Sky’s the lim­it­ing fac­tor for Froome in Tour pop­u­lar­ity stakes

The Guardian Weekly - - Sport - In­side sport Wil­liam Fother­ing­ham

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.

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