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Everyone expected Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to go head-to-head in this year’s Tour de France. Froome’s crash the day the Tour returned to France after the three-day Grand Départ in England meant that the showdown was postponed until the Vuelta a España.
It could be argued that neither rider was at 100 per cent in Spain — after Contador crashed out of the Tour with a fractured tibia — but it was nevertheless an intriguing battle as both riders sought to squeeze as much as they could out of their recovering bodies.
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No one could say Froome didn’t give it everything. He was second on the mountain stage to La Zubia towards the end of the first week, then second again at Lago de Somiedo (behind Contador). A couple of stages after that, he finished second to Fabio Aru at Monte Castrove en Meis, opening a slender 12-second gap on Contador at the line that offered hope he might crack the Spaniard in the closing days. But Contador’s GC lead was already too big, and at the penultimate stage to Ancares he conceded a little more ground to the Spaniard and knew he had to settle for second place.
It was not what he had hoped for from a season that seemed to have started out perfectly. He won the Tour of Oman in February, setting himself up for overall victory at Green Mountain. After taking sixth at the Tour of Catalonia Froome scored a victory at the Tour of Romandy in Switzerland, as he had done in 2013 and as Bradley Wiggins had done the year before (as well as Cadel Evans in 2011). The blueprint for Tour de France victory was being followed meticulously.
He looked set to win the Critérium du Dauphiné again too, leading from the opening stage time trial, winning at the Col du Béal and leading until he crashed on stage six and relinquished the jersey to Contador following the Spaniard’s audacious attack the following day.
However, there was controversy created by images of Froome using an asthma inhaler during a stage, which sparked much debate. It was then leaked that Froome had applied for a therapeutic use exemption to treat a chest problem during the Tour of Romandy.
The questions surrounding the use of asthma treatment in an endurance sport followed him into the Tour de France, and the crash happened on stage four, during a lull in the race between the stress caused by huge crowds in Britain and the fear of the cobbles the following day. Froome did not even make it to the pavé and his attempt to retain the Tour de France title was ended before it had even begun.
But despite all that, Froome’s record in stage races was still incredibly consistent — two overall victories, second place in a Grand Tour and, but for a couple of crashes, it might have been even better.