With Chris Froome crowned with a fourth Tour de France title, the talk about how to prevent him from winning a fifth has taken on a hopeless quality. Like the standard respond of a French government official, it feels “not possible.”
We’ve all read the assessments on Froome and they all reach the same conclusion: he’s the strongest all-around rider, the perfect mix of climber and time trialer, a man who’s improved his deciding skills, his tactical awareness and his confidence in attacking wherever and whenever he sees an opening. And oh yeah, he has, by far, the biggest budget team behind him, supported by at least four riders who could be Tour leaders on any other team.
In short, it seems difficult to prevent Froome from joining that uber select group of superstars who have won five Tour de Frances. In the end, the only argument against Froome is his age. At 32, the feeling is that he might already be on the descent in terms of his physical prowess. Then again, even that argument has a weak-point: Froome started his career late and therefore hasn’t put the same amount of mileage and strain on his body.
As critics far more intelligent and experienced that Twisted Spoke have noted, Froome has the ability to tweak and adjust his training to win on any race route and terrain. Throw out a climb-heavy Tour and he focuses on climbing and wins; draw up a Tour loaded with long time trials and he crushed his rivals against the clock.
This is where the brilliance of the Vuelta a Espana comes into play.
In recent years A.S.O. boss Christian Prudhomme has looked to both the Vuelta and Giro d’Italia for inspiration when it comes route planning for Le Tour. The shorter stages, the punchier climbs, the cobblestones, the evening stage in Paris — he bought over a number of ideas from Spain and Italy. And certainly, Prudhomme had his own fresh ideas, finding new climbs and bringing the mid-mountain stages to the forefront.
However, it’s the Vuelta that continues to show us a possible blueprint for defeating Froome. Just this week, it was announced that a number of stages in the Vuelta had significant last minute alterations. A full four stages were changed, with kilometers added and subtracted, an extra climb thrown in here, a climb taken out there and a time trial shorted. All this with a month to go before the grand Tour kicks off on August 19th in Nimes, France.
This is the genius of the Vuelta and what the route planners at the Tour de France should consider. Given that Froome can adjust his training for any route, perhaps it’s time to take a more extreme approach.
What if Froome doesn’t know the Tour de France route? What if it’s a complete, last minute surprise? What if the route the A.S.O. announces in their official presentation is a fake route? What if Froome, his Skybots and the team braintrust are training for the wrong kind of Tour?
This could be fun. Once again, the Tour de France should take inspiration from the Vuelta and mess with Froome’s mind. It’s the only way to make sure his potential fifth Tour victory doesn’t come easy.