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ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France (VN) — Chris Froome has displayed two distinct sides in this Tour de France.
There’s the man who’s quoted and probed by fans and journalists and answers the attacks quietly. And there’s the man who shows zero mercy on the road, shredding his enemies with a spin of his cranks, answering attacks with autocratic authority.
Truly, Sky’s leader is a soft-spoken menace. Over three weeks here in the heat and rain of France, and through questions leveled at his competitive integrity, Froome has passed every test in entirely different ways. He came under pressure on the road and before the microphones. He’s proven both pacifist and aggressor.
But whatever anyone thinks, there is no doubt here in France and throughout the cycling world that he is the new king, the absolute pinnacle of general-classification talent. In the traditional winner’s press conference, Froome was gracious to both his rivals and a press corps that was at times aggressive.
“This is an amazing feeling. Absolutely amazing. Everybody keeps on telling me this is life-changing, but I don’t want much to change,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the challenges this year, month by month, getting close to the Tour … it’s really been a fun challenge, and I’ve enjoyed every part of it.”
Froome has stumped those seeking to find out who he is, though to be fair, half the questions allotted have been about doping and the others about racing. On Saturday, he said he expected to be questioned hard in light of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Lance Armstrong dossier, but that it was simply another hurdle to overcome.
“It’s definitely been a challenge. It’s understandable, 100 percent understandable, given where the sport has come from,” Froome said. “I think whoever was going to be wearing the yellow jersey was going to come under the same amount of scrutiny, the same amount of criticism … and I accept that. I completely understand. I’m also one of those guys who’ve been let down by the sport.
“I just hope that by winning this year’s Tour I can help try and change that. I know it’s going to take a lot more time. But we’re willing to do everything it takes to show people that the sport has turned around.”
We know Froome on the road — vicious, calculating, immensely talented — and we know that with the media he’s mild-mannered and reserved.
Beyond that, much isn’t really known about what makes Froome tick, at least by the public. Bike racing appears equal parts science and emotion for Froome, whose furious cadence often finds him staring straight down at his power meter, his head slightly tilted toward one side.
“So much of it is in the heat of the moment. You can make as many plans as you want before the race about what you’re going to do in the final kilometers, but what it actually comes down to is the feelings you have at that point in the race,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s having to try to hold back the urge to attack. Sometimes it’s trying to find that extra little bit to close an attack … so much of it is just in that heat of the moment and learning how to read the race at that point.”
One man knows Froome well — Sky’s principal, Dave Brailsford — and he said his rider is to be commended for his handling of a difficult Tour, both on the road and in the scrums.
“He’s got a very, very interesting past,” said Brailsford. “He’s not your average guy, your average upbringing. He’s very, very polite. He’s one of the best-mannered people you will ever meet in your life. And he’s funny. And all in all, he’s been very, very calm through this Tour.
“His mental resilience is something to admire. Quite frankly … the way he’s dealt with everything at this Tour has been remarkable. He deserves a lot of respect.”
He was given it by his rivals. From the onset in Corsica, this was Froome’s Tour to lose. The Kenya-born Brit won the Dauphine, Romandie, the Tour of Oman, and Critérium International. He had the best domestique in the peloton in Richie Porte, and was the lone driver of the Sky grand-tour machine with last year’s champion Bradley Wiggins forgoing a title defense. Froome made his living in the mountains and the time trials, taking time on his rivals at nearly every decisive moment in the race, save one day when he lost time to Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) in the crosswinds.
Froome is something of a contrast to Wiggins, who ran a bit hotter and offered up juicy sound bites. Brailsford said it wasn’t fair to compare the two.
“Bradley Wiggins is Bradley Wiggins, and he’s Sir Bradley Wiggins for a good reason,” Brailsford said. “He’s got a character and a personality that makes him very, very special.
“And Chris Froome is Chris Froome, and he’s got a character and personality that makes him very, very special as well. There’s no need to compare. And we should embrace both of them, and see absolutely how lucky we are to have the both of them and their personalities and everything they bring.”
Well, Sky is lucky, anyway. Everyone else will have to figure out a way to break the code, which has proven impossible over the past two Tours. And while Froome says he’s only thinking “about here and now,” he is only 28 years old — which means his best may be yet to come, and the 100th Tour could mark the start of a very long reign for the new king.
“If you think of it like that, I think most cyclists come into their prime in their early 30s … I’d love to come back and contend for the TDF as long as I can, and as long as I have the motivation,” Froome said.