• Only a win will do... The podium will never be enough for Chris Froome. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Did dinner last Friday decide the Giro d'Italia, muses Anthony Tan?
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Cycling Central
28 May 2018 - 12:11 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2018 - 8:09 PM

If you fail to plan, plan to fail. As I've always said, the road decides the race. However what goes on behind the scenes often determines what happens out on the road.

It is hard to believe outfits other than Team Sky were not equally assiduous in looking after their riders' nutritional requirements throughout this year's Giro d'Italia. But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

Froome, whose understanding of building form is almost without peer, always had in mind to be at his best in the final week. 

As the cumulative fatigue of 3,576.9 kilometres and umpteen metres climbed came to bear in the final week, it's possible that some riders became a little lax with their dietary needs. There may have been times when they felt so wrecked, proper refuelling for the next day felt like hard work; a rub-down and going to bed were the only things that mattered. It may in part explain the sudden collapse of a number of GC men this Giro: Esteban Chaves, Fabio Aru, Simon Yates, Domenico Pozzovivo, Thibaut Pinot.

More than anybody in this year's race - in fact, more than anyone in today's peloton - Chris Froome knows how to win a Grand Tour. More than anybody, he and the boffins at Team Sky know what it takes. And on the evening before the nineteenth stage, together, perhaps over a vino rosso, they decided it would take something special to win.

Something audacious.

"I've had difficult moments in the Giro so I had to try something crazy. We took this tactical decision (Friday) night together with our nutritionists, because there was a need for a good fuelling strategy for that (kind of move) and for how the guys would execute the orders."

Saturday morning in Venaria Reale, Froome was 3'22 down on maglia rosa incumbent Simon Yates; after 11 days in the lead and appearing infallible, the latter had finally shown signs of weakness on the climb to Prato Nevoso, the previous day's finish. Despite his lead to defending champ Tom Dumoulin being cut in half in the final two kilometres, Matthew White, Mitchelton-Scott head sports director, was bullish at the start.

"He was pretty angry with himself (after Friday's stage). He knows there's nothing wrong," White told Eurosport.

"He just couldn't react to the two big moves from Tom Dumoulin. But, it was on a very fast, powerful part of the climb and I think he limited his losses well. Now we're going back into the real mountains. That was one effort yesterday from Tom Dumoulin, and everybody knows he can make one big effort. He's the world time trial champion; rides brilliant prologues and short time trials. That's his thing. Let's see how he backs up over 4,500 metres of climbing today."

Fighting words. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old Briton, there remained little fight left in him.

The 18.5 kilometre-long Colle delle Finestre, its summit 74.6 kilometres from the endpoint of stage nineteen, was considered by most to be too far out to launch a full-blooded attack. Perfect for a softening up - but to go for broke would be akin to madness...

When Kenny Elissonde, the last team-mate to be with Froome on the gravelled climb, was asked at the start, 'The podium is not enough for Chris?', he responded with a wry grin. "We don't try for the podium," was all he said.

It was all he needed to say.

It's what has made this Giro the way it is. Prior to Saturday's stage, from the first ten on the classifica generale, the only ones satisfied with where they stood were Yates, the piano-playing Pozzovivo (third) and early race leader Rohan Dennis (sixth). In fact, ever since the former took pink on stage six to Mount Etna it had been that way: Yates, Dumoulin, Froome, Aru, Pinot and Miguel Angel Lopez all came with ambitions to win; the podium was not enough.

Froome's feat was described by LottoNL-Jumbo's George Bennett as having "done a Landis", referencing stage seventeen of the 2006 Tour de France, whose winner has since been discredited for his drug-fuelled escapade. Following a social media shitstorm, to use the words of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, the outspoken Kiwi said the next day he was taken out of context: "I didn't say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage. I'm just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday. There's no innuendo."

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Giro organisers marked the end of the Australian's 20 grand-tour streak with a special podium celebration.
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Chris Froome (Sky) has won the Giro d'Italia to join cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault with his third consecutive Grand Tour victory.

Regardless, the comment only added fuel to the fire that continues to engulf Froome and Team Sky, until such time his doping case resulting from an adverse analytical finding at last year's Vuelta a España is resolved. Even then it will not abate - whatever the outcome. There's just something about Team Sky and the concept of collective guilt that appear to go hand-in-hand, a corollary which demographer and social commentator Bernard Salt says is deeply unfair. "The thinking that because you work for, or can be identified with an errant business or authority figure or institution, you too are a legitimate target for community anger," he wrote in last week's Weekend Australian Magazine.

Before you too get on the bandwagon, even if you're already on it, consider these facts.

Froome, whose understanding of building form is almost without peer, always had in mind to be at his best in the final week. Fifth place in the stage sixteen time trial to Rovereto, just 13 seconds behind Dumoulin and 35 seconds back on winner Dennis, showed he was right where he needed to be.

On the nineteenth stage he turned a 2'54 deficit to Dumoulin into a 40-second advantage - over a distance over 80 kilometres, gaining 3'36 from the moment he flew the coup to the finish in Bardonecchia. Froome is a superior climber to Dumoulin, Pinot and Sébastien Reichenbach, the only three who were working in the first chase group behind him, and even then Pinot was only doing half-turns. A consequence of his downhill prowess (which we've seen before, notably on stage eight of the 2016 Tour de France to Bagnères-de-Luchon) and Dumoulin's ill-fated decision to wait for Reichenbach after descending the Finestre, according to Eurosport commentator Brian Smith, Froome gained 1'40 on the aforementioned chase group on the downhills alone (between the Finestre and Sestrière, there was combined 35km of descending).

"If I was just going to wait for the final climb, I would not have put three minutes on the maglia rosa. I knew the Finestre really well, since I had a training camp in the area last year. I knew how to pace myself correctly. It was also a calculated risk: If there was not a big group behind me and other teams didn't have domestiques, the GC riders had to make the same efforts as me."

Granted, it's a far cry from the last time he rode the Giro, when in 2010, he was DQ'd two days from the finish for taking a tow from a police motorbike up the Mortirolo. Like all of us, though, we live and learn.

Good planning, good nutrition, and, of course, good legs. Without doubt, a truly remarkable feat. Heroic, even.

For a four-time Tour winner and now six-time Grand Tour champion, not to mention one of only seven riders to win all three Grand Tours and one of only four to win three in succession, should we be so skeptical?