With Sky showing no limits it’s time for the 'Froome-dog’ to come out and play. Let’s hope he’s barking mad, writes Anthony Tan.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM



You'd rather have Chris (Froome) in your camp than someone else's.
I wonder if Chris Froome rues his decision to sign a three-year contract with Sky, announced on September 16 last year, five days after he finished second overall to Juan José Cobo at the Vuelta a España.

There in Spain, his superlative albeit surprise showing (his previous best result in a Grand Tour was 36th at the 2009 Giro d'Italia), where he upstaged erstwhile leader Bradley Wiggins, saw him courted by nine teams. Among them was Saxo Bank, who, a few months later, would be without a leader when Alberto Contador was sidelined by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Still, one could argue that his market price has, following this July, shot up just that little bit more, than if he had exited stage left last year. Because even though he famously said "I could win this Tour, but not at Sky", there was certainly no ironclad guarantee that, had he fled the Starship Sky and been the leader somewhere else, he would've won this year's Tour de France.

Interestingly, however, his likely fiercest arch-rival at the upcoming Vuelta, as well the general manager of the defending Vuelta champion, said only this week Froome could easily be going into the final Grand Tour as champion, rather than runner-up, of the 2012 Tour. "There are important rivals and some of them already know how to win the Vuelta. Froome showed last year (at the Vuelta) that could have won if given freedom and at this year's Tour had a spectacular performance and proved be the stronger," Contador said.

And this from Cobo's boss, Movistar GM Eusebio Unzué: "The strong field of contestants makes us be cautious to think about winning, but obviously, we can't rule it out. We start with Juanjo Cobo as team leader. Last year, he proved he can fight for a Grand Tour as he beat a strong rider like Froome, who could have been the Tour winner this season."

"Proved to be the stronger", eh, Bertie? Stronger than who? Stronger than Wiggins?

As observed in my final column from La Grande Boucle, 'Simply the best', Wiggins was the strongest. Okay, he may have been the second-best climber – Froome was indisputably top dog in the high mountains – but the kid from Kilburn with trademark mutton chops was the best overall rider.

In the end, that's what counts. Take away the three time trials and Wiggins still wins the Tour by two minutes flat. In fact, the only way of making him 'lose' is by removing the 101.4 kilometres of TTs and the 1'25 Froome lost at the end of the opening road stage to Seraing, won by the precocious Peter Sagan. Only then does Froome 'win', and only by four seconds.

I know, I know, we could delve deeper into hypotheticals and say Froome could've taken a minute or two on the summit finishes to La Toussuire and Peyragudes.

But what is the point in that? It will not win Froome the Tour and quite frankly it is disrespectful to Wiggins, in my opinion the best rider and a worthy winner indeed.

As the maillot jaune himself said atop Peyragudes: "Chris will have his day for sure and I will be there to support him. He is an incredible climber. Every inch of the way on this Tour, Chris has been absolutely solid, and him not being in an opposition team has been one less thing to worry about. If he was in an opposing team, then you would constantly have that battle all the time. You'd rather have Chris in your camp than someone else's."

Undoubtedly, Froome's loyalty cost him a stage win at Peyragudes and had he attacked early enough, maybe even La Toussuire too. But what Froome did was what he was told and paid to do; a dereliction of duties could easily have cost him an opportunity to lead Team Sky at the Vuelta. (Mutiny is rarely rewarded.)

With thirteen mountain stages – eleven of those hilltop finishes – I wait with bated breath to see what he can do, and ponder if he'll fly or fry at the hands (or should that be legs?) of Contador, who, despite six months away from competition, already seems ominous. On the final stage of the Eneco Tour, despite never having ridden the Tour of Flanders before, he rode up the Kapelmuur as if he'd grown up in Geraardsbergen alongside Juan Antonio Flecha, nicknamed 'the Spanish Flandrian'. "I'm in good shape. I've felt better and better every day and I believe there's still room for improvement in the coming week," Contador said last Sunday.

On the subject of hypotheticals, it's worth noting that had last year's Vuelta not included time bonuses (20, 12 and 6 seconds to the top three finishers of each stage, respectively) Froome would have beaten Cobo. This year race director Javier Guillén has included time bonuses but cut them to 12, 8 and 4 seconds for the first three across the line. Had this been the case last year Cobo would still have triumphed but only by three seconds, rather than the thirteen he actually won by.

Following this year's Tour, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said it is his ambition to win all three Grand Tours in one year; a mind-blowing, seemingly unachievable, proposition. In an interview with the Guardian he also declared: "Let's win the Tour ten times. Let's do it in a way no one thought was possible. Let's go and win Classics."

Yet we thought they were mad to say they would win the Tour with a British rider in five years – and they did it within three. For those not on Sky maybe this is the beginning of the end; maybe they're just getting warmed up. Brad McGee, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff's Aussie sport director, doesn't think so: "Our advantage will be that even Sky, with all their strength, would have a hard time dominating two Grand Tours the same year."

"It's going to be difficult (to win)," Froome said, "but I will certainly do my best. With the Olympics, it has been difficult to focus on preparation for the Vuelta. I haven't seen much of the course myself, but I'm expecting a tough three weeks ahead of me.

"I hope to get the best out of myself in terms of the general classification; where that is exactly, who knows. I'd certainly love to win a Grand Tour after finishing second in the last two that I've done."

On paper the teams of Sky and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff are incredibly well-matched. On paper it is a contest that whets the appetite.

With Sky showing no limits it's time for the Froome-dog, as his missus affectionately calls him, to come out and play. Here's hoping he's barking mad, and mad as hell.