Chris Froome has folded. He took one look at the turn of the cards from the house and he figured he just couldn’t beat the odds. He’s out, off to Italy instead to take his chances there.
Are the French bothered?
Froome might well be disappointed. He was interviewed just last month and very cheerily said how much he loved time trials and how he’d need a few time trial kilometres to be able to balance Alberto Contador’s advantage in the mountains.
“You’ve always got to come up against tough rivals – Contador is a tough guy to beat when he’s climbing the way he climbs,” mewed Froome as he sharpened his claws on his cat post.
“One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the time trials. I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time trials I can get an advantage on him.”
Just four weeks later a Tour route was revealed that was exactly what Froome did not want. Had the French been listening in?
Only 14km of ITT, a weirdly placed TTT (Stage 9), more of his favourite cobbles and a buffet of Classics climbs, and lots and lots of hills.
Boom! Take that, man sans les biceps!
Well, not quite boom, because it was the Team Sky leader who in the end put the bomb under the route presentation.
Soon after he put this on his website.
“There’s no two ways about it, next year’s Tour is going to be about the mountains. There’s very little emphasis on time trialling which means the race will be decided up in the high mountains. With six mountaintop finishes it is going to be an aggressive and massively demanding race.”
Then the message that he might not bother to attend altogether:
“The team and I will have to give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the Grand Tours I will compete in. I see myself as quite a balanced GC rider and the Giro with it’s inclusion of a longtime trial of 60km and tough uphill finishes will make it a well balanced race which suits me well. If I did the Giro I may also be able to get myself back to top shape for the Vuelta and go there with a realistic chance of aiming for the win.
“In the past I’ve only targeted one Grand Tour each season but it could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two. It’s still early days though and we’ll have to sit down and put our heads together as a team to work out what 2015 is going to look like for us.”
And so, even though the team did not even attend the presentation, they still stole the headlines.
Is Froome being prissy? No, not at all. Why bother going to a race that does not suit you? You use races like that to get fit, you don’t base your whole season around them. He’s a Tour fanatic in a sense, basing his whole season around it. Indeed he had looked, for a good solid year, like the man who would dominate July for year to come.
Thing is though, Froome could still win a race like this. He is still one of the best climbers in the world, but he’d need for a range of variables to kick in if he were to win the 2015 edition.
Contador would have to not take the cobbles seriously once again and then to be slightly off in the hills, for one.
Quintana would have to not improve in both his focus and concentration, because if he does he can beat anyone (now that the TTs are missing).
Nibali would have to have some bad luck in the first week and to meet a completely in-form Froome in the hills.
It would be a hard, hard win, even if he were to enter.
The race wasn’t designed though to be anti-Froome however, nor even anti-English, come to that. Team Sky may not be popular in Europe but Froome’s star has faded somewhat since his disastrous 2014 Tour, and also thanks to the way Contador dominated him in the Vuelta a Espana.
Nor was it designed specifically for the Spaniard. Though the parcours suits him generally, he is also a very decent Grand Tour time trialist and would have liked to see some individual kilometres in there for sure.
For Quintana? He will not like that first week, undoubtedly. It could be disastrous for the Colombian.
And Nibali? Sure, the first week suits him and he can climb, and on top of that he has the confidence after winning this year. However, three of the top guys were missing this year and Nibali had a blisteringly perfect ride. It might not go so well this time around.
Not everyone, after all, is as consistent as Lance Armstrong was.
There’s no doubt that the Tour de France organisers have gone for something a little different, with just 13.7 kilometres of individual time trials included in the race, all of which come on the first day in the prologue.
Another oddity is a team time trial in the second week. Traditionally this would come in the first, partly because all the riders are fresher then and because each team is just about guaranteed to have all its riders still in the race. The TTT comes on Stage 9 and is 28-kilometres long.
No other solo action against the clock will feature, but the famous Alpe d’Huez will be included on the penultimate day. However, at just over 100 kilometres, it is unlikely to force any major unraveling of the top three, whose dominance will have been established long before on this mountainous Tour.
So, this Tour has not been designed for the usual favourites per se, nor was it specifically anti-Froome. Rather, it has been created with the hope that a Frenchman may have a crack at the vaunted Maillot Jaune that hasn’t been won by one of their own since 1985.
Jean-Christophe Peraud claimed second last year and he can climb. He is though getting a little long in the tooth at 37. I am a fan of Peraud, as far as I can be of any rider these days, but it it with the man who came third this year, Thibaut Pinot, with whom France’s desperate hopes truly rest.
Pinot is some rider, make no doubt about that. In 2012 he made his debut at the Tour and was the youngest in the race. That didn’t stop him making his mark though, as he won Stage 9 in the mountains and took 10th overall.
This year he was third, won the Best Young Rider classification and had wizened and wearied old French cycling fans sparking up fistfuls of Gauloise, knocking back the Pernod, tossing their boules, chucking on Edith Pfiaffffft records and dancing in the streets as he took to the podium in Paris.
(yes, i was going for the record of French stereotypes in one sentence there…)
Can he win on 2015? It would take some godly maneuvering of several orbiting planets, a bit of voodoo on the others and a lot of hard work but yes, why not?
Nibali stunned us all this year, why not Pinot next?
Possible. But not likely. For one, he still needs to improve his descending skills.
Romain Bardet is another sweetheart of the French following his remarkable sixth place this year (15th in 2013). One year younger than Pinot, he can climb too and is pretty handy on those Classics routes – he was 10th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year.
Not all the French love the cobbles and the northern hills, and some, like Pinot, are handy in TTs. But yes, this is a route specifically for them.
Others may still be better over such routes, like Nibali who proved that this year, and Contador, who can, if on form, take back lots of time in the hills.
Crucially, it represents the best possible route for three Frenchmen that are showing real potential.
And why not? The French keep churning out these hopefuls and keep missing out on the prize the nation is salivating for, much like the British at Wimbledon. So many Henmans – where is their Murray? Step forqard lad, you’ll never buy a bottle of vin yourself again.
More power to them, I say.
Vive le Tour.
Vive le French!