• Once more, with feeling... Chris Froome wins atop Peña Cabarga. (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)Source: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
"In competition you should be racing on feelings," bemoaned Alejandro Valverde, a backhanded comment to Chris Froome's apparent proclivity towards numbers and little else. In actual fact, feelings are exactly what's driving him, writes Anthony Tan.
By
Source:
Cycling Central
1 Sep 2016 - 4:35 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2016 - 9:43 PM

The tennis equivalent of winning one of cycling's three Grand Tours is of course a Grand Slam, also called a major.

When the sport's enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios, who has been without a full-time coach since Wimbledon last year, was asked by the New York Times Magazine what advice he would give himself to win a Slam, he pondered for a moment before saying: "Train more than four times a week."

Another pause. "I don't have a doubt that if I wanted to win grand slams, I would commit," he said. "I'd train two times a day, I'd go to the gym every day, I'd stretch, I'd do rehab, I'd eat right. But I don't know what I want at the moment. Am I content? I don't have a coach, I can train every now and then. I can take it easy and be (ranked) maybe 10-20 (in the world) my entire career. Am I OK with that? I don't know."

Kyrgios doesn't need it, and so far, doesn't want it.

Chris Froome doesn't need it, but he wants it.

"With or without power meters, stage racing is a series of measured efforts. It is strategic. Grand Tours are, by their very nature, a slow burn."

This season: Herald Sun Tour, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de France - win, win, win.

He could've called it a season after the Games in Rio, where he finished twelfth in the road race and third in the time trial. Instead, he's on track to do the most race days since 2011, the first time he rode the Vuelta a España, where, by season's end, he clocked 87 days with a number on his back. (If he completes this Vuelta, he'll be at 72.)

He should have won that year, but Team Sky waited too long before making him leader instead of Bradley Wiggins. He would nonetheless finish second to Juan Jose Cobo by 13 seconds. The race was significant not just because of his unearthing as a Grand Tour contender or that he came runner-up; it was the scene of his first professional win, atop Peña Cabarga. Where he won yesterday.

Froome triumphs in duel with Quintana
Chris Froome (Team Sky) responded to several surges by Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the final kilometre on the torturously steep climb of Pena Cabarga before sprinting to the win ahead of his Colombian rival.

Five years on, the 31-year-old is a triple Tour de France champion, a three-times winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné, and has twice won the tours of Romandie and Oman. He is, in short, the world's best stage racer. Yet more than any other Grand Tour winner - yes, more than Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde - his performances are viewed with more than a hint of suspicion, despite not being saddled with the aforementioned's somewhat murky pasts. It's making his cynics look as ludicrous as their claims.

Unlike Kyrgios, Froome trains right (and hard; when required, as hard or harder than anyone, from what I've heard), eats right, and stretches right. Unlike Kyrgios, he doesn't take his talent for granted. Unlike Kyrgios, he keeps on winning.

Do you really think banning power meters will stop him winning, or change the race that much? "I'd be the first in line to say they should be banned," the maillot roja, Nairo Quintana, said during his rest day press conference. Added Valverde, his Movistar team-mate: "In competition you should be racing on feelings."

No-one said other teams can't race with them, if they feel they're being disadvantaged. As cycling journalist Gregor Brown noted at the start of Wednesday's stage, "Nearly every cyclist in the Vuelta a España could be seen with one mounted on his bike when the race began this morning in Colunga" - making hypocrites of those who took issue with Froome. Maybe Quintana, Valverde, Contador et al should learn how to use them properly, then. Said LottoNl-Jumbo's Robert Gesink: "Why should cycling sit still why the rest of the world continues to go forward and use technology?"

With or without power meters, stage racing is a series of measured efforts. It is strategic. Grand Tours are, by their very nature, a slow burn. If balls-to-the-wall racing is all you're interested in then watch the last 50 kilometres of a cobbled classic and nothing else.

Going into this Vuelta, Froome was unsure of his form. There was no altitude camp, no recons, no equivalent Dauphiné lead-up. It was a vastly different approach to the Tour. Still, he wanted it. So, knowing a Grand Tour is won in the third week, until the stage to Peña Cabarga, he rode defensively. He was, as Valverde's want, racing on feelings. The numbers on the power meter simply confirmed what he already knew. "It is easy to get lured into the red early on, so basically taking a step back and gauging it a little better earlier has definitely served me well," Froome, now 54 seconds behind Quintana with 10 stages remaining, said.

Besides, Team Sky, unlike their title sponsor, are not in the business of entertainment; they are in the business of winning. As far as Chris Froome and Grand Tours are concerned, it's a rather successful operation.