• What will next year bring for Team Sky? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It wasn't the person we thought but nevertheless Team Sky continue their unprecedented dominance in the bike race that stops the nation. What now for the best team in the world, asks Anthony Tan?
Cycling Central
31 Jul 2018 - 4:02 PM  UPDATED 1 Aug 2018 - 10:50 AM

3,351 kilometres of booing. That's one way to summarise this year's Tour de France.

We heard it at the Grand Depart; we heard it in the Alps; we heard it in the Pyrenees; we heard it during the penultimate stage time trial; and on Sunday, we heard it as Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, for the eighth and final time, crossed the line on the Champs Elysees.

Do these aggrieved, (mostly French) fans know something the rest of us don't?

To go in as the number-two at Team Sky and come out as number one certainly didn't seem to bother him; most probably, he'd be happy to work under such an arrangement again.

If they're so upset over this whole Ventolin puffer episode from last year's Vuelta a Espana, they should have booed the bejesus out of Jacques Anquetil while he was still around. And, to borrow a phrase from Jens Voigt the other day, they should be going 'all-bananas' every time Bernard Hinault is at the presentation ceremony, because these chaps took a lot more than bread and Evian spring water to conquer Le Tour five times, which is something Froome aspired but obviously failed to do this July.

The ridiculous irony of France's reaction to Froome and Team Sky is that these naysayers are not unlike the bone-headed sheep following populist megalomaniacs such as Donald Trump - who hails from the very country so many of them find anathema. They do it because they know others will be doing it, and they more they boo, they more it reaffirms their over-simplified morals on the matter.

Don't get me wrong: no one is beyond reproach, certainly not Team Sky, whose management and medical practices have been called into question a number of times since their inception in 2010, and rightly so. But as far as I'm concerned Froome and Thomas have nothing to do with it other than they are on the payroll. That the organisation's largesse enabled Froome to prove his presumed adverse analytical finding was not an actual AAF, and questioned the robustness of the test that previously suspended Alessandro Petacchi and Diego Ulissi, how is that a bad thing? To me, the fiasco said more about the person who leaked the information and the organisation he/she worked for - which reflects more on the integrity of the governing body and anti-doping protocols within the sport than Froome and Team Sky per se.

One may have thought when Froome was distanced on the 65 kilometre stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan (Col du Portet) and lost all hope of winning a fifth Grande Boucle, slipping from first to third on GC, the jeering would abate.

No such luck. And no surprise that when interviewed in Houilles, prior to the start of Sunday's procession to Paris, he said "we've had literally everything thrown at us the past three weeks, and I can't wait to get home", where he and wife Michelle are expecting their second child, a daughter to complement their son Kellan, born in December 2015. Yes, that's right, he's human; "I think people forget that sometimes," Froome, after managing to claw his way back onto the podium Saturday, having missed out winning the time trial by a solitary second, remarked.

Still, I doubt the month-long procession of catcalls has turned him off winning a fifth.

In fact it's probably inspired the 33-year-old, for no reason other than to piss off the very people who provoked him so. He and runner-up Tom 'I-just-happened-to-misplace-my-skinsuit-before-the-time-trial' Dumoulin maintain the Giro-Tour double is still possible - though take away Froome's opening stage time loss as a result of a crash (51 seconds) and the Dutchman's puncture on the sixth stage to the Mur de Bretagne (where he conceded 53 seconds) and Thomas would've nonetheless won by 1'31 and 58 seconds, respectively. It's also worth noting that the Welshman took it very easy on the final descent in the time trial and probably lost a good 15-20 seconds (and a third stage win) as a result, not to mention he was virtually untroubled throughout and could've certainly given more stick if required.

The same age as the luckless Tasmanian Richie Porte, you'd say that Froome has one more chance, and at best two, to be Rider #5 in the five-times winners' club. The magnanimity he displayed towards Thomas, being the first to applaud him as they crossed the Champs for the final time Sunday, and in full view of a billion-plus global television viewing audience, was perhaps a subtle sign to say, 'Well done, G - but you'll be riding for me next July'.

"Phwoar... It's the Tour de France, man!"

Thomas, by all accounts one of the peloton's super nice guys, appeared genuinely and simultaneously shocked and thrilled to have won. To go in as the number-two at Team Sky and come out as number one certainly didn't seem to bother him; most probably, he'd be happy to work under such an arrangement again. After all, it takes the pressure off his shoulders till the road decides their fate. He could also ride next year's Giro as outright leader, since I don't see Froome returning to Italy till his Tour hopes are done and dusted.

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As for their young Colombian revelation who finished fifteenth in his first loop around France, not to mention his first Grand Tour, there's clearly time aplenty for the 21-year-old from Bogotá. That wasn't a misprint, by the way: Egan Bernal, the youngest rider in the race, having crashed heavily on the stage to Roubaix and all while burying himself in the mountains for his two leaders - what he did on Alpe d'Huez was ridiculous! - still managed to finish 15th in Paris.

We must be cautious, though, for it was only five years ago that another Colombian riding his first Tour de France finished second overall, aged just 23. In the four subsequent Tours he's ridden a combination of fate, fortune, form or Froome has conspired to prevent him reaching what many felt back then was a fait accompli. Nairo Quintana has since won the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta but Le Tour continues to elude, and may always do so.

The guy who pipped Bernal for best young rider and who couldn't have a name more suited to his métier if he tried, AG2R La Mondiale's Pierre Latour, is more than three years his senior. Presumably, in coming years Latour will have the same weight of expectation as that placed on Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet - naturally, the local press will ignore the fact he finished some 22 minutes down on Thomas - and almost certainly, Latour's trajectory will go much the same way as the aforementioned, as his career ends with a whimper than a bang.

All the more reason for the booing to resume next July, I'd imagine.