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Every rider who won four yellow jerseys went on to win a fifth Tour de France.
Could Chris Froome be the first one to stay stuck at four?
It’s an interesting question as Froome looks at missing the Tour de France for the second year in a row.
Froome’s last Tour de France victory came in 2017. The following year, he took the risk of targeting the Giro d’Italia, which he won in thrilling fashion in a final-week, long-distance attack over the Colle delle Finestre. That Giro-Tour effort seemed to cost him, however, and he had to settle for third in Paris that July behind teammate Geraint Thomas and runner-up Tom Dumoulin.
Froome was still the big favorite leading into the 2019 Tour before he crashed during a warm-up ride ahead of a time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June that year. The crash left his body broken into pieces. Ever determined, Froome battled back from career-threatening injuries to return to racing.
By any measure, Froome has delivered a remarkable comeback, but will he ever win another Tour?
What is certain is that he won’t be winning the Tour this year.
Last week, Dave Brailsford dropped the bombshell to leave Froome off Ineos’s Tour de France squad. Instead of racing to join the “five-win club,” Froome will take on the Vuelta a España.
Ever the pragmatist, Froome also admitted last week that he wasn’t physically yet up to the task of winning the Tour this summer. It was a remarkable but unsurprising admission from one of the most strong-willed riders in the peloton.
So Froome now needs to look ahead to 2021.
His move to Israel Start-Up Nation comes loaded with question marks, yet possibility.
If Froome does indeed want to win a fifth yellow jersey, his chances would have been greatly diminished if he had decided to stay with Team Ineos beyond this season. Insiders say it was money, the length of a contract, and the question of leadership that ultimately led Froome out the Ineos door.
A rider like Froome isn’t going to evolve into a super-domestique, especially when he is convinced he can win more grand tours. With Egan Bernal and a host of other young talent coming up, there simply wasn’t enough room inside the Ineos bus for Froome and his Tour dreams.
So Froome joins Israel Start-Up Nation on a multi-year deal that will put him back on familiar ground of being the center of the team’s GC ambitions.
Those who think Froome might be washed up could be in for a surprise.
To sign his contract, trainers and coaches at Israel Start-Up Nation had full access to Froome’s power numbers. While Froome wasn’t asked to do a full test to join the team, he did share his training and racing data. Staffers at the Israeli team came away convinced that Froome is fully recovered from his Dauphiné crash based on the power numbers he’s been producing.
It was obvious at the 2020 Dauphiné that Froome was not yet at the sharp end of the peloton, but insiders say that his poor showing there was more from a lack of racing than his ability to pump out the watts.
Froome’s new team has already started to recruit some heavy hitters to help him in 2021, including the likes of Daryl Impey and Michael Woods. It’s likely the team will sign a few more marquee helpers in order to give Froome the support he needs for a legitimate Tour assault next year.
Winning the Tour is more than a physical, it’s also a deep psychological battle. Froome has shown time and again that he is perhaps the most strong-willed and determined rider in the bunch. If he has the physical wherewithal to challenge for the Tour, his mental strength won’t be lacking.
In fact, Israel Start-Up Nation owner Sylvan Adams isn’t stopping at a fifth Tour. Adams believes Froome still has the legs to match Eddy Merckx’s all-time grand tour record of 11 titles.
That might be an even bigger stretch, but Froome already counts with seven grand tours on his palmarès, by far the most of any active rider. With four Tours, one Giro, and two Vuelta titles, Froome is four behind Merckx.
Before matching any records, however, what Froome needs now more than anything is to put a grand tour in his legs. His chance of winning the Tour in 2021 could well depend if the Vuelta a España is contested this fall. Froome hasn’t finished a grand tour since the 2018 Tour de France, so if the Vuelta is somehow canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic or if Froome cannot race due to a crash or illness, he’d be going into the 2021 season without having finished a grand tour in nearly three years.
And time is working also against Froome. He will be 36 by the start of the 2021 Tour, and if he won, it would make him the oldest Tour de France winner in the modern era. Cadel Evans was 34 when he won the 2011 Tour. Of course, there’s always inspiration from Chris Horner, who became the oldest grand-tour winner in history when he won the 2013 Vuelta at 41.
There is no doubt that Froome has several challenges in front of him. First, he has to get his body back into shape to face down the likes of Bernal, and then build a team around him that can support him against rivals such as Ineos and Jumbo-Visma.
Everyone close to Froome will tell you if anyone can do it, he can. His determination, ability to suffer, and focus are unmatched in the peloton.
The members of the five-win club are among cycling’s most venerated stage racers. Jacques Anquetil, Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain — they all their hiccups and challenges, but eventually, when they won their fourth, the fifth came.
There is one rider who won a sixth and a seventh yellow jersey, but those are no longer counted on the official results sheet.
If things don’t go perfectly for Froome, however, he might end up being in a club all by himself.
Of course, with four yellow jerseys required for entry, just about any pro cyclist in the peloton would be happy to be in that exclusive company.