This time last year it was the truculent Wiggins in first with Mick Rogers in second, but a quick glance down the final GC tells you the tale of 2012: dominance by Sky in stage races. Then, alongside Wiggo and Rogers, Froome was in 4th and Porte in 9th.
What’s changed this year? Not much, just the faces – certainly not the allegations from a sizeable chunk of the forum fanatics. This year we had Froome in first with Porte in 2nd but no other Sky rider in the top ten, yet with Geraint Thomas in 15th and Uran Uran rested, there is no doubt that the men in black are the strongest team in world cycling right now.
And the allegations? If you believe the web then Sky have found something no one else can get their hands on, hence Froome’s rather meteoric rise through the sport and the alleged ‘ease’ with which he climbs. Any weight to the rumors? I have no idea, but if teams aren’t going to start posting their riders’ blood values online – accepting a disregard for any ‘secrets’ they may be letting their rivals in on – then this will rumble on forever.
The truth is plain and spelt out time and again to anyone with their eyes open – the fan cannot rely on the authorities to stamp out the disease that has infected the sport and therefore has every right to be suspicious. And, in the age of social media, unease spreads like wildfire. Some teams and a big chunk of the authorities seem to want to use the ‘ignore it and it will go away’ method to the public’s suspicions, but that will not work – they tried that with the doping problem in the first place and look where that got us.
One sense in which Froome was truly tested here was his nerve (if not his legs), and it held up. The Wiggo documentary ‘A Year In Yellow’ didn’t paint the Kenyan-born Brit in a particularly positive light but if there was any suspicion of a lingering delicateness to Froome, he has gone to great lengths to dispel that with his performances this year.
Much like Contador he is physically slight but, like the Spaniard, he is clinical when on form. Yesterday though his desire to reward his Australian teammate with a stage win cost Sky the stage victory, for almost certainly the race leader could have caught the man who in fact did win, the Italian De Marchi (fine ride by him by the way).
De Marchi on his way to a fine win in Stage 8.
Perhaps he was wary of the criticism that would surely have come had he ‘left’ Porte and taken Di Marchi’s scalp. With the distance between fan and rider greatly reduced now thanks in large part to the social media, you never know how much the criticism affects the man.
Interestingly, there are some similarities to Bernard Hinault’s La Vie Claire team in Sky. People are quick to look to the USPS team when talking about the British outfit but in the French team there was a similar wealth of GC talent, moreso than with Armstrong’s crew. In the top ten for example of the 1986 Tour de France, Lemond took pole, Hinault second, Andy Hampsten 4th and Niki Rittman 7th, a remarkable achievement.
Had Wiggo not gone all wobbly at the Giro, we could have had a similar situation with him, Froome, Porte and Uran in the top ten. And if they’d kept Michael Rogers, well, they’d have had even more firepower at their disposal.
Dave Brailsofrd’s scientific approach to training is also more akin to that of the Swiss Paul Kochli’s, who was joint DS at La Vie Claire with Maurice La Guillox and who is largely credited for the form of his charges back in the mid 80s. And for the final and most obvious connection, which any fan worth his or her salt will know about, there was the big story of that ’86 Tour, when Hinault threw the kitchen sink at his teammate Lemond to try to win a record 6th Tour, of which the Wiggo/Froome dynamic is reminiscent – a real shame we will be denied the chance to see that one played out this July, might have been one for the ages.
Two other rides that really stood out were those of Rohan Denis and Jakob Fugslang. In Fugslang’s case it was something of a vindication for him after a frustrating time under Bruyneel, and for Denis it was the signal that there is a new kid on the block. 10th on the stage yesterday and 8th on the GC, a fine result for the young man.
And finally, Contador. He said he is now at 75% of his form and suffering allergies, so if he does find another 25% – a massive chunk of form – he will be flying in July. And realistically, if he isn’t, who will challenge Froome?
If no one steps up, this could be nothing short of a procession.
Lee Rodgers leads a double life as a pro racer on the UCI race circuit with the Lapierre Asia Cycling Team, competing in the UCI Asia Tour as well as some European events and the likes of the Tour of Qatar and Oman, rubbing shoulders with the best the WorldTour has to offer, whilst keeping up a day job as a cycling journalist. The highlight of his cycling career so far was winning the Singapore National Champs – road race and ITT – as well as claiming the Green Jersey at the 2.1 Tour de Taiwan in 2012, and naturally, writing for PEZ. His writing appears in several magazines and websites and you can catch up with him regularly on his blog, http://crankpunk.com/