Climbing ability, he's nearly in a league of his ownÃ¢â¬¦ I really think Chris Froome is going to win this race.
The past four days, Orica-GreenEDGE isn't the only team revelling their success. It's also been the perfect scenario for Sky Procycling and Chris Froome.
The past week, the only time we've seen Team Sky up front for any length of time has been on the run-ins to the finish, to keep Froome out of danger, in what has been a typically crash-heavy opening week of La Grande Boucle. Coming into Saturday's first major mountain stage to Ax 3 Domaines, he hasn't escaped unscathed Ã¢â¬â crashing in the neutral zone on the second stage to Ajaccio; thankfully for him, he rode away unhurt Ã¢â¬â but aside from one minor incident, things couldn't have gone better for ol' Froomey.
The best of the GC-oriented outfits in the team time trial in Nice, three seconds behind the beautifully-drilled boys from Orica-GreenEDGE, Sky may well have won, had team pursuit powerhouse Geraint Thomas been at full strength, instead of riding with a small fracture in his pelvis, a consequence of a mass pile-up in the last kilometres of the opening stage to Bastia.
But as Froome told reporters that day, "If we did get the yellow jersey, it would mean tomorrow and the next couple of days, which are predominantly flat, we'd be on the front, doing all that work Ã¢â¬â which I think would be a lot of unnecessary extra work at the moment, for such a small advantage. It gives us a few more days to be in the peloton, and wait until the mountains, where I feel the team will really excel."
So far, despite having traversed eighteen categorised climbs the first seven stages, we don't really have a good idea just how good he's riding, although we saw a brief glimpse of his uphill prowess on a kilometre-long pinch towards the end of the second stage. Still, I suspect that on Saturday, the Froome-dog will be unleashed towards the end of the 7.8km, 8.2 per cent climb of Ax 3 Domaines, sending a clear and potent message to his rivals, just as Lance Armstrong used to do in his EPO- and blood-fuelled heyday.
"I'm definitely looking forward to getting into the harder climbs now," Froome said Thursday, in his relaxed-to-the-point-of-insouciance, matter-of-fact way.
"It's been quite nerve-wracking on the flats. Everyone's really close on the general classification and everyone's fighting for position, but hopefully once we hit the climbs, it (the general classification) is going to open up a little bit more, and the race will calm down a bit. I'm very happy with where we are, though. We're in a great position, and I'm really pleased with the team I've got around me, both on and off the bike, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into next week."
Maillot jaune Daryl Impey, a team-mate of Froome's when they rode for Barloworld in 2008-09, who described his relationship with the Tour de France heir apparent as "pretty friendly" and called him "a great guy", said nobody believed Froome when, back in the day, he talked and talked and talked about being a rider who would one day challenge for the podium at a Grand Tour. "When he raced in South Africa, the scene didn't really suit him Ã¢â¬â the races were too short and too fast. Back then, with Barloworld, he was doing these massive k's, and he always talked about being a Grand Tour rider. Nobody thought he would be Ã¢â¬â (though) we always knew Chris had an engine Ã¢â¬â but to see his progression, it's inspiring.
"When he came to Europe and there were harder races, he really came into his own. He's a really driven guy. And I think he's just another example from South Africa, (showing) that we do have the talent to get up there; you just need to be given the chance."
Today in Albi, following Peter Sagan's hardly surprising stage win, I asked Impey just how good a chance he thinks Froome is to win the centenary Tour, based on the what he's seen of him so far, and particularly on the climbs, since unlike last year, where there were more than one-hundred kilometres of individual time trials, this year there are just sixty-five against the watch.
"Climbing ability, he's nearly in a league of his own," he said. "He's obviously a different climber to (Alberto) Contador, but I think he's going to be hard to beat.
"I really think Chris Froome is going to win this raceÃ¢â¬¦ barring any mishaps. Contador showed in the Vuelta last year he's a fighter and he doesn't give up so easily; it will be a great battle, but I think Chris will definitely be able to handle himself."
Handle himself? I reckon a barking mad Froome-dog will blow the race apart.