Chris Froome completed one of the greatest, most unbelievable doubles in sporting history this past weekend. But there’s every chance you missed it.
Not content with winning cycling’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France, in July – for the fourth time in the last five years – Team Sky’s British leader also clinched the Vuelta a España title. He’s only the third person to ever crack this double, and the first British winner in the history of the Vuelta.
This achievement is truly astonishing. Cycling is arguably the most gruelling professional sport in the world, an intensely demanding effort both physically and mentally.
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Grand tours last for three weeks, taking riders through all conditions and environments at breakneck speeds. The smallest mistake can have catastrophic results, as was the case for Australian rider Richie Porte, who literally crashed out during this year’s Tour de France.
This combo of skill, mental and physical strength, risk-taking, and good fortune makes Froome’s achievement even more incredible. And there’s more.
Until 1995, the Vuelta took place much earlier in the cycling calendar, around the end of April, but was changed to stop it clashing with the Giro D’Italia which is held in May. The only other riders to have completed the Tour and Vuelta double (Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978) did so prior to this date change, meaning that they had months to recover between the races.
Chris Froome finished on the podium in Paris on July 23, and was then on the start line for the Vuleta on August 19. This is a feat of epic proportions. Froome rode 6,864 kms and climbed 73 mountains in less than two months, and did so faster than all the best cyclists in the world.
So why no fanfare for Chris Froome?
Given the scale of Froome’s achievement, and how popular road cycling is in the UK, you must be wondering why this hasn’t received appropriate media coverage. This man should surely be lauded as one of the greatest Britons of all time, and get a personal invite to lunch with Queen Liz at the Palace.
Remember the ridiculous outpouring of national pride when Andy Murray won Wimbledon for the first time? By contrast, Froome’s success has received minimal news coverage, edged out by the usual football and celebrity rubbish we get week-in week-out.
But there’s a major reason for this: people just don’t like him.
With multiple Tour de France titles under his belt, Froome is already Britain’s greatest cyclist, yet Chris Froome has never been shortlisted for BBC Sports Personality of the Year or landed a nomination on the New Year’s Honours list.
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His former team leader, Sir Bradley Wiggins, received many awards and even a knighthood – and he only managed one Tour De France title. Yes, Wiggo was also a multiple Olympic champion and world record holder, an incredible achievement, but perhaps more importantly he’s also an interesting bloke and instantly likeable – someone you could happily go for a pint with, something I once missed out on doing due to some overindulgence on my part in Ghent.
Froome, on the other hand, is a bit odd and perhaps one of the least interesting people in British sport. Though that didn’t hold Andy Murray back, did it?
Should this matter? Here is someone who has dedicated his life to his sport, exactly what you should expect from a champion, and he’s done amazing things. These are achievements that may never be repeated, especially if he manages the triple in 2018 as planned (he’s bound to go for it – cycling is an exceptionally competitive sport).
But despite all this, no one really seems to care. On the bike Froome isn’t the most exciting rider, or the most stylish. He looks awkward and gangly, with a strange high cadence pedalling style, rarely attacking or doing anything outlandish. Instead, Froome relies on sport science and the strength of his team to dominate the sport. This is potentially the other reason people do not celebrate him.
Is it the curse of being too good?
Team Sky have dominated the world of professional cycling for the last decade. The team has brought science and technology into cycling, in place of amphetamines and EPO doping, putting together a roster of cyclists who could all be team leaders in their own right. Chris Froome is surrounded by former world champions and professionals who all work for him to win. Froome used to do this himself for Bradley Wiggins. He was instrumental in Wiggins’ 2012 Tour De France victory.
Team Sky tear the competition to shreds by setting a relentless pace, and with the awesome talent at their disposal. It’s not exciting or romantic, but it is effective. Sportspeople are judged on their results, and that is exactly what Chris Froome and Team Sky achieve, but we also want to see some beauty in the game. As a cycling fan, I can appreciate what Froome and Team Sky are doing – it is truly astonishing – but to the untrained eye of the outside observer it’s probably a bit boring.
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It’s a shame that Froome is not receiving the appropriate level of praise, but there’s a part of me that thinks he probably doesn’t care. Froome is a winner – a relentless and driven professional who lives for his sport. At 32-years-old he is the greatest cyclist of his generation, and arguably of all time.
Cycling’s chequered past is well known; Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace has been well documented. Froome, however, is squeaky clean, something that even Sir Bradders cannot claim himself
Froome is the champion that cycling needed, showing young riders that you don’t need drugs to win, you just have to be exceptional and work hard (easy peasy then). There is more to life than media coverage and pointless BBC sports awards, and Froome knows this. If he manages to smash the triple next year, he will have cemented his place in history. You just might not hear about it.
I for one believe that Chris Froome should go down as one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen, even if nobody likes him.
Main image credit: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium via Wikimedia Commons