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Chris Froome talks about the day he almost lost the Tour de France

Team Sky's four-time yellow jersey winner describes how he called rivals' bluff in the Pyrenees...

 

Chris Froome has revealed that he played a high-risk game of brinksmanship on a Pyrenean stage of the Tour de France when he hit the wall on the climb to Peyragudes on an afternoon that he says could have been “a catastrophe” for his hopes of a fourth victory in the race.

Froome’s Team Sky colleagues were in their familiar position at the front of the peloton as the race headed up the Col de Peyresourde, but as Michal Kwiatkowski finished his turn around 7 kilometres from the finish, Froome suddenly ran out of energy.

By the end of the stage he would lose the yellow jersey to Astana’s Fabio Aru, with AG2R-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet winning on a day when the closing few hundred metres were played out on a 20 per cent ramp.

But he has now revealed in an interview with Sunday Times sports writer David Walsh that the bonk he hit that afternoon could have cost him the overall victory.

“It was a disappointment that could so easily have been a catastrophe,” he said of the 12th stage of the race from Pau.

Following the stage, Froome admitted that he “just didn’t have the legs on the final kick,” but he has now revealed just how tough the day was, and how he employed a bluffing strategy any top poker player would have been proud of to conceal his weakness from his rivals.

Recalling how his Team Sky colleagues paced him towards the final climb, he said: “I’d feel the extra ache and get on the radio to encourage them, ‘You’re doing a great job. This lead group is getting a lot smaller. Keep it going.’ They were doing a lot of damage and I felt fine.”

But, with 4 kilometres remaining of the climb of the Peyresourde, after which there were still 3 kilometres to the finish, he ran out of energy.

Froome said: “It just felt like a switch had been flicked. From feeling good, I was suddenly empty. I felt lightheaded and weak, really weak in the legs. Every pedal stroke hurt.”

By now, it was Mikel Nieve who was setting the pace in the group, and Froome said he will “always remember the look” the Basque rider gave him when he asked him to ease off, which he described as “half kind of, ‘Did you just say slow down?’ and half fear.

“We’d pushed it so hard all day and then for me to ask them to slow down was quite a shock to Nieve. Once you run out of fuel there’s nothing you can do to bring yourself back.”

He continued: “I tried to make it look like I was OK when in fact the truth is that I was really terrible on the last kilometres of the Peyresourde.

“If you look at the footage you will see I was out of the saddle quite a bit. I was looking into the faces of each of my rivals, trying to read them.

“They were thinking, ‘Chris is trying to read me because he wants to attack, he’s ready to go’.

“By the time we get to the last kilometre of the Peyresourde I pulled off Mikel Landa’s wheel, went to the side, looked back, giving the impression that I had lots of energy.

“If anyone had attacked I wouldn’t have tried to go after them, just gone into time trial mode to get to the finish as efficiently as possible.”

His experience that afternoon gives an insight into the demands of a Grand Tour, because he believes the problem wasn’t due to anything that happened on the stage in question, but rather during the preceding days – ones that might be assumed as being routine for the overall contenders.

“There was no question in my mind about what happened. The legs felt good, the power was there but I had a fuelling problem. My mistake wasn’t on that day but in the build-up to it.

“We’d done two flat stages before Peyragudes and I’d eaten less than I should have. That had a knock-on effect even though on the mountain day itself I ate plenty.

“You learn lessons in every Tour and that was an important one for me. From Peyragudes to Paris I didn’t stop eating and ended weighing almost 1.5kg more than I’d been at the start of the race.”

He also praised the Polish former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski for his efforts during the Tour.

“Michal is such a versatile rider, able to win one-day classics, one-week stage races and become world champion at 24,” he said.

“His attitude is incredible, on and off the bike he is a pleasure to be around.

“If we’re talking about people who have made sacrifices to put me and keep me in the Yellow Jersey he would have to be the number one.

“If he’d been in any other team, he would have been going for the podium and if not that, a handful of stage victories.”

Froome is now heading to the Alps for a two-week training camp ahead of the Vuelta a Espana, a race in which he has been runner-up on three occasions.

He is seeking to be just the third man in history to win the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same season, and the first since the Spanish Grand Tour moved from its former slot in the springtime.

“Previous years, the Vuelta felt like an afterthought,” he added.

“This year we’ve thought about it a lot. We’re going there with a sense of mission and I just want to have a real shot at it.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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9 comments

Avatar
RonDe | 6 years ago
1 like

Cycling these days is a game where people only attack in the last kilometers anyway. Contador is proof of this not proof against it as he is now no longer a GC threat in 3 week tours. So he can afford to shoot for the moon where others may only ruin their chances by doing so. This mentality protects riders in trouble as Froome was here. Competitors, often in weaker teams and thus alone, can't afford to hit out because its all or nothing, with nothing more likely when others have team mates still to use up.

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds | 6 years ago
4 likes

The 'aura' of sky invincibility and their strength AND unity as a team helped pull this off. I commented at the time (on the guardian's cycling section) that Froome had bluffed his rivals about how well he was going and they failed to attack him earlier.
HOWEVER, even revealing this does him/sky no harm.
This could be used to their team sky) advantage, x rider thinks ah right Froome isn't all that, tries further out solo or possibly set the pace with one or two riders to distance Froome. Great, sky just follows and lets other teams do the work out front or the solo rider exposing themselves too early only to be caught because Froome ISN'T having a bad day that day.
This is the beauty of it, it fucks with your oponents minds, is he having a bad day or not, do I go early/earlier to try to break them (& risk blowing myself) or sit in and go right near the end and hope to pinch a few seconds.
There's more to sport than just having the legs/talent/skill.

Avatar
Leviathan | 6 years ago
0 likes

Can someone mock up a 'Mom's Spaghetti' jersey?

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Grahamd | 6 years ago
0 likes

Maybe he should have refueled when Bardet did?

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rjfrussell | 6 years ago
0 likes

Is the article itself a bluff?  I'd be amazed if Froome gave the game away in an interview, before he retires.  Or a double bluff-  the next time he looks in their faces, they think, "Is he shot?", and then he nails them?

 

Avatar
dafyddp replied to rjfrussell | 6 years ago
1 like
rjfrussell wrote:

Is the article itself a bluff?  I'd be amazed if Froome gave the game away in an interview, before he retires.  Or a double bluff-  the next time he looks in their faces, they think, "Is he shot?", and then he nails them?

i though the same, but given the interviewer I wondered whether it was a crude PR attempt on the part of Sky (the inference being only clean riders bonk).

Avatar
timtak replied to dafyddp | 6 years ago
0 likes
dafyddp wrote:

i though the same, but given the interviewer I wondered whether it was a crude PR attempt on the part of Sky (the inference being only clean riders bonk).

In what way did the interviewer influence your wondering?

I see that the only mention of Simon MacMichael on the Sky wikipedia page is to an article where Brailsford defends Sky's use of Geert Linders, a doctor subsequently banned for doping.

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davel replied to timtak | 6 years ago
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timtak wrote:
dafyddp wrote:

i though the same, but given the interviewer I wondered whether it was a crude PR attempt on the part of Sky (the inference being only clean riders bonk).

In what way did the interviewer influence your wondering?

I see that the only mention of Simon MacMichael on the Sky wikipedia page is to an article where Brailsford defends Sky's use of Geert Linders, a doctor subsequently banned for doping.

The interviewer is David Walsh.

HTH.

Avatar
captain_slog | 6 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

four-time yellow jersey winner ... called rivals' bluff

The standfirst gets it backwards: as the article makes clear, the bluff was Froome's and it was his rivals who failed to call it.

Bardet in particular must be kicking himself that he didn't attack earlier. But then maybe he was as exhausted as Froome at that point.

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