• Fatherhood has done nothing to slow Chris Froome down. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Before it gets locked away into his subconscious and the keys thrown out, Anthony Tan releases a few final musings on that race around France.
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Cycling Central
8 Aug 2017 - 11:52 AM  UPDATED 9 Aug 2017 - 9:37 AM

Since the 104th Grande Boucle ended in Paris a fortnight ago, I've had a number conversations with people about the race, as well as taken a squiz at the social media commentary, and among those who stayed up to watch, 'boring' is an adjective that kept popping up.

Over 3,540 kilometres, and nearly 90 hours' in the saddle, fifty-four seconds separating first from second and 1'26 between second and third is pretty close. We haven't had a podium separated by two-and-a-half minutes or less since 2011, when the brothers Schleck flanked our own Cadel Evans on the dias in Paris. Admittedly, there was an inevitability about it all, but it is little more than a throwaway line to say it's because Team Sky have more in their coffers than anyone else. Chris Froome, like the three-or-more-time Tour winners before him, is a once-in-a-generation rider, and, yes, together with a ridiculously strong team and enviable coterie of support staff and wealth of resources, has mastered the art of winning Le Tour.

For all the talk of wealth and what his team can buy with said moolah, Froome has, for the past two Tours de France, made the greatest differences via his legs alone.

Unlike his countryman Bradley Wiggins, who, his former team manager Jonathan Vaughters told me after a sub-par ride at the 2010 Tour, "needed a course that suits him", the lanky lad from the foothills of Kenya adapts to the parcours, rather than waits for one that fits. Since he finished runner-up to Wiggins in 2012 and won the year following, Tour director Christian Prudhomme, in an effort to create a closer contest, has noticeably reduced the number of time trial kilometres. Yet despite this, Froome took every advantage of the 36.5km on offer to first create an opening in Düsseldorf, and, with fewer mountaintop finishes that did little to separate the frontrunners, widened it to a crevasse by Marseille.

Nor is the 32-year-old content to rest on his laurels.

To me, he looked as ravenous as he did in 2012 when he wanted to go for the win but was forbidden, or in 2013 when he proved what he could have done the year previous. As three-time green jersey winner turned TV commentator Robbie McEwen said in Marseille, Froome looks more natural on his TT machine than on his road bike, so much so it's "as if he has been poured over it", he remarked. It's hard to say whether he has lost a bit of his pizzazz on the climbs, that otherworldly high cadence pedalling his former team-mate and friend Richie Porte termed "thrashing", for he landed no early body blow like he did to Ax-3-Domaines in 2013 or in 2015 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. Nor did he deliver a psychological knockout in subsequent mountain stages, à la Mont Ventoux on Stage 15 of the 2013 Tour.

Then again he did not need to, nor did he feel the urge. From atop La Planche des Belles Filles, just five days into proceedings, he was already in yellow. While he ceded the lead at Peyragudes he got it back 48 hours later on the most unlikely of days; it was controlled, and sustained, aggression that won him the race. His rivals couldn't maintain, or match, that consistency of force throughout. "You need to be consistent over three weeks," a plain-speaking Romain Bardet, runner-up last year and third place this year, said in Marseille, on a day the Frenchman was anything but.

In July 2016 he also did not win a mountain stage and was no less dominant than years previous or this time around. But he did do that crazy descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon, then three days later, broke away with Peter Sagan and two others en route to Montpellier. It therefore signals a more calculating, less impulsive, Froome. You might say Bagnères-de-Luchon and Montpellier were impulsive, but after watching him rail it down the Mont du Chat on the ninth stage this year - which precipitated the undoing of Porte - I would argue these moves were calculated impulses rather than driven purely by impulse alone. These were not so much shows of strength as in 2013 and '15 but a display of guile, for Froome's psychological weaponry is now as formidable as his physical. He is at the top of his game in every sense of the word.

And for all the talk of wealth and what his team can buy with said moolah, Froome has, for the past two Tours de France, made the greatest differences via his own steam.

Last year, across two individual time trials (one normal, one mountain TT) totalling 54.5km, Bardet conceded 3'31 to Froome and third placegetter Nairo Quintana, 3'15. They lost by 4'05 and 4'21, respectively. This year, again across two ITTs (both normal, both mostly flat) yet totalling just 36.5km, runner-up Rigoberto Uran sacrificed a combined 1'16 and Bardet 2'36; both lost by a similar margin. So long as time trials feature in the Tour and Froome is in it, Bardet is unlikely to win. "I made a choice not to focus on the time trial (this year) because it's not the way I like to ride," he said in Marseille, having kept his podium place by a sliver from Froome's team-mate Mikel Landa. "Going out to train on my time trial bike is a little bit boring for me."

Therein lies the tale of his defeat. If you want to keep finishing second and third, Romain, don't change a thing: leave your TT bike in the shed.

More interesting next year will be the Colombian combo of Uran and Quintana, the latter vowing never to ride the Giro followed by the Tour again. "We all were convinced about my chances to shine right from the start, but in the end, it's only about the 'here' and 'now', and I didn't respond well," Quintana said in Chambéry, already more than two minutes down by the first rest day. By Paris he was a massive 15'28 in arrears, finishing 12th overall. "Finishing second to Froome at less than a minute seems pretty good to me. The most important thing this year was that I lost time in the time trial on the opening day," Uran, when the dust had settled, said. "After that there wasn't a lot of difference. This gives me hope."

Of course, we want to see Porte get through all the way to Paris and not be undone by an accident, mechanical, or misstep. For a team seemingly so detail-oriented, one area BMC Racing appeared to miss was the Tasmanian's lack of assuredness on descents; even before the fateful day on the Mont du Chat, McEwen and others made mention of Richie's inability to go downhill as smoothly as some of his peers. However, just like the now four-time Tour winner, it's an area that, with the right training and guidance, can be worked upon, and, with confidence and skills gained, could be used to one's advantage. Don't be surprised to see him bombing down the mountains in Tassie this summer, building himself back up again.

As for the actual battle for yellow, sure, it could've been closer. Just like the closest Tour ever could've been closer than the eight seconds that separated Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon in 1989. To view or judge the race solely on this one criteria alone is to look at the cycling world from a layman's perspective, which, for aficionados, is not the right way to see things.

The Tour is memorable not just for chasing le maillot jaune but for the scenery and les châteaux; the races within the race; the emerging talent; the tech; la gastronomie française; the history; the backstories, side stories, tall stories, and exchange of stories; the social media banter (and yes, even those pesky trolls); and of course the riders, regardless of whether they finished or not, each with a tale to tell.

Will you be back next July? Of course you will. Froome will be going for number five.

What else is there to do?