Chris Froome managed to trump all the major surprises in next year’s Tour de France route published on Wednesday by stating he may not take part in the race.
The 2013 Tour de France winner, who crashed out of this year’s Tour, said that in 2015 he may instead compete in two other Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
Froome’s overriding concern is a lack of time-trial kilometres in the new route, which would make it difficult for him to exploit his well-known ability in that discipline.
“The team and I will have to give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the Grand Tours I will compete in,” said the Kenyan-born Briton, who has twice finished second overall in the Vuelta.
“If I did the Giro, I may also be able to get myself back to top shape for the Vuelta and go there aiming for the win.”
“In the past I’ve only targeted one Grand Tour each season but it could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two.”
Froome’s comments provided by far the most unexpected reaction to a Tour de France route with more than its own fair share of surprises. The biggest is that there are just 14 kilometres (8.75 miles) of individual time-trialling – the lowest amount in the post-Second World War era – and all in the opening stage in Utrecht on 4 July.
Team Sky rider Froome had previously dropped large hints that the Tour’s individual time-trial lengths could affect his outlook, if not his participation.
Discussing Alberto Contador – the favourite to win the 2015 Tour – Froome said in September: “Contador is a tough guy to beat when he’s climbing the way he climbs. One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the time trials. I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time trials I can get an advantage on him.”
The short answer to that, in the wake of yesterday’s route unveiling, is he would probably gain very little advantage.
Froome, with a glance at the Giro d’Italia route for 2015, perhaps feels that its mid-race 60km individual time trial could instead propel him towards becoming the first British winner of Italy’s Grand Tour.
Froome denied that the Tour’s return to the treacherous cobbled farm lanes of northern France on stage four of next year’s edition would influence his decision. Froome had not even reached them last July before he crashed out with a fractured wrist.
Rather, it is the lack of time-trialling and the huge emphasis on the Tour’s multiple climbing stages, with eight summit finishes, that is seemingly contributing to Froome’s surprising uncertainty over whether he will participate in cycling’s blue riband event in 2015.
“The race will be decided up in the high mountains,” Froome said yesterday. “It is going to be an aggressive and massively demanding race.”
The Tour’s first uphill finish comes as soon as stage three on the Mur de Huy – a short, but agonisingly steep ascent in the Ardennes in Belgium. Then the final key stage, 24 hours before the race finishes in Paris, will be atop France’s most emblematic climb, the Alpe d’Huez. That will be preceded by three more arduous Alpine stages.
There are no stages in the Vosges mountains in the Tour’s first week. However, a wind-blasted trek along France’s English Channel coastline on stage six, the ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne on stage eight, and a medium-length team time trial on stage nine in Brittany (again with a climb, the Col de Cadoudal) will nonetheless make for a fraught, and undulating, first leg.
Two summit finishes in the Pyrenees in the second week, followed by another ultra-steep climb to Mende on stage 14 in France’s Massif Central, ensure the ball remains firmly in the climbers’ court.
From the moment the race sweeps up the Pra Loup in the Pyrenees on stage 17 – in commemoration of Bernard Thévenet’s epic defeat of Eddy Merckx on the same climb 40 years ago – and on to the Alpe d’Huez’s notoriously difficult 21 hairpin bends, the climbing specialists will be dictating the race narrative all the way to Paris.
One rider who gave Froome’s indecision short shrift yesterday was Vincenzo Nibali, the Tour’s defending champion. “Froome is a great rider and next year he’ll be trying to do a great Tour [de France],” the Italian said. However, Froome, it seems, is thinking otherwise.Reuse content