The first instinct on reading Chris Froome’s reaction to next year’s Tour de France route, which appears to favour pure climbers over all-rounders, might be to assume that Froome has gone rogue, and that his threat to skip the Tour and go for the Giro and Vuelta will prove to be idle.
Froome offered his thoughts within minutes of the official unveiling of the route: “There’s no two ways about it, next year’s Tour is going to be about the mountains,” he said. “There’s very little emphasis on time trialling which means the race will be decided up in the high mountains.”
In contrast, he added, the Giro is “a well balanced race.” And given the time between that and the Vuelta, next year “could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two [Grand Tours].”
Froome was absent from the presentation in Paris, spending the day in the company of the British sailing team. Instead of being suited and booted in Paris, he had squeezed himself into a lifejacket and could be found bobbing up and down on the English Channel. All very mysterious.
Apparently, though, Froome really is giving serious consideration to tackling the Giro and the Vuelta in 2015, which would mean missing the Tour. His sponsors, Sky, may have the final say, and given that they have no other potential Tour winners on their books, it doesn’t seem very likely at all that they will go to Utrecht without Froome.
But there is good reason to believe that Froome is genuine when he says he’d be prepared to miss the Tour, and that he isn’t indulging in a bit of brinksmanship in protest over a route he doesn’t particular like (which would be pointless anyway: they’re not going to change it).
Froome, remember, did not grow up dreaming of winning the Tour de France. He is not steeped in the traditions and lore of the sport. Indeed, he is notoriously sketchy on cycling history. He only saw the Tour for the first time on television in 2004.
Cycling fans will struggle to understand why a rider capable of winning the Tour would volunteer to miss it. But Froome has won the Tour, and what did it bring him? Fame certainly, fortune no doubt, but also a daily grilling about doping that he didn’t particularly enjoy, and which detracted from his success. Without the same spotlight or media presence at the Giro and Vuelta, there isn’t the equivalent level of stress in leading these races. Perhaps that appeals to Froome.
With Froome the decision could be pragmatic rather than romantic, or logical rather than emotional. If Froome accepts that Nairo Quintana is the favourite for next year’s Tour, given the route selected by ASO, does he try and calculate what is worth more: a win in Italy or a podium finish in France? Does he want to repeat an old trick or try a new challenge? Is he compelled to ride the Tour because it is the Tour? (No: surely if a race organiser is entitled to design whatever course they like, riders are entitled to choose one they prefer.)
Other questions arise from Froome’s threat, which have less to do with him and more to do with how the sport is structured and the calendar organised. The issue was recently brought into sharp focus, if rather crudely, by Oleg Tinkov and his million-Euro offer to the big four – Froome, Alberto Contador, Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali – if they ride all three Grand Tours.
Tinkov is probably speaking for most cycling fans when he says he wants to see these riders go head-to-head more often. But they all have the same decision to make as Froome. If you can’t win them all – and almost certainly nobody can – then there is a choice and a question: first and foremost, which route suits me best?; but also, what is ‘worth’ more, in sporting as well as financial terms?
Nibali and Contador have a better idea of the answer, having done the Giro-Vuelta double in a season, and also won the Tour. Perhaps Froome wants to find out for himself.
More from the Tour de France 2015
Take a look at every stage of the route of the 2015 Tour de France
Team Sky rider suggests he may prioritise the Giro and Vuelta in 2015