A line in L’Équipe’s report of Chris Froome’s press conference in Monte Carlo last Friday summed up the three-time Tour de France winner’s 25-minute encounter with the media pretty well.
“He was expecting to be talking only about sport and the season ahead. He certainly hadn’t expected to be asked questions about the affair that involves ‘Wiggo’ and Dave,” a member of the Sky team told the French sports daily.
If this was the case, it reveals that either Froome or his advisers were guilty of a surprising degree of naivety given the ongoing focus on the controversy that has beset the Sky team over the contents of the package that British Cycling’s Simon Cope carried out to the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011 at the request of Sky doctor Richard Freeman.
With many calling for Dave Brailsford to quit as Team Sky’s boss as a result of his handling of the affair in which Sky’s first Tour victor Bradley Wiggins is also embroiled, there was never a chance of the journalists who had travelled to Monaco opting to pick over Froome’s early season programme or ask for his thoughts on key rival Nairo Quintana’s decision to select the centenary Giro d’Italia as his main preparation race for the Tour de France.
Revved up by Fluimicil, the hacks were sure to stoke up the Dauphiné furore a little more.
Unsurprisingly, and despite Froome’s initial five-minute monologue that attempted to steer the questioning in the racing-focused direction in which he clearly wanted to head, the media got what it went to Monaco for.
Within minutes of the press conference finishing and before Froome and a few teammates had hit the heights above the glamorous principality for a late-afternoon training ride, stories were posted highlighting the Tour champion’s refusal to back Brailsford.
More soon emerged recounting that Froome had decided against using a TUE in the final week of the 2015 Tour on moral grounds.
Yet these ‘revelations’ amounted to nothing more than raking over the smouldering coals of the controversy in which Brailsford and elements past and present of Team Sky are embroiled.
Over the last few months, Froome has repeatedly stated he knew nothing about the package delivered to Sky’s bus at the 2011 Dauphiné and has all but said that Brailsford’s handling of the affair has been has been poor.
As for the 2015 TUE story, Froome revealed details of that incident in that same year. Ultimately, the Monte Carlo interrogation revealed almost nothing that we hadn’t heard before.
Indeed, the two most interesting revelations were completely unrelated to the Fluimicil affair.
Firstly, Froome suggested that if he had won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics he would probably be more of a sporting star in the UK, which may well be true. He also admitted that his greatest motivation is the prospect of joining Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as five-time Tour winners.
Earnest, lacking in flamboyance and, for many, not even British, Froome doesn’t have the same charisma or bond with cycling fans as the likes of Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
Yet the fact that he has a very realistic chance of joining that extremely select group is absolutely extraordinary. It would be a sporting feat to rank alongside those achieved by Britain’s athletic greats.
However, rather than being built up as one, Froome has to fight for his reputation, dogged by the past ills of his sport and now of his team.
Sincere and eloquent in his role as the peloton’s primary figurehead, a responsibility that comes with the yellow jersey, Froome ought to be afforded more time to highlight the ability and commitment on the road that has led to him inheriting that position.
Allowing him that would boost his athletic profile far more than any Olympic title.