Despite a lack of wins this season, Chris Froome still looks in decent shape for a fourth Tour de France title
The best stage race performer of the season thanks to victories in the Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie, and the strongest rider at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he finished a close second to Jakob Fuglsang after his team’s strength and tactics let him down on the final stage, Porte is a rider reborn – confident, stronger and more aggressive.
But what of three-time Tour champion Froome, who has been completely outclassed by his friend and former Sky team-mate this season, which will be the first since 2012 when he hasn’t won a single race going into July? What’s gone wrong this season? And can the Briton put it right before the Tour begins?
Froome’s most evident problem this season has been consistency. Since getting his European campaign going at the Volta a Catalunya in late March, he’s failed to hold his form through any of the three stage races that have been his launchpad for the Tour over the past four seasons.
At Catalunya, he impressed at the tough summit finish of Lo Port, losing out to Alejandro Valverde, but was caught out tactically the next day and lost nearly half an hour. At Romandie, he was well off the pace of his rivals in both the time trials and the mountains, and the same could be said to an extent of his performance at the Dauphiné.
However, comparison with his performances at those three races in previous seasons suggests that Romandie was the only one where his form was way off what we’ve seen in the past. Indeed, the Dauphiné offered some reason for optimism, as Froome looked more competitive as it went on.
Watch: Critérium du Dauphiné stage eight highlights
On the final day, his attacks from the first climb blew the race apart as he attempted to supplant Porte in the leader’s jersey. Although his attacks were ultimately in vain, they contributed immensely to perhaps the best day’s racing of the season so far.
Like Porte, Fuglsang, Valverde and Alberto Contador, Froome will spend a significant part of the period leading up to the Tour fine-tuning his preparation at altitude on Monte Teide in Tenerife. Although his time trialling needs some work, this shouldn’t be a huge concern given the lack of TT kilometres in this year’s Tour. The final time trial in Marseille might decide the title, but being strong on the climbs prior to it is imperative, and Froome will almost certainly improve in this area.
While Porte should also arrive in Germany even stronger than he was at the Dauphiné, Froome has other reasons to be confident that he will have an edge on the Australian. Crucially, Team Sky’s Tour line-up is likely to be more potent than BMC’s. Michal Kwiatkowski, Pete Kennaugh and David López all stood out at the Dauphiné, while Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Wout Poels and Sergio Henao are also in contention for places.
Froome also has good reason to be pleased with his performances in two areas where he once received substantial criticism – descending and strategy. At the Dauphiné he looked almost Nibali-esque going downhill and, with the perceptive Nicolas Portal advising him from the team car, the Sky leader has never looked better from the tactical perspective.
Of course, Froome also has the advantage of previous success in the Tour on his side. He knows and can deal with the demands of the yellow jersey both on and, particularly, off the road. Among his rivals, only Contador can say the same, while Richie Porte’s only experience of leading a Grand Tour was at the Giro d’Italia in 2010, one of just two occasions when the BMC rider has finished in the top 10 in a three-week stage race.
Consequently, while Porte is very much the rider to beat as July approaches, Froome still has good reason to believe that he can achieve at the Tour the feat that evaded him at the Dauphiné and add a fourth title to his palmarès.