Chris Froome is a man driven to secure his legacy as one of the Tour de France greats and join the select club of five-time winners.
In May, he’ll be 35 years old and time is quickly running out. With a global pandemic shutting down or postponing the Spring classics and Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France may now also be in jeopardy. The coronavirus might be an adversary he can’t vanquish.
Two years ago in the Tour, it was Sky teammate Geraint Thomas who prevented Froome from taking his fifth title and earning the right to be mentioned along with Jacques Anqutetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Thomas was stronger and Froome was not quite at 100% after his astounding come-from-behind win in the Giro.
A year later, Froome saw his Tour chances destroyed again in a horrific 40 mph crash while doing a recon of the time trial route in the Criterium du Dauphine. He fractured at femur, elbow and ribs and shattered his hopes of achieving legend-status.
Now here we are in 2020 in a full-blown pandemic, with most of the major European countries on full-lockdown, including La Belle France. Froome was already facing difficult odds in his physical rehabilitation and return to racing. He would also have to contend with two recent Tour winners within his own squad in Thomas and Bernal. Yet, his greatest obstacle is a virus that shows no signs of slowing down.
Pro riders are not even allowed to train in Italy, France and Spain. The curve isn’t close to flat, with the number of cases still growing an at exponential rate. Yet, against this rather apocalyptic landscape, a new story in Le Parisien suggests that Tour organizer ASO is still considering running the race on schedule in a modified form that’s safer for riders and fans.
In a statement that would surprise any expert in infectious diseases, France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said she wants the Tour to go forward. “We are in contact with ASO,” Maracineanu told France Inter radio. “It is of paramount importance that these events can be held.”
It’s an odd statement considering the restrictive lock-down in France and the speech to the nation just given by French president Macron. He repeatedly described the coronavirus as a war that must be won at all costs and no matter what the consequences. If you’re Chris Froome, that doesn’t sound like a green light for Le Tour.
The International Olympic Committee just postponed the Summer Games in Japan until 2021. Should the Tour be cancelled or even shifted to a later date, Froome’s hope of five wins will become even more difficult and compromised.
As a number of cycling journalists have noted, the oldest Tour winner was Firmin Lambot all the way back in 1922. He was 36 and racing in a very different time. Next year Froome will be 36 and the clock is definitely not on his side. Five victories would be a miracle in quite a number of ways.