Scott Mitchell’s ‘A focused Chris Froome on the Sky bus’ (2013)
Chris Froome: I want to win multiple Tour de France Titles
By Ian Chadband
Chris Froome is taking in the beauty of Port de Alcudia, cycling slowly along the spectacular stretch of white sand adjoining the hotel that has acted as his training headquarters for countless days down the years here on Majorca’s golden mile.
He must have enjoyed many relaxed strolls in this peaceful out-of-season idyll, surely? The question brings a smile and an almost guilty confession. “Do you know, I’ve never even been on this beach all the times I’ve been here. Never even seen that before,” he says, pointing at the jetty towards which he is pedalling for a photo session.
“I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a Taurus but I’m the sort who hones in on one thing and that’s it. I’m here to work and I’ll do that to the absolute best of my ability. Tunnel vision, I suppose.”
That vision is focused on retaining his Tour de France title in 2014 but if he peers far enough, the end of the tunnel sees a cycling pantheon and himself as not just one of his sport’s all-time greats but, above all, as a multiple champion who is demonstrably clean. “It’s a personal ambition, I’d love to be up there with those legends, the true greats like [Eddy] Merckx, to become someone who can challenge and win the Tour on multiple occasions. I’ve got time on my side. I think I could,” says Froome at the training base that Team Sky hire for their sole use over the winter.
The post-Tour madness is history – he still cannot quite credit the crazy fan who chased his taxi on foot for two miles through central London just for an autograph – and now the relentless, unforgiving road to Paris begins all over again.
He admits losing focus amid all the demands immediately after Paris but now the appetite is back with a vengeance and he whooped when doctors told him he has finally kayoed his long-standing, debilitating affliction, bilharzia.
Take today. Just after 7am, he did 45 minutes in the gym before breakfast, working on leg strengthening and exercises to battle a weakness in his lower back. “Then it was back out there riding on the roads, an hour before everyone else, to get six hours in. That extra hour is important because I’m so hungry. I really want to sink my teeth into next year’s Tour again.” Classic Froome. Sounds like Tiddles but as formidable as Shere Khan. The 2014 model, he says, could have more teeth than that which ripped apart the 100th Tour.
“I still think I can get much better. I’m obviously a decent climber but there are things I can do to improve. Like I’m not the smoothest rider. I’m rugged, all elbows and knees. I’ve heard Christian Prudhomme [the Tour director] say I was Paula Radcliffe on a bike! So, I can work on improving my position on the bike, as well as improving tactically in stage races. Each time I ride a Grand Tour at the front, I’m learning. Otherwise it would be demotivating.” A man who has famously mocked his own lack of interest in the sport’s history even now admits to thirsting to learn from old heroes such as Merckx, the greatest of them all.
“I have started actually speaking to some of these legends. Eddy stays just down the road from me in Monaco and, having been out for a couple of meals with him, it’s been fascinating to be able to pick his brains about how he did it again and again. A lot of guys have struggled to back it up after winning the Tour. Basically, the last guy who was able to was [Lance] Armstrong and we all now know what he was doing. So there’s a bad perception around multiple winning. I want to try to change that.”
Froome has already learned to his chagrin in the 2013 Tour, following the exposing of Armstrong’s fraud, that seeing is not necessarily believing any more. He flew fantatstically up Mont Ventoux only to be met with as much cynicism as awe. It hurt him. “That was a really special day for me, so to basically have the media try to take that glory away with the same questions I had already kept answering for two weeks – ‘how can you prove you’re clean?’ – felt really insulting. I felt it disintegrated all my hard work.”
Froome’s heartfelt hopes for 2014 is that cycling’s doping tales take a back seat to pure sport but that could be wishful thinking. Our conversation occurred before news that Froome’s Sky team-mate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke faced disciplinary proceedings over an alleged anti-doping rule violation and that former colleague Mick Rogers had tested positive for clenbuterol.
“I genuinely believe people want to stop talking about doping now. They want to have someone to believe in,” says Froome. Like him perhaps? “Well, I definitely feel a responsibility to show people the sport has changed. I understand why there are still a lot of critics, cynicism and doubters out there. Of course, no-one can actually know 100 per cent if I’m clean or not, except me. And I know I am, that my results will stand the test of time.
“We can’t force people to believe, it’s going to take time. I know I have a big responsibility but it’s not hard to be clean and to be a champion. Doping has never ever crossed my mind. It’s not an option. I’d rather go and scrub factory floors for a living than cheat to get where I am.”
How could he when he thinks about the responsibility he owes to those young African cycling dreamers sleeping five to a floor, just as he once did, in the same old Kenyan village tin shack where his first mentor David Kinjah taught him “to love the bike”? Last month, he returned for a two-week holiday there. “Very emotional,” he said. “It felt almost incredible that this is where it all started. Only seven years ago, I’d been there and in that time, I’d basically gone right from the bottom of this sport, from riding around in the hills here, to winning the biggest race there is.”
So little had changed, apart from a tap with running water now and one of his yellow jerseys he wanted Kinjah to hang in his hut. “It’s inspiring but a bit sad too that Kinjah is still there, still doing so much for the kids but still struggling with the same problems of funding and lack of support as when I was growing up there.”
It hardened Froome’s resolve. “I’m now looking at the possibility of setting up a foundation to help African cyclists get somewhere in their career. People like Kinjah can help youngsters get a start but at 17, 18, there’s just nothing available for them so they end up stopping. It’s early days but I want to set up a structure to continue that development. You just have to look at Kenya’s marathon runners to realise the enormous untapped potential there. I saw again there was a lot of talent.”
Froome, with his British roots, raised in Kenya, educated in South Africa, having lived in Italy and now domiciled in Monaco, truly has been a man of the world but he wants everyone to see his pride in being British by racing more over here. “I’m conscious I haven’t raced as often as I’d like in Britain. I want to do more but there really aren’t that many races. I’ve done the Tour of Britain a couple of times before and I think it’s a possibility if the route suited.” At least, his Tour de France defence will start in Yorkshire. “And, honestly, that will be a special moment in my life.”
The Tour now dominates that life. “Let’s see, I’m 28, so in theory I could, if technically and physically it’s possible, be riding it for another 10 years,” he muses. It is tunnel vision time again. Froome laughs he’s “not really all that boring” but, actually, his meticulous politeness – he makes a point of thanking you for the visit – cannot mask how he is a fascinating study in magnificent obsession.
We have gone for an hour not even mentioning Sir Bradley Wiggins. It was in this very spot in January that the pair sat with fantastic awkwardness side by side, Froome seemingly nothing but the shy, quiet foil to Wiggo’s confident alpha male.
Yet now Froome is the man, confidently assuring us that a long chat with Wiggins here in Majorca a few weeks ago had “really cleared the air” between them. He cannot quite believe how quickly everything has changed. “If you’d told me just a couple of years ago in July 2011 when I was sitting at home watching the Tour, unsure if I’d even get a contract in 2012, I’d have said ‘you’re kidding’. I put it down simply to three things – losing a bit of weight, different racing tactics and just being healthy.”
Now he is in such demand, he smiles, it was wonderful back in Kenya just to recapture simple days. “I enjoyed the freedom. I could walk around unrecognised for a while and a ride with the kids. It brought me back to the basics, reminded me there’s a lot more to life than materialistic things. Just enjoying it. Just being kids on a bike again.”
One day, Froome may even find time for a stroll on that Majorca hotel beach too. Only not while there are more yellow jerseys to wear.
Photographer Unknown’s ‘Richie Porte follows Cadel Evans up the climb, but couldn’t hold on’ (2014)
Evans put Team Sky under pressure on Corkscrew
Corkscrew Hill proved decisive for a second year in succession and Porte was quick to take it up alongside compatriot Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) on the steep slopes.
Evans pushed onwards over the top while Porte was left to link up with the ochre jersey of Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) on the descent, yet there would be no catching Evans who claimed the stage by 15 seconds and moved into the race lead.
Porte finished safely inside the main group of chasers which included team-mate Thomas, the winner on the stage last year. The result elevated the Welshman up to sixth overall, 29 seconds back on Evans while Porte sits just outside the top 10 in 11th, a further four seconds back.
Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) and stage two winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) led home the chasing pack after the peloton had blown to pieces on the final ascent.
“When Cadel went I tried to follow but through the hairpins he just kicked and I couldn’t go with him,” Porte told Sky Sports after the stage.
“I’m looking forward to Willunga. It’s a different climb and I think us three Aussies, Cadel, Gerro and myself, will hope it’s the same thing again. We’ll see what happens. I’m a little bit disappointed. It was quite a frantic start to the climb. The team were brilliant today and Geraint was right there as well. We’ll see what happens on Saturday. It’s probably a bit more suited to me that climb but I think at the moment if Cadel’s as good on Willunga as he was today there’s not a hell of a lot you can do.”
The most selective stage of the race thus far greeted the peloton in Norwood as four riders went away including the evergreen Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing). The German was joined by
Travis Meyer (Drapac Cycling), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Jerome Cousin (Europcar) in a strong quartet which was controlled by the bunch.
For the third day in succession Orica-GreenEdge were on hand to marshal the race on behalf of leader Gerrans, with more teams adding firepower to the front in the closing stages.
A huge increase in pace ahead of Corkscrew Hill saw the escapees reeled in with 17km to go as teams began to jostle for position ahead of the key ascent.
Philip Deignan took it up on the early slopes for Team Sky as the peloton thinned out significantly and it wasn’t long before Evans and Porte opened out some daylight.
That drew a reaction from the ochre jersey of Gerrans but there was no stopping Evans who consolidated his 15-second gap at the summit with just a 7km decent into Campbelltown remaining.
After the stage Sports Director Kurt-Asle Arvesen admitted there wasn’t much more the team could have done against such a great solo performance.
“The team did fantastic,” he said to Sky Sports. “We gave it a go and Richie was at the front there with Cadel and Geraint was just behind. We were just missing that little bit extra on the top guys. We just have to try again on Saturday and the one really selective stage to go. We came here to win and now that looks like it is going to be hard. But we won’t give up. It’s clear Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans will be hard guys.”
Iri Greco’s ‘Chris Froome makes his way through the media scrum to the backstage podium, flanked by ASO security and Sky photographer Scott Mitchell’ (2013)
The Riders to Watch in 2014
By Joe Lindsey and Whit Yost
The one-day race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad takes place this Saturday in Belgium. That means we’re just weeks away from the first Monuments, or oldest, most prestigious races, of the pro cycling calendar. Here’s a rundown of the men we anticipate grabbing the most headlines in 2014.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma–Quick-Step)
The Belgian Classics specialist is rebounding nicely from his injury-plagued 2013 season. His early results—including two stage wins at the Tour of Qatar—suggest he’s in similar form to 2012, when he dominated the cobbled Classics and won the Flanders-Roubaix double. Boonen will have the usual powerhouse Omega Classics team to work with, including Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar. The challenges for Boonen come externally—this could be the first season since 2010 when both he and nemesis Fabian Cancellara are both healthy throughout the Classics season—and internally, with Stybar’s undeniable talent pushing for a larger leadership role.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing)
In 2013, Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same season for the second time in his career. A win in either event this year will tie him with Boonen (and others) for the most victories in those Classics. But his season hasn’t started well: A crash while training has Spartacus—by his own admission—a bit behind in his preparation, and he’s been forced to sit back and watch Boonen get his own season off to a winning start. That said, Cancellara has never been one to win races in February, and if all goes as planned, this April we’ll get to see another epic duel between two of the best cobble riders in the sport’s history. And his cobbled campaign, look for Cancellara to go for one more illustrious title: the World Hour Record. He’s already started scouting locations for a bid later this season.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma–Quick-Step)
For most riders, winning two stages at the Tour de France would be the achievement of a lifetime. But when you’re Mark Cavendish, who won 25 of them in the past six seasons, winning just a pair of stages in 2013 was a major disappointment. To bolster Cavendish’s lead-out in this year’s Tour, the team has brought in veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi and Cav’s former leadout man from his days at HTC-HighRoad, Mark Renshaw. If all goes as planned, Cavendish will win another four or five stages at the Tour (two will put him in second place on the all-time list), while hopefully contending for the best sprinter’s green jersey—a title won by Peter Sagan the last two years.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Believe it or not, Contador recently went more than a year between wins—Stage 4 of the Tour de San Luis on January 26, 2013, to Volta ao Algarve’s fourth stage on February 22, 2014. Last year, it appeared as if the only current rider to have won all three Grand Tours was on his way to another season of domination. What followed was a season of disappointment for the 31-year-old Spaniard. Not only did he fail to win the Tour de France, he failed to finish on the podium after imploding during the Tour’s final week. Contador seems to believe that he has learned from his mistakes and that he knows what it will take to beat defending Tour champ Chris Froome this July. He better be right, because Oleg Tinkoff, his new team owner, was not very impressed by his star’s performance last July. If it happens again, he might find himself looking for a new team.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
What to do after winning your first Tour de France? Froome will return to try to win another. Indeed, after winning his first Grand Boucle last season, Froome is taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to 2013. So with only a few tweaks to his early racing schedule, the Briton’s entire season will be built around defending his title in France this July. And barring any unexpected setbacks, there’s no reason to believe Froome won’t enter the race as the top favorite. While there’s only one individual time trial (his specialty), it’s long (54km) and comes on the Tour’s penultimate day. Even if he exits the Pyrenees trailing a rider like Vincenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador, Froome could regain minutes. If he’s successful, Froome will become the first rider since Alberto Contador Lance Armstrong Miguel Indurain to win back-to-back Tours de France.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
After finishing third in the 2012 Tour de France behind Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, Nibali adjusted his goals for 2013. He won the Tour of Italy and finished second behind American Chris Horner in the Tour of Spain (a race the Italian won in 2010). But for this season, Nibali has his sights set firmly on the Tour de France—a race in which most consider him the man most likely to deny Team Sky a third consecutive victory. The Tour has already done Nibali one favor by limiting the number of individual time trials to one. If the Sicilian’s aggressive style manages to put Froome in a deep hole early, Nibali just might join Contador as the only current rider with victories in all three Grand Tours.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Qunitana was the breakout star of the 2013 Tour de France, and his off-season consisted of quiet training at home in Colombia and waiting for the results of a push-pull decision by his team management and sponsors about whether he’d do the Tour or the Giro d’Italia. When the decision—the Giro—finally came, Quintana was diplomatic but clear about his disappointment in missing the Tour. But whatever the reason, it may be the smart choice. The less-aggressive Tour route, with a punishingly long, flat time trial the day before the finish, was not conducive to a repeat of the 24-year-old’s second-place finish last year. The Giro, with its multiple steep ascents and summit finishes, suits his abilities far better and could be the kind of developmental stepping stone that cements his confidence and abilities as a fearsome Grand Tours rider for the next decade.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
Even though he has finished three of the last four seasons as the top-ranked racer in the world, Spain’s Rodriguez is perhaps the sport’s most underappreciated rider. The reason? Well, his failure to win a Grand Tour might be partly to blame, as the climber tends to fall short in any major stage race with an individual time trial (which is pretty much all of them). But he has six top-five finishes in the past four seasons, including four podiums. This year, the Katusha rider will once again try and win one or both of the sport’s hilliest Grand Tours: the Tours of Italy and Spain. And while the mountainous courses will suit him, the competition will be fierce as other climbers, such as Colombian Nairo Quintana and American Chris Horner, will be tough to beat.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Arguably cycling’s most versatile talent, the Slovakian star can win sprints and Classics and even turn in a decent climb when necessary. With his impressive results, it’s easy to forget he’s just 24. But his relative inexperience has so far limited his Classics victories to last year’s Gent-Wevelgem. In races like Flanders and Milan-San Remo, where course knowledge and cumulative experience are key, older riders have gotten the better of him. But Sagan’s one year older and presumably another year wiser.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
Despite winning the 2012 Tour de France, Wiggins was nudged aside in 2013, leaving the door open for his younger and arguably more talented teammate, Chris Froome, to win the race for himself. Instead, Wiggins made a bid to win May’s Tour of Italy. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned: The Briton proved to be poorly suited to the terrain, the roads, and the aggressive tactics of key rivals. At 33 years old, Wiggins is approaching the tail end of his peak years and is perhaps realizing that his days as a Grand Tour contender might be over. So look for Wiggins to shift his focus in 2014, seeking perhaps a high finish in Paris-Roubaix and the overall victory in the Tour of California. And if all goes well this spring, don’t rule out a return to the Tour de France, this time in support of Froome.
Tim De Waele’s ‘Bradley Wiggins rode to ninth at Paris-Roubaix Sunday and said he would be back to try and win’ (2014)
Bradley Wiggins keen for another tilt as Niki Terpstra wins Paris-Roubaix
By William Fotheringham
Bradley Wiggins has always been particularly proud of the breadth of his cycling register, taking in as it does road, time trials and track events. After finishing the sport’s most demanding one-day race, the Paris-Roubaix Hell of the North, in ninth place and on the heels of the winner, Niki Terpstra, after a six-hour stint through dust clouds and past vast dunghills on the back lanes of northern France, he can now add another category to the long list: Classics contender.
For a cyclist who once specialised in the four-minute pursuit, added the dizzying Madison and then moved on to win the Tour de France, hanging tough with the best one-day specialists such as Tom Boonen, four times a winner in Roubaix, and Fabian Cancellara – a dominant victor of the Tour of Flanders the previous weekend – is a feat that cannot be overestimated, and it left Wiggins delighted, even if he was disappointed not to have won.
"There’s a tinge of disappointment. I really had legs, even in the final, I felt strong," Wiggins said. "I was pinching myself a little bit, I don’t mind admitting that." The 2012 Tour winner kept a watching brief, which is the best policy in such a long, demanding event, but had the legs to be part of the elite 11-man selection that formed with only nine kilometres remaining, after the final two of the 28 sections of cobbled lanes that make the Queen of the Classics so demanding.
As so often in the past, the gently rising lane to the exposed crossroads at Carrefour de l’Arbre and its twin section to Gruson were critical, as a lead quintet formed around Cancellara, joined a few kilometres after the cobbles were left by a sextet including Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, who were unable to match Terpstra when he broke clear six kilometres from the finish.
"I just felt outnumbered," Wiggins said. "And the run-in was quite fast in the last five kilometres. Terpstra played it perfectly with [his team-mates] Stybar and Boonen." Indeed, Terpstra was able to play the team card, with his Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team boasting three of the 11 lead group. The chase behind was fitful, partly because any potential pursuers knew they would drag the Dutchman’s team-mates into contention, but also because by this phase of Paris-Roubaix even those at the front have tipped over the edge into exhaustion.
Unfortunately for Wiggins, the only team-mate still on hand was Thomas and he was anything but fresh. He had left most of his energy on the road in an escape with Boonen which lasted over 40 kilometres of the final phase, and which ultimately proved fruitless. Terpstra rode into the velodrome finish with a 20 second advantage; behind him the sprint from the chasing group was won by the German sprinter John Degenkolb, with Thomas in seventh, and Wiggins ninth in the same time.
Thomas, once a winner of the junior Paris-Roubaix, is probably the best bet for a first British victory in the elite race at some future date but Wiggins has not ruled out a return either. This was, after all, the best ride by any cyclist with the Tour de France on his palmares in 22 years, since Greg LeMond – then in the twilight of his career – finished ninth in 1992.
Since Eddy Merckx’s heyday in the 1970s, barely any Tour de France champions have braved the Roubaix cobbles, because there is a strong chance of crashing and compromising the build-up to the Tour.
Bernard Hinault famously won in 1981, while the late Laurent Fignon managed third in 1988, but these are rarities which put Wiggins’s Sunday in Hell into perspective.