Softly-spoken, unfailingly polite but endowed with steely determination, Chris Froome somehow doesn’t look like a sporting superstar.
Tall, starting to lose his hair, skinny, gangly and with a baby-face, to look at Froome he doesn’t necessarily exude power, domination and confidence.
Yet the three-time Tour de France champion is a fearsome creature once astride his bicycle, and he proved that this year more so than ever before.
Everyone was aware of Froome’s climbing prowess, not least from his impressive victories on summit finises in 2013, at Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux, and last year at Pierre Saint Martin, but what the 31-year-old Briton showed this year is that there is so much more to his arsenal.
Froome is also a top class time-trialler, particularly on lumpy terrain, but his descending abilities, race management and mastery of the wind all came as a surprise this time around.
For Froome, it was no fluke, least of all his daring solo descent to eighth-stage victory at Bagneres-de-Luchon, having honed his skills as a child in Africa, where he was born.
That exploit reminded him of “when I was small with my bike going full gas on the descent in Kenya”.
He added: “It’s for me what racing is all about: I really did feel like a kid trying to stay away from his mates behind me, trying to be the fastest one down.
“That’s what bike racing is about — the thrill, a boy-racer mentality. That’s a special stage for me in this year’s Tour de France.”
Froome intends to carry on challenging for Tour victory for another “five or six years” and with three crowns already to his name — and this year’s performance his most dominant yet — there is little reason to suspect that he won’t match, or perhaps even beat, the record five titles won by Belgium’s Eddy Merckx, Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain of Spain.
– ‘More competition’ –
Unlike Merckx, but similar to disgraced former champion Lance Armstrong (who won seven Tours but has had his name erased from the record books over doping), Froome’s focus is very much on the Tour, and the Tour alone.
“I’m not about to start targeting all the classics the way Eddy did. I’m going to the Olympics now, it would be amazing to get a result there,” said Froome, who won time-trial bronze in London four years ago.
“Times definitely have changed, I think, with there being so much more competition now. It is harder to stay at the top for the duration of the whole season when you’ve got guys targeting specific events and really racing for specific events.”
Froome said he will unlikely ever ride the Giro d’Italia, which Merckx also won five times, but he has unfinished business with the Vuelta a Espana.
He was second in 2011 and 2014 and fourth in 2012, but crashed out last year.
“As it stands right now, with the focus being on the Tour, it’s very difficult to commit to the Giro,” said Froome of a race he last did in 2010.
“It’s very difficult to do back-to-back Grand Tours like that (May’s Giro then the Tour in July). But I will be giving a lot of thought to if I’ll be doing the Vuelta this year.”
Increasingly the last few years, the Vuelta — the poor relation of the three Grand Tours — has been attracting a stellar field as Grand Tour specialists look for some racing before the end of the season.
And it’s a measure of Froome’s enthusiasm for his profession that even after a summer in which his main aims are the two biggest prizes in cycling, he still has the fire and desire to tackle another three-week slog, this time around Spain. – Agence France-Presse