Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

Why Chris Froome should not be selected for the Tour de France

William Fotheringham
20 Jul 2020

History, politics and questions over Chris Froome's recovery all raise doubts over whether Team Ineos would be wise to select him

William Fotheringham has written about every Tour de France since 1990 and here he explains why he would not select four-time Tour champion Chris Froome for this year's race

It is the question that will come up again and again until the third week of August, when Team Ineos will confirm their eight riders for the rescheduled Tour de France: will their line-up include Chris Froome?

The four-time winner is looking to travel to Nice to begin an attempt to join Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil (and depending how you see these things, Lance Armstrong) as a member of the elite club who have won the Tour five times.

It should be a no-brainer, given Froome’s status. The 35-year-old has the best Grand Tour record of any rider racing today, by far, and his run of four Tours, two Vueltas and a Giro stands comparison with the achievements, in three-week stage races at least, of Merckx and the others.

If Froome takes to the start line in Nice, his presence will be a huge asset for the Tour itself, and his attempt to win the race five times will be a huge publicity boost for Team Ineos.

Even taking all that into account, however, I wouldn’t select him if I were his team manager and I wanted to win the Tour. I would add another proviso here, which is, 'as long as I wasn’t over-concerned about making friends, and sentiment was not a factor'.

But the record of Sir Dave Brailsford over the years suggests that he didn’t get where he is today without ruffling a few feathers and similarly he has never showed compunction about sidelining those who get in the way of winning.

The picture is complicated by three things. Firstly, it’s uncertain whether Froome will return to his former level after the horrendous crash of 2019 that left him with many broken bones. Merely to race again after such a setback is an amazing feat, but no one will know quite how complete his recovery is until he is tested in the crucible of a Grand Tour.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that he gets back to his previous level.

In the last two years, Team Ineos have won the Tour with two other riders, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, both of whom have legitimate ambitions again for this year. For Thomas in particular, time is running out to win a second Tour, given that he is 34.

Thirdly, Froome is leaving Ineos at the end of the season for Israel Start-Up Nation. This is the most tricky element in the mix: if push came to shove, and Froome were to start the Tour and be given team leadership, both Thomas and Bernal could reasonably ask: why should I help a guy who won't be riding with us as of 1st January?

It’s rare for any team to start a Grand Tour with three leaders, and pretty much unknown for any team to put three former winners on the start line.

But the past experience of dual leaders in the Tour makes the tensions plain, from Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond in the Tour in 1985 and 1986, Stephen Roche and Roberto Visentini in the 1987 Giro, to Froome and Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour.

Thomas made it clear in his autobiography that even when Froome and he shared leadership apparently successfully in 2018, there were undercurrents around who was claiming certain privileges.

The problem is simply this: if you put two leaders in the Tour, there is constant questioning of who is the Nº1. There is constant scrutiny of every move – if one leader loses 2 seconds due to a split in the bunch at a stage finish, that is analysed until the cows come home – and that questioning is bound to be echoed by the riders themselves, as Thomas confirmed in his account of the 2018 race.

For most teams, as long as the background is stable, the questions around having two leaders are countered by the obvious tactical gain: having two possible winners at the front of the race is better than having one, as long as they are happy to work together.

But with three really strong leaders the chances of tactical confusion – or a lack of communication that causes tensions – are far, far greater. It’s the kind of conundrum that used to haunt team managers in the far-off days of national teams in the Tour.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Froome is moving to a team in which he will have a huge amount of heft, which has a lot of money, and which will be hiring in the near future to build a Tour team around him. In that context, there will be plenty of riders from teams other than Ineos who may be willing to do him favours on the road.

The quid pro quo when you have two possible winners in the same team is that the one who loses out will be promised a chance some other time, and it’s made clear that when that happens, the previous winner will help him out. But if you have three possible winners, one of whom isn’t going to be around to help out in future, it’s not that simple.

Bernal, Thomas and Froome all worked well together in the 2018 Tour because Froome was coming off the back off three Grand Tour wins, Bernal was promised leadership in the future and Thomas undertook to help him in the future. With Froome leaving for 2021, the only reason they would have for assisting him in winning a fifth Tour is sentiment or money.

For the image of the Tour, you want Froome on the start line in Nice. From a media angle, the prospect of three weeks of three-way intrigue among Team Ineos is a delightful one; it would be a soap opera that would keep giving all the way to Paris.

For Chris Froome, the benefits are obvious. It would be a great sentimental end to his time with Brailsford and company. But for a team that is purely focussed on winning the Tour, while two can be company, three is definitely a crowd.

William Fotheringham has written about every Tour de France since 1990, mainly for the Guardian and Observer. His latest book is The Greatest – The Times and Life of Beryl Burton, which is available here:

williamfotheringham.com/the-greatest-the-times-and-life-of-beryl-burton