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Although Chris Froome dominated the 2016 Tour de France, 1987 champion Stephen Roche has said it is far from certain that the Briton will go on to equal the record of five Tour victories.
Froome beat runner-up Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) by four minutes and five seconds. This was slightly less than his four minute 20 second margin over Nario Quintana in 2013, but far ahead of his one minute 12 second beating of the Colombian two years later.
His dominance and the inability of his rivals this year to put him in serious trouble moved him level with Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond as three-time champions of the event. It has also edged him closer to the five-time record holders, namely Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
However, despite momentum and his aggression this year, Roche says there are no guarantees about what the future might bring the 31 year old.
“Winning a third one is great,” he told CyclingTips. “But then it gets hard, I think. Why? There are a lot of new guys coming on. I think in the next couple of years we are going to see some amazing Tours, with the Romain Bardets, the Yates, Bob Jungels, Dumoulin. There are a lot of guys who are coming up who are very, very good. In the time trialing and the climbing they are at similar levels, so it is going to make for some very interesting racing.
“If Froome can win another one or two needs to be seen. But he is getting on, he is maturing as well. He has the experience. He is going to be complicated to beat but he is a guy who lives on winning, lives on yellow.
“Whatever happens before and after, he wants to win the yellow. But nevertheless he is going to have a very strong competition in the next few years, that’s for sure. His rivals are improving, yet he is not going to get much stronger. That is why I say the fourth one will be very complicated. But, you know, he is quite capable as well.”
Asked about those rivals, he believes that Bardet has moved up a notch this season. “Until this season, he only half-impressed me. He was very good at the climbing but I found that tactically he wasn’t great…he kept looking behind him.
“I think that this year he has progressed a lot, especially in his time trialing. He is very good mentally, very strong. A very nice guy, speaks very well. I think this year he has gone up a big, big level.”
The Frenchman’s improvement was seen in the final week of the Tour de France when he won a stage and moved up to second overall. It puts him in the frame as a rider who could be the one to end the long French drought in the race; the last time a Frenchman won was Bernard Hinault back in 1985.
“We have been saying it already for a while that he could be a future winner,” said Roche. “That is why he has stayed on the same step for a while. Now maybe he is just getting over that stage, getting past the point of thinking, ‘maybe I won’t be as good as they said I would be, but I am just going to be as good as I can.’
“He has a bit of pressure is off him, now, and that is how he is moving forward. Definitely himself and Julian Alaphilippe are the guys who to me have the most potential in getting a yellow jersey for France.”
Asked who are the others who have impressed him this year, Roche names a Briton and an Irishman as being foremost on his mind.
“Adam Yates was amazing. 23 years of age, there every day. Not afraid of anybody. He’s doing great,” he said.
“And I’m really happy for Dan [Martin]. We could talk about Quintana not attacking and Richie Porte and everything else. But Dan had a few goes a few times. He maybe paid for it himself later on by getting caught and getting dropped, but he took the bull by the horns and went for it.”
Martin is Roche’s nephew and finished ninth overall in the Tour. It was his best general classification performance in the race and Roche believes more is to come.
“I think in Dan’s mind the podium is definitely the next step. Even when he was a kid, he was always a dreamer. Always looking ahead and not underestimating himself, without disrespecting the other people. He was always the kind of guy who was a winner. ‘I want to win, I am going to win.’ He wins, doesn’t win, but if he doesn’t win that gives him energy to come back the next time. He is a winner.”
Indeed, perhaps surprisingly, Roche doesn’t rule out that Martin could take the final yellow jersey in the race in the future. “It’s definitely possible. He is maturing late and we can see that. There is no panic, he is solid as a rock. He fixes his objective and he starts going for it.
“He has his own mindset on what he wants to do, where he things he can go to, and nothing will change that.”
Whether or not Froome does go on to take more Tour victories – the Briton has said he wants to keep contending for the next five or six years – Roche is very impressed with how he conducted himself during the 2016 edition.
“He has gone after the jersey, he has run after it himself,” he said with a smile, referring to the Mont Ventoux stage. “He has handled himself very, very well, he has invented some new downhill descending skills.
“His reputation has been boosted. I think there are a couple of things that can be taken from it. One is the way he handled himself with the media, on the bike and off the bike. And also when he had to run a little bit. You can imagine his heartrate must have been really up on the limit, but he was still sane enough to get off the bike and put it down rather than throw it down.
“Then he got on the Mavic [neutral service] bike after his 100 metre sprint. When his own car came up, he put the Mavic bike against the fence rather than throwing it over the fence. Many, many less important people would have done that and have done it in the past.
“What he did showed character and of respect. You aren’t just throwing a bike over the hedge, you are throwing 12,000 euros over a hedge. So, that bit of respect is important.
“I think that is what cycling needs today as well – icons who show the right things, rather than sometimes people can be spoiled. That was the attitude of a grown person, a mature person.”