The welcome return of Chris Froome 

We cheer vulnerability, and this version of Froome has that in spades.

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To see his knees spin up like the first efforts of an old coal train and watch his elbows wave once again in anger, you’d be forgiven for acquiescing to a dose of Chris Froome nostalgia on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez. 

Chasing behind a new generation, within sight of stage winner Tom Pidcock for much of the climb, Froome rose from Bourg d’Oisans up the 21 switchbacks and crossed the line with a telling smile, proud of his day. The fans love a comeback, and this was one, even without a victory at the end. They cheer vulnerability, and the man who could seem robotic in victory now has that in spades in defeat.

“I’ve been feeling better and better and have been wanting to target a stage like today,” Froome said. “I tried my luck in the breakaway and I gave it everything that I had. I have no regrets, I had no more to give on that final climb.” 

Froome finished third on the day, 2’06” behind Pidcock. The four-time Tour de France champion freely admitted that both Pidcock and second place Louis Meintjes had “more in their engines than me.” But to even be there, at the pointy end of one of the hardest stages of this Tour, is a massive step on his ongoing recovery from his horrifying 2019 crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

As recently as June, an 11th place finish at Alpes Maritimes, a difficult but not particularly prestigious race, remained Froome’s best result since the accident. 

“It was all still unknown,” Froome said of his ability to mix it up on such a day.

His determination to make the break on Thursday was clear as the peloton stretched and eventually snapped up the Galibier. Anecdotally, the reaction to his move was entirely different than it would have been pre-accident, too. He rose up the Alpe mostly to calls of allez Froome, a marked difference from years of Froome dopé, bottles of piss and spit. The fans got behind him (mostly), even in a country and at a race that has had a notoriously fractious relationship with the entire Sky/Ineos operation for much of the last decade. 

It makes some sense that Froome is slowly finding form here. His injuries shouldn’t affect some of what made him a Tour winner to begin with – things like his ability to recover from stage to stage. That means that relative to the rest of the field, he may only get stronger as the race goes on. 

“I’m going to keep pushing,” he said. “I don’t know what my limits are, I’ll keep trying to improve and hopefully get back to them again.”

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