Chasing The Tour | Stage 17 – Froome’s Loyalty Unshaken
If there was any lingering doubt about Chris Froome’s loyalty to Bradley Wiggins’ leadership it can now be put to rest. While Liquigas managed to do all the work for SKY and crush everyone including themselves, Froome was chomping at the bit in the final kilometers up the slopes of Peryragudes. No one could hold on, not even Wiggins. If Froome had ridden against team orders today he very well could have won the Tour for himself. The Tour is now over, as it has been for two weeks, and the rest is just a formality.
Some will argue that Froome should be wearing the yellow jersey, but the truth is that a strategy was set months ago while Wiggins was groomed for this. Cycling is a team sport and it’s not always clean cut. As Froome tactfully put it, “It’s not only me who is making sacrifices for Wiggins, It’s Cavendish and the whole team is focused on winning the yellow jersey.” As a friend of mine pointed out, Froome didn’t have a contract for 2012 until the second week of last year’s Vuelta.
When Wiggins was asked about what was going on in the final kilometers between him and Froome he explained to reporters, “The minute we went over the Peyresourde I knew that was it. I felt fantastic. I went on the front, but I lost concentration. A lot of things were going through my head at that point.”
When Wiggins was asked a tough question by a journalist in press conference, “How glad are you that Chris Froome is on the same team as you and not on another?”, Wiggins response was hesitant. “He’s helped me the whole Tour really. It’s one less thing to worry about. If he were on an opposing team I’d constantly have that battle all the time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out …you’d rather have him in your camp than in someone else’s. He’s an incredible climber.”
Only a select few people know for sure how Froome is feeling about his current position at SKY. His words say one thing but his body language suggests another. He didn’t get to where he is by sitting back, soft pedalling and letting others win. It’ll be interesting to watch the final TT on Saturday to see how close Froome can come to Wiggins’ time when he’s not being held back on his leash. He came within 35 seconds in the Stage 9 ITT and on Saturday he might go out with something to prove.
Bradley Wiggins has been in the yellow jersey since the ITT in stage 9 and he’s sat in press conferences after each stage for the better part of two weeks now. In that time many the journalist’s questions towards Wiggins have been mostly phrased with a negative and cynical tone. Questions about doping, a possible Chris Froome rivalry, Contador not being there to challenge, etc. These press conferences aren’t exactly a forum for praise and applause, but the lack of it was clearly beginning to wear on Wiggins. Today he had finally enough of this and broke out on the topic.
“I feel strange. I don’t know what to feel at the moment. You do something like that and then you sit somewhere like this and that fellow asks a question and straight away it’s in a negative sense. So after everything I’ve done this year, it’s like you still have to justify it. ‘Oh yes, you’ve won the Tour, but it is going to be remembered for these people not being here?’
“I don’t think all the people who came out from the UK to stand on these climbs in the past two weeks give a monkey’s about that. For me, no one’s actually praised me yet. No one’s said, ‘you’ve been there since the Tour of Algarve in February, winning races – you went to Paris-Nice, you’ve respected the history of every race you’ve been to, you’ve raced and trained and answered all the questions of the press all year.”
Wiggins then became slightly more agitated. “You’ve really taken it on. You came to this Tour as the favourite from Liège and I haven’t dropped out of the first two of the GC for three weeks now. You’ve answered all these doping questions as articulately as you can but it’s all still in the negative sense. It’s ‘don’t you reckon that it’s just because Alberto’s not here?’ All year it’s been, ‘have you peaked too early?’ And even now, no one’s actually said, ‘Bloody good on you, mate, well done.'”
To me this has been the most predictable Tour I’ve seen in years. It would have been nice to have been kept wondering and experience the highs and lows that only sporting events can to bring. An exciting Tour is when we the yellow jersey changes hands and we’re kept guessing until the final days. A sincere congratulations should go out to Wiggins and SKY, but I feel like it’s already over and I’m leaving without feeling any emotion. Today showed that SKY deemed it too much of a risk to even go for a stage win unless it directly benefits the Operation Yellow Jersey. Will history remember this Tour de France as one that was won by the strongest man doing the minimum required with a powermeter?
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