Chris Froome is not just leading the Tour de France; he’s dominating it in a way we haven’t seen in years. His Sky team is by far the strongest in the three-week race, and it has protected its leader perfectly from the start.
Sky has among the largest budgets in cycling — about 40 million euros — and it has bought up several of the best riders in the pro peloton to deliver Froome to Paris in yellow. Froome’s teammates are so good that several of them could easily be protected leaders on other teams.
Froome, a Kenyan-born Briton, has worn the leader’s yellow jersey for eight days straight, and with a week to go it doesn’t look like anyone or any team is going to stop him from taking his third Tour title.
He leads Dutchman Bauke Mollema of the Trek-Segafredo team by 1 minute and 47 seconds. And the much-hyped rivalry with star climber Colombian Nairo Quintana has failed to materialise, at least so far.
While there is plenty of racing still to go — and the final week of the Tour has several tough mountain stages — if Froome and his Sky team keep riding the way they have, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to touch Froome.
Froome is so strong that at times he looks bored. Riders are either afraid to attack him or can’t.
At one point on Sunday’s tough mountain stage he taunted his rivals with a fake attack.
It was a fascinating moment of insight in part because Froome has never shown such bravado.
“It was just to see who had the legs,” Froome said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “I wanted to see exactly what the state of play was, to see what reaction I’d get, who would be following me, who might be making a move over the top.”
“Of course, it must be quite demoralising,” added Froome, with a mix of glee and wonder, VeloNews reported. “For other people to have to think of attacking knowing that this calibre of riders are going to be chasing and riding behind at a tempo that will neutralise their attacks.”
Third-place rider Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) spoke about what it’s like to race against Sky: “Anyone who is attacking they just bring them back.”
The Houston Chronicle said Froome’s “cheeky move spoke volumes about his current supremacy.”
But Froome’s taunting of his rivals is unprecedented for him. The normally quiet, polite, and business-like Briton has not shown such brass before. In fact, unlike during his first two Tour wins, Froome 2.0 is not holding back this Tour, attacking when least expected and even running without his bike when necessary.
Froome’s taunt this weekend was reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s jeering of German Jan Ullrich in the 2001 Tour.
In what has now become known simply as “The Look,” Armstrong was leading Ullrich up the iconic Alpe d’Huez. At one point Armstrong turned around and stared at Ullrich before attacking the German and dropping him.
As for Froome, he’s a fierce competitor. In his autobiography he revealed his intense focus when it comes to preparing for races like the Tour:
I think a lot about my competitors when I’m training. I think about how they might be riding, and wonder if they are out with their teammates chatting for five hours. Especially if I’m out on my own that day, doing more focused efforts. I’m not just dawdling along. I like to think I’m doing more than the other guys, even when I don’t know if this is the case or not.
With any luck, this final week of the Tour will see Froome’s rivals coming out and attacking in a real way.
You can watch the full clip of Froome’s fake attack below:
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