Tag Archives: ChrisFroome

When Froome comes to Melbourne…

Chris Froome is coming to Melbourne to race at the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

This is massive news for the race, and for the profile of cycling in the Australian media. It’s a promoter’s dream, the reigning Tour de France champion, in a humble Victorian stage race!

The Jayco Herald-Sun Tour is the oldest, but least prestigious (according to the UCI) of the three big races in Australian cycling’s summer.

It starts on February 3rd, just a couple of days after the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 31) which itself follows the Tour Down Under (January 19-24).

Froome’s Team Sky will be racing both the Tour Down Under and the Cadel race but the the Tour champ will sit them out, saving himself until the last.

But why would the Tour de France champion travel halfway across the world to roll around with a bunch of Continental teams, in a (relatively) lowly race?

Don’t get me wrong, the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour (or just the Sun Tour, if you’ve been around a while) is an important race on the Australian cycling calendar, and it has a great history going all the way back to 1952.

2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue
2015 winner Cameron Meyer (OGE) in the Prologue

History aside, in the present day it’s a UCI 2.1 race plonked at the very beginning of the UCI road season. A useful shop window for up-and-coming local riders like Nathan Haas or Calvin Watson, whose victories in 2011 and 2013 provided a springboard into the World Tour. An ideal chance for local riders to test themselves against a smattering of internationals.

But the Tour de France champion? Surely he’s above all this? Wouldn’t the Tour Down Under be a better race?

Not necessarily. Froome generally likes to show good early-season form at the Tour of Oman, which he has won twice, and which comes just two weeks after the Sun Tour, but four weeks after the Tour Down Under. Four weeks’ gap is too big to provide a proper tune-up for Oman.

The Tour Down Under also brings an undeniably higher intensity than the Sun Tour, and more international scrutiny. Far better to ease back into racing, away from the attention of the global cycling press (most of whom will be in the Middle East covering the Dubai Tour in the first week of February).

The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.
The prologue, which starts in Federation Square and finishes at Southbank, returns in 2016.

The race route for the Sun Tour will present enough challenges, particularly Stages 1 and 2 which both roll through the beautiful hills around Warburton (the area will be very familiar to any Melburnian rider worth their salt); and Stage 4 with its three climbs of Arthur’s Seat. And yet the stages are short, by World Tour standards.

The warm weather will be a much better preparation than training in Europe, the scenery and food will be a highlight, and with Team Sky likely to spend half the year at altitude in the bored seclusion of Tenerife, I’m sure he’s in no rush to go there.

Team Sky will have no Australian riders on its squad for the first time in its history, but a visit from Froome will more than satisfy the local branches of the team’s sponsors. Jaguar dealers around the country will already be shaving down in preparation.

Chuck in a couple of weeks seeing the sights, training in the hills around Adelaide, perhaps a trip to the Victorian Alps for a look at our best climbs, and it’s easy to see how a visit to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour strikes a perfect balance between training camp, easing into early-season racing, and pleasing the team’s backers and fans.

The bigger picture is that cycling, our humble little sport, now has a fighting chance of holding its own in the nation’s sports bulletins and newspapers for a solid three-week block at the height of summer.

This is great news for sponsors, TV broadcasters, team owners, racers and even your average recreational rider who just wishes more people understood.

It means casual fans who watch the Tour but not much else will come down after work in Melbourne’s CBD to watch the prologue, see one of their heroes up close, and see some great bike racing in person. They might even make the trip down to Arthur’s Seat for the finale, to see him climbing and soak up the atmosphere with the local cognoscenti.

With Team Sky racing, it won't be a toss-up between Aussie cycling's two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.
With Team Sky racing, it won’t be a toss-up between Aussie cycling’s two biggest teams, Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac.

It means that every NRS rider with ambitions of making the leap to the pro peloton will be licking his lips at the prospect. If Froome sometimes rides like a man fighting an octopus, wouldn’t you love a chance to be the octopus?

It’s fantastic news all round. The race director, John Trevorrow, must be pinching himself.

Should we expect Froome to arrive in top form and blow everyone away? I wouldn’t count on it, he’s obviously got much bigger octopuses to fight, but just having such a global superstar on the start list is one of the best things ever to happen to the Jayco Herald-Sun Tour.

Don’t miss it.

Advertisements

Who’s afraid of Christopher Froome?

After his overall win in the Tour of Oman, dancing away from his rivals on the slopes of Green Mountain, it’s clear that Chris Froome isn’t suffering any hangovers from his massive 2013 campaign.

Everyone should be afraid.

A burst of high-cadence acceleration was all it took to blow away Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and former Team Sky lieutenant Rigoberto Uran (OPQS).

As for Vincenzo Nibali, a man who many consider Froome’s most serious rival for the Tour de France, he was never truly in the hunt. With his wife at home about to give birth to their first child, it’s understandable if Nibali’s head wasn’t fully in the game in Oman.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Robert Gesink (Belkin), and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) were all thereabouts, but had no answer to Froome’s attack.

Winning the Tour of Oman is an early psychological blow

After stage five, Froome gave his perspective on his performance to Cycling Central:

“From a personal perspective I wanted to see where I was, where my condition was, and I think today I got the answer I wanted.

Winning here is always more psychological than anything else. At this point it’s still too early to say anything in terms of build-up to the Tour de France, but it’s definitely good to have it in there.”

As he says, it’s far too early to draw too many conclusions about the form of other riders, but what the Tour of Oman shows is that Froome definitely hasn’t spent his winter wining and dining at gala dinners.

It shows that Froome still has the hunger that seemed to desert Sir Bradley Wiggins after his own magical 2012 season (remember a clearly overweight Wiggins struggling to find form and condition leading into last year’s Giro).

Smashing his rivals so early in the season is such a psychological victory because everyone can see that, barring accident or injury, there will be no slackening off from the man who dominated every stage race he entered last year.

The effects of this can be seen already in the list of GC riders shifting their sights to the Giro d’Italia. It’s almost an admission that Froome can’t be beaten in the Tour this year, so let’s aim for the next biggest prize.

It’s a coup for the Italian race, which begins in Ireland on May 9th.You could even argue that the list of GC contenders for the Giro looks better than for the Tour.

In fact I will.

The best GC riders, Froome excepted, are not riding the Tour de France this year.

Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, and Froome’s teammate Richie Porte are all aiming squarely for the Giro. All except Uran targeted the Tour in 2013.

That’s some serious talent on display in May.

In July, Froome’s main rivals will be Nibali, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Tejay van Garderen, Robert Gesink, and Alejandro Valverde.

Nibali is one of my favourites, but he’ll have to overcome the disruption of new fatherhood, as well as Team Sky.

Contador has looked past his best for two years, but he took his first win in over a year in stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve this week. Hey, that’s better than nothing, but he didn’t beat anyone as good as the riders Froome just thrashed. I’ll need to see a lot more before I rate Contador as a serious GC threat again.

Valverde is a similar story: he defeated Richie Porte on home turf in the Ruta del Sol this week, cleaning up three stage wins in the process. But he’ll be 34 by the time the Tour begins, and he’s never made the podium there. Many astute observers don’t think he’s even the best GC rider in his team. Yes, he’s still deadly in stages that suit him, but can he go three weeks without a bad day in the high mountains?

Costa is all class, but his best results have come in single-day races and as a stage winner. His highest grand tour GC finish to date is 18th, at the Tour in 2012. He’s unproven as a grand tour GC contender, despite very strong performances in shorter stage races like the Tour de Suisse.

Gesink and van Garderen are well known for their buckets of potential without ever really looking like winning a grand tour.

As the season progresses we’ll have a better idea of who is really in form and who’s playing catch-up.

But for my money, there are more genuine GC riders aiming for the Giro than I can remember.

Why would the Giro, a great race but undeniably less prestigious than its French cousin, attract a more competitive field than the Tour?

I reckon they think Froome can’t be beaten.

This article was first published on The Roar.