• (L to R) Juan Jose Cobo, Chris Froome, Wout van Aert (Getty / Team Ineos / Getty)
The lead into a Tour de France is often filled with high drama and splashy headlines, and this week, before the GC battle was about to begin in earnest at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the rocks or diamonds existence for cycling’s elite was laid bare.
By
Jane Aubrey

16 Jun - 11:05 AM 

In the space of 36 hours, Chris Froome went from appearing a near certainty for a fifth Tour de France title to having significant question marks over the rest of his career, so severe his injuries. The Team Ineos leader’s high-speed crash, while doing reconnaissance ahead of stage four of the Dauphiné, sent shockwaves through the rest of the peloton and was a reminder of the fragility of life at the top.

Froome thanks all and says he's 'lucky to be here' after horror crash
Chris Froome says he is “fully focused” on getting back to his best after speaking for the first time since a horror crash at the Criterium du Dauphine that ruled him out of the Tour de France.
Froome's Tour dream ends with Dauphiné recon crash
Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will not start next month’s race after sustaining multiple fractures, including a broken right femur, following a heavy crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Team Ineos said.

Team Ineos’ hopes for the next grand tour had been looming as a rather intriguing battle between Froome, defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and young gun Egan Bernal. Given the form on display by Froome at the Dauphiné this week, it seemed inevitable that Thomas and Bernal would be nothing more than a sideshow. Now, with that two-man act finalising their preparations ahead of July at the Tour de Suisse, a curious battle for an upper hand and right to be anointed as team leader begins.

In Friday’s Dauphiné stage, we saw Froome’s teammates content to maintain the status quo and ride in their customary manner, setting the tempo through Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski at the front of the bunch. Experience tells us that the team is unlikely to change its tactics in response to Froome’s absence. One needs only to look back to last year’s Tour de France, and the way that Thomas stepped up to the plate once Froome crashed out, to be reminded that a glitch in the matrix does little to the way this team methodically approaches racing.

There will always be another ‘Agent Smith’, but if someone other than an Ineos rider is to stand on the top step of the podium in Paris this year, it’s up to the other favourites to drastically change the way they approach racing in July.

Froome absence means 'the race changes' for 2019 Tour
Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland has speculated the winner of the 2019 Tour de France may carry an asterisk by his name in the absence of injured four-time champion Chris Froome.

In cycling, as in life, there are some people whose stars continually rise and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert is one such example. While Froome was hospitalised, the 24-year-old Belgian’s win in the Dauphiné’s 26.1km chrono was a pleasant surprise ahead of his Tour de France debut. Van Aert’s form might not have been in doubt, having begun the Dauphiné with a third place on stage 1, and then a runner-up finish on Tuesday’s stage behind Sam Bennett.

However, if we needed any confirmation that the three-time cycle-cross world champion is about to become a genuine force in road cycling, his time-trial win was it. When van Aert made it two from two with Thursday’s stage victory, it was merely a confirmation of his versatility.

Van Aert backs up for second Dauphine stage victory
You'll have to dust off the history books to find the last time someone backed up an ITT win with a win the very next day at a stage race but Wout van Aert did it on Stage 5 of the 2019 Criterium du Dauphine.
Yates in yellow after van Aert claims Dauphiné ITT
Adam Yates moved (Mitchelton-Scott) moved into the overall lead at the Critérium du Dauphiné following the 26.1km time-trial won by Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert.

Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma teammate, Steven Kruijswijk, will be one of those reconsidering his options, in the void that Froome’s absence leaves. Kruijswijk’s season to date has been nothing but impressive, but with Dylan Groenewegen commanding support for a green jersey tilt, the question of split loyalties with Jumbo-Visma remains. One almost gets the feeling that it’s the likes of van Aert, which could decide ultimate success at the Tour for Jumbo-Visma.

After eight hours of surgery, Froome may have found some comfort in the knowledge that he is on the verge of adding a seventh grand tour to his palmarès, courtesy of the downfall of Juan José Cobo. Froome finished as runner-up to Cobo at the 2011 Vuelta a España. On Thursday, the UCI announced out of the blue that Cobo was “found the retired rider guilty of an anti-doping rule violation (Use of a prohibited substance) based on abnormalities from 2009 and 2011 detected in his Biological Passport and imposed a three-year period of ineligibility on the rider.”

Cobo sanction could lead to Froome being elevated to 2011 Vuelta win
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced Thursday evening (AEST) that the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal has found 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan José Cobo guilty of a doping violation based on biological passport variations.

A long-term case, the now-retired Cobo may yet appeal the ruling. But it’s a timely reminder that a rider’s fate is never really sealed in modern cycling. Cobo, too, throughout his career benefited from similar rulings, awarded a Tour de France stage win from 2008 when his then-teammate Leonardo Piepoli was disqualified for using Erythropoietin (EPO), CERA. Piepoli was one of four riders found to have used the blood booster during that year’s Tour, along with Riccardo Riccò who was jettisoned from the event, Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher.

A comfort for Froome, albeit a little cold after an investigation into his adverse analytical finding for salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta was leaked to the press in stark comparison to Cobo’s case. And a reminder that the wheels of fortune, keep turning.