clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tour de France Preview: The Case for Froome

New, 42 comments

I'll see your Colombian climber, and raise you the defending champion.

Le Tour de France 2015 - Froome and Team Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chris, you can have your fancy Colombian climbers, who hypothetically would have won the Tour in this exact scenario, but I don't think you can ignore that Chris Froome is the favourite for this Tour de France.

The Basics

Name: Christopher Clive Froome

Birth: 20 May 1985 (age 31), Nairobi, Kenya (1795m).

Team: Team Sky, who are bringing an unbelievably strong team to the Tour. Froome himself is backed up by Henao the elder, Kiryienka, Landa, Thomas, Rowe, Stannard, Nieve and Poels.

The Numbers

Past TdF GC Placement: Four starts, with an 84th place back in the Barloworld days followed by a runner-up spot behind Wiggins in 2012. Allowed to ride for himself in 2013, he won the race comfortably, and after a blip on his radar in the form of a crash in 2014, he came back and won last year.

Stage Victories: Five, including on La Planche des Belles Filles, Ax 3 Domaines, Mont Ventoux, La Pierre St. Martin, and a time-trial in Chorges.

Other Jerseys: He won the mountains jersey last year.

Other Grand Tours: Nothing from the Giro, but the Vuelta was what really kicked off his career. He got second there to Juan José Cobo in 2011, then came minutes behind the Spanish trio of Contador, Valverde and Rodríguez in fourth the year after. He challenged Contador for the win in 2014, but was beaten into second once again.

Froome Vuelta 2014 Jose Jordan, AFP/Getty Images

Climbing Ability

Froome's not a pure climber, but he is an excellent one. While his ability to get up the mountains is sometimes overshadowed by his time-trialling ability, we mustn't forget that he has left Quintana, Contador, and anyone else you can name in the dust on two huge mountain stages. Yes, last year he did lose a bit of time towards the end of the race, but he still had a minute and twelve seconds in the bank by the top of L'Alpe. When has anyone else imposed the amount of devastation on the field that Froome has on La Pierre St. Martin, Mont Ventoux and Ax 3 Domaines? Those efforts won him the Tour twice. Recently, he was nearly unchallenged in the Dauphiné. People say that Nairo Quintana is the best climber like that can't be refuted, but he's never outclimbed Froome in a Grand Tour before being outdone himself. So, the two are very close, even if Froome isn't superior.

Time Trialling

This is where Froome is way above the rest. He came second in the 33km time-trial in 2013, before winning the hillier event the same year. Only his team-mate and leader Bradley Wiggins could beat him in both long time-trials in 2012, and he's always a top favourite for time-trials in other stage races.

The Tour's two tough time-trials (alliteration!) will suit Froome. Both have climbing (though the second has far more than the first) and Froome can hope to win either or both of them. Hell, he could expect to take a couple of minutes out of his top competitors on a good day, it could be what wins him the Tour.

Analysis

In what I just wrote, you might get the feeling that I think Froome has the best team, the best time-trialling skills, and doesn't lack in the climbing department. His team is unparalleled. Each of Thomas, Landa, Henao, Poels and Nieve could be the last man in any climbing squad, but they're all riding in front of Froome. Who else can say that they have five top climbing domestiques at their disposal? Movistar arguably have three, Tinkoff have two, and that's if one of them has a huge spike in form. Sky have the budget, the tech, the everything. While Froome is older than Quintana, is 31 years of age old enough to be calling people past their best? Also, while Froome gets a bad rap for his bike handling, I have certainly seen it improving. He was untroubled on the cobbles last year, and was fighting for position in sprints far more skilfully than his competitors in the Dauphiné.

The stat bandied about by people that Quintana made up time after stage 3 of the Tour de France last year is interesting, but does it really prove anything? You could just as easily say that Rigoberto Úran was better than Quintana at the 2014 Giro! Quintana attacked on a descent, and put time into Úran, and if he hadn't done that, Úran would have won the Giro. Well, in this "discount certain stages" theory. And how, exactly, is it relevant that Quintana was better in the last eighteen stages of the Tour? Last time I checked, the Tour is twenty-one stages long, and I definitely do not remember ASO outlawing attacking in crosswinds. Quintana didn't puncture on stage 2 last year, Froome was just better than him in conditions that could very easily be replicated this year.

In addition to that, Quintana has the ideal route laid out for him last year. Summit finish after summit finish, high mountain stage after high mountain stage. Absolutely no chance for Froome to press home the advantage he unarguably has in time-trials. A chance that he has this year.

The one thing that I will admit Quintana does have in his favour is this: He does not fade in the last week like Froome does. While I do think there was an element of avoiding a blow up, and letting Quintana off, but on a leash, of the final weeks of his two Tour victories, I will concede that he does seem to lose his edge at the end of a Grand Tour. If this is the case this year, and the Tour remains a competition, Quintana could have more space to put time into him on the Joux Plane than he did on L'Alpe, with its less predictable descent finish.

But another thing — even if Quintana does go on the attack, Froome and Sky might just be able to close him down with the firepower of their mountain train. Froome can stick behind them, and come out to win the stage at a time of his choosing. C'mon, if you've known me on here or on twitter, you'll know I'm not a champion or fan of Froome, but I can't see how he isn't the favourite for this race. His relative lack of form in the early races this season didn't convince me, and nothing I've seen since has either.

Verdict: Can He Win?

Betting Odds: 6/4

My call: He can win, and he will win. Quintana's form in Catalunya, the Route du Sud and anywhere else you might name won't come that close to beating Froome. In fact, I predict a Froome victory, and by a larger margin than last year.