Froome could win this Tour de France
Okay, Chris Froome punctured yesterday and lost one minute 25 seconds, and he’s sitting way down in 84th place now, already one minute 41 seconds behind the yellow jersey. But he could still win.
He’s a fantastic cycling talent, but as hapless and scatter-brained, if very likeable an individual as you could ever with to meet. So scatter-brained that in turning this un-cut diamond into the jewel he is now, even Team Sky nearly gave up in exasperation.
Halfway through his first year with the team, one of their staff told me that they were at a loss as to what to do with him. He clearly had the ability but he made mistakes. Okay, fair enough, everybody makes them, but even after having an error pointed out to him as forcibly as possible, Froome went ahead and did it again.
His future with Sky looked bleak. Froome, who was born and grew up in Kenya, was also dogged by a tropical disease called bilharzia, and Sky seriously considered letting him go at the end of 2011. Then the Vuelta happened.
The Vuelta a Espana, or Tour of Spain, is cycling’s third Grand Tour, behind the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Froome finished second overall in 2011.
Out of the blue he equalled the best ever placing by a Brit in any Grand Tour, and maybe he could have won if he hadn’t helped Bradley Wiggins so much when he was leading the race.
He beat Wiggins in the Vuelta’s long time trial, and he climbed better than Wiggins, but Wiggins was Sky’s leader, and that’s how cycling works.
Wiggins was below his best, having just recovered from the broken collar bone he sustained in the 2011 Tour de France, but led the Vuelta for a while before fading slightly to third. Anyway, Sky just didn’t know how well Froome would go.
By the time they realised it was too late. Released from looking after Wiggins, Froome took the fight to the Vuelta leader, Spain’s Juan-Jose Cobo, beating him on stage seventeen’s summit finish to reduce his lead to 13 second, but there wasn’t enough of the race left to do any more.
Wiggins is Sky’s main man again in this year’s Tour de France, so why do I think Froome could win? Okay, it’s a long shot, but consider this scenario.
Nissan-Trek-Radioshack might lose the yellow jersey in the next few days, or they could simply shrug their responsibility of controlling the race. If that happens, the field will want Sky to take over, or Wiggins might get the lead, which means hard work earlier than they’d want to.
So to deflect this they could send Froome off on an attack, maybe on Saturday’s rugged stage through the Vosges.
The field will have to chase, if they don’t then Froome will gain a lot of time. He might not take the jersey that day, but he has the time trial and climbing tools to get it later in the race, and to defend it.
Froome is good enough to win a Grand Tour, he proved that during the 2011 Vuelta. On the face of it Sky’s plan is for him to be a super-domestique to Wiggins, and be their default leader if anything goes wrong.
But they could play him a different way, and they still could win.
And the great thing is, Froome still hasn’t been brainwashed by the Sky machine. He is realising his potential, and they helped him do it, but they haven’t completely ironed out his unconcern for detail.
Take this year’s prologue in Liege. Many riders warm up with little white plugs in their nostrils to keep their airway open and clean. Only Froome forgot about his and raced with them in place, so he couldn’t breath through his nose at all
And then there was his overshoes. Team Sky spend thousands of pounds on aerodynamic kit, including very expensive skin suits, gloves and fabric covers to streamline their shoes. They work in a very specific way, except Froome put his on the wrong feet.
I don’t know about you, but with sport becoming increasingly scientific and controlled, I can’t help admiring Froome’s inattention to detail.
I hope this is a really good Tour for him, and I hope we see some more little faux pas from cycling’s absent-minded professor.