Can Chris Froome become the greatest Tour de France rider of all?

Sean Lee Columnist

By Sean Lee, Sean Lee is a Roar Expert

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    Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, Team Sky leader Chris Froome will coast into Paris tonight and claim his third Tour de France title. In doing so he will join a select elite of multiple winners and establish himself as one of the race’s finest performers.

    But just how great is he? Where does he rank against the near mythical names that dominate the Tour de France honour board?

    While the gangly, Kenyan born Brit is not everyone’s cup of tea, he is everything a racer should be. He rides to win and, as he has proven on this Tour, will take his chances regardless of the terrain.

    Just think where he established his advantage this year. First, there was that crazy attack on the technical descent into Bagneres-de-Luchon on Stage 8, and then that remarkable late three man breakaway with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff) on the flat Stage 11 into Montpellier.

    He had his general classification rivals on the back foot without even having to fire a shot on the climbs! And let’s not beat about the bush, he is the best climber in the pro-peloton at the moment.

    Nairo Quintana (Movistar) can’t go with him. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) crashed out early, but I doubt that he could have matched Froome in the mountains either. Romain Bardet (AG2R) won a stage and stole back a little bit of time, but for the most part has been unable to pierce Froome’s armour.

    Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has tried hard and Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) has battled manfully, but neither are the equal of Froome. Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) certainly isn’t and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) lost heart and gave up after losing an avalanche of time early on. Even Fabio Aru (Astana), with such high hopes pre-Tour, hasn’t been able to mount anything even resembling a challenge.

    Only Richie Porte (BMC) has had the fire power to go with Froome and perhaps stretch him at times, but bad luck with that untimely puncture on Stage 2 robbed us of a true head-to-head contest between the two.

    Froome is a force of nature that can’t be stopped.

    The once skittish and nervous racer has developed into a multifaceted competitor, and although he can still be unpredictable, his desire to win and perform at his very best makes him highly entertaining, and a very formidable opponent.

    I once thought that Contador was the best climber that I would ever see. He stood on the top step of the podium at the Tour de France three times, although the history books now say that he has only two titles to his credit.

    The way he would dance on his pedals was a delight to watch, a cycling poetry equivalent to Shakespeare or Yeats, unsurpassed and seemingly unbeatable. But then came the failed Clenbuterol test and his resultant ban. He was not the same rider when he came back, and his performances before the ban carry a question mark.

    Froome is no Shakespeare on a bike. He is awkward, all arms and legs, and his high cadence pedalling brings to mind sped up news reel footage of Tours’ past, with rotating legs of flying riders pumping up and down at unnatural velocities.

    But he has three Tours to his name and had he not been working for Bradley Wiggins in 2012, he would have had four.

    In my mind he has surpassed Contador and at least drawn close or level with the other three time winners; Greg Lemond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys.

    It is hard to compare riders of different eras and a comparison with Thys is particularly hard with the Belgian rider’s exploits heavily clouded by the mists of time. It’s been 103 years since Thys won his first Tour, and 96 since his last. He won six stages back in the day. Froome has already won seven.

    The USA’s Lemond also won seven stages, two of which were in team time trials, while Bobet, the much loved French champion, took home 11 stages and won the Tour three years in a row.

    I’m willing to put Froome above Thys and Lemond, but hesitate to suggest that he has dislodged the almost magical figure of Bobet.

    But at just 31, Froome has the potential to win at least another two Tours. The fading generation of Contador, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) are no longer a threat to Sky’s leader, while none of the current contenders come near him. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) certainly doesn’t. Aru is not in the same class.

    Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) would need to be at his very, very best to offer a serious challenge and Mollema is not quite there either. Perhaps Porte could come close, but it is a big perhaps. He hasn’t yet.

    Quintana probably remains his biggest threat, but he seems to have taken a step backwards in his development.

    Of the up and comers, riders such as Bardet, Yates and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) pose questions. The time may come when they can match him day-in, day-out over a three week race, but that time is not now.

    And that is scary because it leaves the Tour window open to Froome for another couple of years. Two more wins and we will be talking about him in the same breath as other five time winners, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil.

    It is exalted company.

    Froome is probably a more complete rider than Indurain was. Afterall, the Big Mig won 10 of his 12 Tour stages in individual time trials.

    But is the angular Brit a more complete or better Tour de France rider than the others? If he equals their tally of five wins then he has to be considered as a worthy peer. If he goes on to win six or seven titles, then he would have to be considered one of the greatest Tour riders ever, if not the best of all time.

    It would take a brave writer to make that declaration given the aura that surrounds Merckx, Hinault and Anquetil – and I may not be that writer – but the suggestion would have to be considered.

    There is no reason why Froome cannot go on and create his own Tour dynasty. He rides for the most professional team in the pro-peloton which gives him access to cutting edge technology and training techniques. They also have a big budget so there is no danger of their big ticket item being lured away by unscrupulous poachers.

    No, Froome and Sky will be together for a long time yet, and it is a combination set to make the Tour de France its own.

    In fact, I think they already have!

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • July 24th 2016 @ 6:49am
      Ben said | July 24th 2016 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      Where does Froome rank against Armstrong? Sky against US Postal?

      • Columnist

        July 24th 2016 @ 7:44am
        Sean Lee said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:44am | ! Report

        Neither Armstrong or US Postal are recognised as Tour winners anymore. So I guess Sky lead US Postal 4-0 and Froome leads Armstrong 3-0. That whole Armstrong period is now a Tour de France wasteland and I’m quite comfortable leaving the record books for that time blank.

        • Roar Guru

          July 24th 2016 @ 11:03am
          Scott Pryde said | July 24th 2016 @ 11:03am | ! Report

          As a hypothetical though, they are up there. Just complete domination.

        • Roar Guru

          July 24th 2016 @ 3:46pm
          Sam Brown said | July 24th 2016 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

          When you have to go back to the 8th positioned rider to find someone who was riding clean (at least as far as we know and saying nothing of the riders team mates) then you pretty much have no option but to leave it blank.

    • Columnist

      July 24th 2016 @ 7:38am
      Sean Lee said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:38am | ! Report

    • July 24th 2016 @ 8:26am
      Steve C said | July 24th 2016 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Yes he is dominant at the moment, Sky are just so strong – in a similar way to U.S Postal were. I think Froome has conducted himself very well this Tour, very humble in press interviews. Of the contenders I think Porte is the closest – I think Orica have some choices for GC in years to come if they can keep them

      • Roar Rookie

        July 24th 2016 @ 9:18am
        Don said | July 24th 2016 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        Yep.
        I just can’t single out what it is about him that I don’t like.
        Somehow I always find myself cheering others. I think it is the whole Sky Team and my desire for big money to be beaten by the outsider.
        We won’t ever see a Leicester City FC happen at Le Tour.

        • Columnist

          July 24th 2016 @ 6:38pm
          Sean Lee said | July 24th 2016 @ 6:38pm | ! Report

          Yeah, it’s funny Don. I can’t warm to team Sky either and yet I am a fan of Froome. I love his unpredictableness and I think he is quite humble when he speaks. He should really be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole at Sky, but somehow it seems to work.

          • Roar Guru

            July 24th 2016 @ 7:04pm
            Sam Brown said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

            You aren’t the only one with mixed feelings about Sky, even Mikel Nieve said in an interview that the way Sky ride makes for boring TV so it doesn’t get much more conclusive than that however even the most rusted on Sky haters have to give Froome a nod for his work early this Tour.

          • July 24th 2016 @ 7:06pm
            Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:06pm | ! Report

            I actually like how Sky are. They appeal to the logical, defense orientated, doing the simple things perfectly part of me. At least thats how i see them.

            • Columnist

              July 25th 2016 @ 12:22pm
              Sean Lee said | July 25th 2016 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

              That’s very true Andy. Their professionalism and preparation is second to none.

    • July 24th 2016 @ 8:55am
      G said | July 24th 2016 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      So can someone explain what happened between the Tour of Poland 2011 and the Vuelta 2011 where Froome went from an average rider to the worlds best climber.. Never in the history of cycling has anyone shown so much improvement without doping. He was kicked out of the Giro in 2011 for holding on to motorbikes up the climbs.. It is about time the media stopped being fanboys and started asking Froome and Brailsford some serious questions.

      • July 24th 2016 @ 10:25am
        Ben said | July 24th 2016 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        G, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. Stop being such a cynic.

        • July 24th 2016 @ 12:16pm
          Let The One King Rule said | July 24th 2016 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

          People said the same about Armstrong.

          • Roar Guru

            July 24th 2016 @ 3:07pm
            delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

            I think that was who he was referencing there 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        July 24th 2016 @ 3:08pm
        delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

        In fairness, have you seen photos of him before he was a GC rider? He’s lost a lot of weight. He wouldn’t be winning the Tour if he still looked like he did. How he’s managed to lose that weight and not power is a fair question. We can only speculate though.

        • July 24th 2016 @ 7:10pm
          Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:10pm | ! Report

          His improvements have a logical answer though, he started cycling late which meant that he was a few years behind other guys knowledge and body wise which is how he wasnt great when he was younger, he had a really bad infection or something in 2010 which weakened him which meant that his 2010 and early 2011 performances were effected and as has been said he didnt have the body for cycling until well into his career.

          • Roar Guru

            July 24th 2016 @ 9:27pm
            delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 9:27pm | ! Report

            The Bilharzia thing makes perfect sense. It’s just a question of whether that’s a fabricated story or not. I prefer to believe Froome but we’ve heard so many BS stories in the past, how do you decide between truth or fiction?

      • Columnist

        July 24th 2016 @ 6:47pm
        Sean Lee said | July 24th 2016 @ 6:47pm | ! Report

        Hi G, I think Brailsford and Froome have been asked those question constantly over the past four years. We can only comment on what we are watching and believe that it is fair dinkum until proven otherwise. Unfortunately now every time someone does something spectacular our first response is to suspect that something is out of the ordinary. I think the only way some of the sceptics will be silenced is if the peloton trundles about at 30kms an hour and no one attacks or breaks away. Yep, I’ve seen things happen that raises my eyebrows as well, but nothing appeared too suspect at this particular Tour. It is ok to question the state of affairs before us, but having some belief in what we are watching is ok too! As it stands, Froome is a three time Tour winner. Until I am told otherwise, then I stand by what I have written.

    • July 24th 2016 @ 9:04am
      G said | July 24th 2016 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Marginal gains = BS to explain away why Froome can climb faster than the EPO times of the 90’s/ 2000’s… All this talk that Sky has a bigger budget and mythical training techniques. That is straight out of the USPS playbook… It does not explain how Sky domestiques sit on the front riding 450w tempo with their mouths closed while serious GC contenders are being jettisoned out the back. So basically the other teams don’t pay attention to details, train hard enough etc?? Seriously guys what you have seen from Sky on the mountains over the last 3 weeks is NOT normal.

      • July 24th 2016 @ 10:52am
        Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        I doubt any of us will convince you on here, despite you sounding like a very reasonable person however in answer to your ‘So basically the other teams don’t pay attention to details, train hard enough etc??’ i think you should watch what happened the day before yesterday when froome crashed and compare it to any other time a non sky possible tour winner went down. Froome went down and within seconds he had a five or six sky guys around him, the most similar guy to Froome gave him his bike without any conversation needed and he was back up and riding in incredible time and being led out by the whole of sky in an almost team time trial formation despite the fact that before he crashed his fellow team sky guys were around him but not that near. It was a display of professionalism that i have never seen anywhere else, other than in formula 1 pit stops. So in answer to your question no, the other teams dont pay attention to details and dont train hard enough or at least train enough at everything compared to sky.

      • Roar Guru

        July 24th 2016 @ 3:17pm
        delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

        Your explanation doesn’t make sense itself. It it were really that Sky was doping, how does that explain their advantage over other teams? USPS didn’t dominate because they were doping – almost everyone else was too. They dominated because they were doping and they had very good riders.

        Analyses that conclude Froome is doping because you can’t win unless you were are not helping a lot. Not because I know you’re wrong, which I don’t. But if it were that simple, why even bother watching? Or commenting.

        The major difference between Sky and USPS is that there is no dirt on Sky. Team-organised doping is highly risky, purely because eventually someone gets disaffected or grows a conscience and talks. That happened to USPS. There’s been not a whiff of anything on Sky, in that regard. If they are on a program, they are doing a damn good job of keeping it under wraps.

        Also Lance was ridiculous. He weighed 75kg at some Tours and is only 5’9 tall. You will not see anyone built like him anywhere near the front on a climb these days. To get as skinny as Froome, you need to have a very disciplined diet. And you need careful nutritional advice to ensure you have enough fuel to train and race. They’re not just turning up with heaps of EPO in their veins anymore. Doping or not, the standard has lifted.

      • Roar Guru

        July 24th 2016 @ 3:58pm
        Sam Brown said | July 24th 2016 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

        I’m not sure your statement about Froome being faster than EPO times is completely correct. I don’t know the times for all the climbs but last year on Alpe D’huez, Quintana blew the race up, he dislodged Froome and was riding for the win. Many would say he is the best pure climber in the sport (at least he was that year) but his time up the Alpe isn’t even Top 10 of all time, slower than Jan Ullrich who was never considered a pure climber and only 5 seconds faster than Miguel Indurain’s fastest ever time up the Alpe, a man who could hold on up a hill but never looked remotely dangerous on a mountain stage.

        If this is the fastest the best pure climber in World Cycling can manage with all the advances that have been made in technology and training methods, while riding away from Froome with 2 teammates help, trying to win the biggest race of his life, I’m comfortable saying I’m 100% positive they are doing far less drugs than they did in those dark days of the 90s/00s.

        It’s not proof they are completely clean, but it does show that cycling has made progress.

        • Roar Guru

          July 24th 2016 @ 5:06pm
          delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 5:06pm | ! Report

          There’s no doubt they’re much cleaner. You just can’t get away with putting such massive doses of EPO etc. into your body that you could in the early 90s. It’s not so much a question of whether a rider is clean these days, although that is a question, but how clean or doped they are. As you said, even if someone is doped, it’s to a far lesser degree than Indurain (oops, did I say that out loud?) et al. So doping doesn’t explain similar climbing times occurring today.

          • July 24th 2016 @ 6:35pm
            Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

            I dont totally understand what it is you are saying? Is it that everyone dopes but they dont dope as much as they did dope and so you are ok?

            • Roar Guru

              July 24th 2016 @ 7:09pm
              Sam Brown said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

              I think the point is that it is misguided to draw a direct line between Armstrong/USPO and Froome/Sky. They both dominate the Tour and are solely focused on that event but the comparisons come up short when it comes to drug usage and there is evidence in times, etc that suggest the modern peloton aren’t using, at least not at the same levels. I think we’d all agree that if they are just micro-dosing it is a bad thing.

              • July 24th 2016 @ 7:14pm
                Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

                The thing that makes me believe in Froome and Sky, apart from the logistical difficulties nowadays to dope, is that there have never even been whispers from former team mates or trainers or officials about Froome or Sky. All the ‘he is doping’ comes from the media or people who dont know him or have anything to do with Sky or cycling outside of being cycling journalists. There were always whispers around Armstrong and others during the 80s and 90s from people who had intimate knowledge. There has never even been a hint of that around Froome.

              • Roar Guru

                July 24th 2016 @ 7:30pm
                Sam Brown said | July 24th 2016 @ 7:30pm | ! Report

                Yep, when David Walsh spends a year with the team and says he couldn’t detect anything suspicious it says a lot.

                Journo’s have been bought in by teams including USPO to toe the company line in the past but he is a man who has built himself a huge reputation by hunting down and bringing to light those rumors around suspect riders and would be sabotaging his own legacy if he was being paid off.

            • Roar Guru

              July 24th 2016 @ 8:44pm
              delbeato said | July 24th 2016 @ 8:44pm | ! Report

              No, I’m saying that even if they are doping, it’s not like the old days. So it doesn’t explain much faster times. They must be getting better for other reasons – like better training, nutrition, etc. But some people say it’s the doping, not better training. It’s not the doping, as they can’t dope like they used to. But, they could still be doping all the same. You can get better at training and dope – it’s not a choice between the two.

              I suspect Sky is clean for the reasons as you guys discussed below. Back in Armstrong’s day everyone kept their mouths shut. There was not the internet like today. That’s how Armstrong got caught – it’s harder to keep that stuff quiet these days.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 24th 2016 @ 10:47pm
                Diggs said | July 24th 2016 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

                History has told me not to take for granted that a team or athlete is clean. I would never have thought Sharapova would have been pinged for taking a banned substance, yet she was. It wasn’t an “Armstrong doped to the gills” moment, but none the less she was taking a banned substance, along with what seems half the Russian federation.

                This time it was heart medication or a mixture of micro doses disguised with alcohol. And micro dosing I believe CIRC found was discussed by a few cyclists.

                I have no doubt though that teams, sky included, stand on the edge of the rules to gain an advantage. Do they/ have they strayed over that ledge from time to time? Only history will be that judge.

      • July 25th 2016 @ 6:21am
        DaSpoon said | July 25th 2016 @ 6:21am | ! Report

        Didn’t see froome climbing faster than his rivals this year. He and sky just marked their attacks. He won the tour with panache this time. The downhill attack, the break away with. Sagan. Time trialed better than his rivals. A deserved win. Sky only have one rider in the top 10 in the GC but they are NOT normal? Movistar have 2 in the top 10 but are Normal? I think you have a chip on your shoulder G. Jealous of sky’s success.

        • July 25th 2016 @ 7:08am
          G said | July 25th 2016 @ 7:08am | ! Report

          Oh man… jealous hardly. Froome never got out of 1st gear He could have won the tour by 10min. The guy was barely breathing on every MTF while the others were falling over the line. Team Sky says they are clean and they have marginal gains blah blah and everyone just takes that at face value. He won with panache.. I think you were watching a different race than me.

          Also maybe do some research on who used to be their team Doctor.. Geert Leinders. The famous doping doctor from Rabobank days. His apearance at team sky coincides with Froomes ridicoulous transformation in 2011.

          • July 25th 2016 @ 1:43pm
            Andy said | July 25th 2016 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            Thats how he rides though, he never looks like he is trying even when he is at his limit. Froome rides like Federer plays tennis or George Best dribbled, other riders ride like Nadal plays tennis. Its just how they do it.

          • July 26th 2016 @ 6:31am
            DaSpoon said | July 26th 2016 @ 6:31am | ! Report

            Gee whiz G. Not out of first gear? What planet are you on? He was on a 54 chain ring on his devastating descent attack. I suspect that your problem with Froome is that he rides on a British team I bet you don’t make the same comments about contador, Astana and the other convicted drug cheats. Russia has a whole team of them across numerous sports.

    • July 24th 2016 @ 9:22am
      Alex said | July 24th 2016 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      I don’t rate Porte so highly as yet – this is his first top 10 grand tour placing since 2007!

      • July 24th 2016 @ 10:53am
        Andy said | July 24th 2016 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        Its not that i dont rate Porte its more that we dont have enough information about him as a contender as he hasnt yet been the only main man in a team. He could be awesome or he could choke we just dont know yet.

        • Columnist

          July 24th 2016 @ 6:52pm
          Sean Lee said | July 24th 2016 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

          I think Porte went along way to proving that he can be a genuine contender at this year’s race. He was one of the few to attack Porte and perhaps the only one who didn’t drop away towards the end of the toughest climbs. I think he took a step in the right direction.

          • July 25th 2016 @ 12:55pm
            Blinky47 said | July 25th 2016 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            Portes last couple of days were poor. I think he may well turn out to be a disappointment, I hope I am wrong.

      • July 26th 2016 @ 5:00pm
        Albo said | July 26th 2016 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

        But this was his first go as a team GC contender ?
        And but for an untimely flat on stage 2 , he probably finishes on the podium.
        His main issue going forward will be to have a decent team around him giving support rather than hanging onto the tails of the Sky entourage !

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