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Set to win his third Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, Chris Froome has reflected on his place in the pantheon of the greats and said that he wants to keep trying to win the biggest event in cycling.
Providing Sunday’s final stage goes to plan, the Team Sky rider will complete his victory and join Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond as triple winners of the Tour.
Four others have taken more editions than this and Froome will target trying to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as five time champions.
“I’d say for now my focus for now is definitely on the Tour de France, given it is just such a special race,” the Briton said in the post-podium press conference in a wet, grey Morzine on Saturday. “It would be my dream to keep coming back to the Tour de France for the next five, six years, if I can, to be on the start line and to give it the best shot. To give myself the best opportunity to fight for victory again.
“I have now won it three times and I can’t say that the novelty is wearing off. It is just such an incredible feeling, it is such an amazing event. It is the biggest event we have on our calendar and to be here in the yellow jersey, taking it to Paris tomorrow, is just every cyclist’s dream.
“It is the biggest honour there is in our sport and I hope I can be back next year to fight for it again.”
Because of that focus, Froome said that he would sooner have a tunnel vision approach on the Tour rather than looking at the other three week races as major goals. He’s not ruling out riding them, but makes clear that July is, and will remain, his big annual focus.
“I might do the Vuelta this year. As it stands right now, I think with my focus being on the Tour it is very difficult to commit to the Giro,” he said. “I really do think it is very difficult to back up two Grand Tours in a row like that. Obviously I will be giving a lot of thought into if I will be doing the Vuelta or not this year.”
Earlier this week Eddy Merckx lauded Froome, saying that he has the ability to keep winning the Tour. In fact, he suggested that he might be able to improve on the five time champions. Should he do so, Froome would have a very special place in history, but he made clear that he won’t try to match the career exploits of the Belgian.
“I am not about to start targeting all the Classics the way Eddy did. But obviously I am going to the Olympics now,” he said, responding to a question about broadening his palmares. “Obviously it would be amazing to get a result there.
“Times definitely have changed and I think with it being so much more competitive now, it is harder to stay at the top for the duration of the whole season when you have got guys targeting specific events and really training specifically for specific events.
“It is obviously an honour to even be talked about in the same circle as those guys. I am going to keep doing my best.”
“It epitomised what cycling is all about”
Froome previously won the Tour in 2013 and 2015, but rewrote his modus operandi this year. On stage eight to he stunned his rivals by attacking downhill and soloing to victory in Bagnères de Luchon. Four days later he caught them napping once more, jumping clear with Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff) plus his teammate Geraint Thomas (Sky).
He also gained time on many of his rivals in the mountains, and won the stage 18 Megève time trial.
Of those, he selected one as the standout.
“I think for me the one I enjoyed the most by far was winning on the descent into Luchon,” he stated. “That to me really epitomised what racing is all about. I really did feel like I was a kid again, trying to stay away from my mates behind me and being the fastest one down the hill.
“At the end of the day that is what bike racing is all about. For us it is that thrill, it is that boy racer mentality. That is a special stage for me in this year’s Tour de France.”
That stage showed his rivals that he had assumed a new unpredictability and could attack them anywhere. His Sky team has been accused in the past of racing in a formulaic way, but mixed things up a little more this year.
Froome sounds like he took a lot of enjoyment out of racing like that.
“It feels like it has been a rollercoaster. And absolute rollercoaster,” he said. “I mean, there have been amazing moments where it feels as if we have really taken on the race and made the racing.
“The descent I won, for example. And the race in the crosswinds and sprinting with Peter Sagan. Things like that. You just can’t script moments like that. You can’t even plan for them. It is bike racing at the best. It feels incredible to have been part of that and to have shaped this year’s Tour de France in that way.”
Part of his dominance was the failure of rivals such as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) to mount as strong a challenge as anticipated beforehand.
Quintana finished second to Froome twice, gaining time on him in the final week of racing in 2013 and again last year. As for Contador, he beat him in the 2014 Vuelta a España and said that he was in strong condition heading into this year’s Tour.
However Quintana was below par and never looked like the same rider who took those runner-up slots in the past. As for Contador, he was also unable to mount a strong challenge, crashing twice early on and eventually exiting the race due to injuries.
Froome discussed both cases “My thoughts on Nairo’s ride here in the Tour de France…I have seen him obviously stronger in the past,” he said. “The Tour I won in 2013 and the Tour I won last year, 2015, he pushed me right to the end. I feel that this year he maybe wasn’t quite at his best, for whatever reason, but I have got no doubt that he is going to be back next year with the same hunger to fight for the victory.”
As for the Spaniard, Froome said that he would have preferred to take on a fit Contador in the race, knowing that would have enhanced his yellow jersey.
“It is unfortunate that Alberto crashed on stage one and he wasn’t part of this battle this year,” he said. “I always say that it is the best thing for the sport that we have the rivalry and we have a big battle for the yellow jersey. Even though I have come here with a four minute advantage, it still feels as if every day was a new challenge, a new fight. I don’t feel as if it is any easier in that regard.”
In the absence of those two rivals in peak form, Frenchman Romain Bardet stepped forward and ended Saturday in a stunning second place overall.
“I think Romain has ridden an extremely good race this year,” said Froome. “He was second to me in the Dauphiné also. How he has ridden, he has been very strong in these last few days. He has obviously thought about his effort in these three weeks. I think it is a great thing for French cycling that he is on the podium in second position.
“I imagine it is going to give him a lot of motivation to come back next year and fight for the victory.”
Froome underlines that he has still got plenty of motivation and will do whatever work he needs to do to take on the likes of Bardet and others.
He is psyched by what he has done thus far and how that fits into cycling.
“I think I have definitely grown to appreciate the history of the sport a lot more,” he said, asked about his place in cycling history. “Being in the position that I am in now and just understanding how tough it is to win a race like the Tour de France, let alone win back to back editions and to be a three time – well, hopefully, once I get to Paris tomorrow – winner.
“I don’t really want to say it [now] but to be a three time winner of the Tour is going to be incredible, absolutely incredible. It is beyond what I could have ever dreamed.”