Will Chris Froome's decision to stay with Team Sky until the end of 2018 see him become one of the best Tour de France riders ever?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Chris Froome’s decision to stay with Team Sky until at least the end of the 2018 season is in no way surprising and could herald a three-season streak where the Brit writes his name in the Grand Tour history books.
Undoubtedly Froome will be well compensated for his hard work over the next few years, and as Daniel Friebe pointed out on Twitter, he’s worth a lot more to Sky than he would be to any other team.
But take finances out of the equation (which is always tough when moneybags Team Sky are involved), there’s really no reason for Froome to leave the team.
At Sky, Froome has a dedicated team, designed to support him every time he steps on his bike in a race. A team at which he can virtually pick and choose his race schedule, where the main sponsors have little geographical affiliation to one particular Grand Tour – he won’t be forced to ride the Giro d’Italia any time soon to appease a major sponsor, for example.
It’s clear that the way Sky works suits the way Froome likes to ride – his two Tour de France wins and four other top-five finishes at the Grand Tours attest to that. Three more seasons racing the Team Sky way should see Froome collect a fair bit more silverware for his trophy cabinet and move him higher in the echelons of cycling’s greats.
With two Tour wins, Froome sits a little way behind five-time champions Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, but in the next three years who would bet against Froome winning all the yellow jerseys?
A crash ended his first Tour defence in 2014 as Vincenzo Nibali took the title in a relatively poor field, while in his two victories in 2013 and 2015 he rarely looked like giving up his lead.
With the retirement of Alberto Contador at the end of this season, Froome will virtually sit as the lone Grand Tour all-rounder – a rider who can climb well and time trial their way to victory.
The 2016 Tour is Froome’s to lose, with the two individual time trials standing him head and shoulders above his likely challengers. Nairo Quintana has improved against the clock, but isn’t a patch on Froome in time trials.
Judging by recent Tour routes, Quintana’s best chance of beating Froome to the maillot jaune was in 2015, but Froome still managed to out-duel the Colombian – although it came down to the very last mountain stage.
Contador’s last chance for Tour glory will come in 2016, but despite him winning the Vuelta and Giro in the past two years he hasn’t looked like a Tour de France contender since his 2012 doping ban.
Once a formidable time trialist, Contador’s abilities against the clock are by no means completely faded, but he likely won’t be able to challenge Froome in 2016.
As the legendary Merckx said recently, Froome doesn’t have any real rivals for the Tour crown. Vincenzo Nibali is seemingly out of favour at Astana, with the relatively inexperienced Fabio Aru getting the nod for the Tour next year.
Whether Tom Dumoulin develops into a perennial Grand Tour contender is yet to be seen, while the French trifecta of Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Warren Barguil will have to raise their games to challenge Froome in the coming seasons.
A Tour de France contender is perhaps the most valuable commodity in cycling – apart from a Peter Sagan – and there wouldn’t be many teams who would pass up the opportunity to sign Froome should the opportunity arise.
But could you imagine Froome riding for another team now that you’ve seen him achieve so much with Sky? Trek-Segafredo are reportedly keen to lure Nibali to lead them in the Grand Tours, but can you see Chris Froome racing in pinstripes? How about riding alongside Quintana at Movistar, or under Alexander Vinokourov at Astana?
No, Froome knows that Team Sky will help him achieve his goals, Sky know that Froome will help them achieve their goals.
A mutually beneficial partnership could see Froome become the first rider to (officially) defend the Tour title since Indurain, and would you back any of his current challengers to beat him in the two following years?