil, who had just won the race for the third time. The time trial kilometrage was slashed and the mountain stages increased. It did not work: Anquetil took his fourth Tour in emphatic style. A similar process can be traced leading to Chris Froome’s fourth Tour win – sealed last Saturday in Marseille and confirmed the following day on the Champs Élysées in Paris.
This Tour route looked tailored for Romain Bardet, he of the nerveless descending skills, more downhill skier than cyclist, but the outcome was the same as in 1963: the man who, on paper, was least favoured by the route, ended up the winner, taking his fourth Tour.
It is when you turn to Team Sky, however, that Froome’s triumph becomes complicated. Four wins is a massive achievement, the moment when a rider suddenly attains greatness. There should be huge excitement around a feat that places a rider in the same bracket as Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Jacques Anquetil, but that was hard to detect.
Last Saturday, the Tour was relegated to page 12 of l’Equipe. There was little Froome love in evidence. A few boos en route to Le Puy-en-Velay and some whistling apart, there has been no antipathy either, unlike other years, but it seems that Froome is only slowly winning over the French.
“He’s the victim of Sky’s image to some extent,” says Jean Montois, who has covered 35 Tours for Agence France-Presse. “The public doesn’t like a team that crushes everyone else. If he had lost one of his Tours by 15sec, he’d be very popular.”
The questions regarding Team Sky remain. They do not touch Froome directly, but are bound to detract from his moment of triumph. Having announced during the Tour that he will ride a further two years at Sky, he and the squad are bound together.
Like it or not, want it or not, however much one might admire Froome’s management of the race, relishing this success is somehow hard to do.