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by Caley Fretz
July 25, 2018
The key for Chris Froome might be to take a nice, long pull.
There was a pinch point in the team paddock in Carcassonne Tuesday morning. Riders had to slow down and squeeze through a funnel of fans, who mostly clapped and yelled allez and begged for autographs. “Le maillot jaune,” a French father said, pointing his child’s eyes up the street toward Geraint Thomas. The child smiled and cheered as Thomas rolled slowly past; so did the father.
When Chris Froome passed through that same pinch point the crowd went quiet. Then someone booed, softly, from the back, as if they were a little bit ashamed of it. The minor boo set off a chain reaction of boos that followed Froome down toward sign-in.
Team Sky has an image problem, though it’s not clear whether Dave Brailsford gives a damn. Chris Froome has an image problem, too, and I am absolutely sure he gives a damn. So how does he fix it?
Humility. Visible, undeniable, physical humility.
The first time I saw Raymond Poulidor he was sitting in a white plastic chair at a white plastic table reading the French sports daily l’Equipe and drinking a tiny coffee out of a tiny paper cup. Andy Schleck was on the cover of the paper. The Village du Depart awning over his head was yellow and it made him look kind of yellow, which is ironic if you know anything about Raymond Poulidor.
Yellow was not Poulidor’s color. He might be the most French Tour champion because he’s not a Tour champion. He’s more French than Bernard Hinault; as French as baguettes. No Frenchman has been so close so often as Poulidor. He was second three separate times, riding achingly under the shadow of Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx.
To be so close is endearing, isn’t it? There’s more humanity in defeat than in victory, maybe because we all know it so well.
Imagine, if you will, the final climb of Wednesday’s 65-kilometer stage. It’s a good one. Sixteen kilometers at 8.7%. There’s a little ramp about six and a half kilometers in that really stings. Let’s say Tom Dumoulin goes there. Let’s say he gets a little gap. It’s just Froome, Thomas, Bardet, and Roglic left.
Right after that little ramp is a flatter section. Speeds go up a bit, increasing the effectiveness of the draft. It’s a better grade for Dumoulin, too, and he starts to pull away.
A Geraint Thomas victory is better for Team Sky, at least from a public relations perspective. He’s far more British, for one. He came up in the GB system. He’s one of Rod Ellingworth’s boys. He’s steered clear of all Sky’s propensity for controversy, at least as well as one can. Even the French like him, mostly.
But that’s not why Froome should pull. Froome should pull because pulling is deference. Pulling is humility. Not empty words, but humble action. All of Sky’s controversies, all of its stupid and duplicitous and downright insulting reactions to those controversies, can be traced back to a lack of humility.
When the race splits up on Wednesday and it’s just the two of them against the world, Froome should put his head down and do the work. Pull for the yellow jersey. Honor it. Honor his friend, since he says they’re friends; prove that his desire for a team victory is not empty. Learn from Poulidor. Be humble. Come in second.