Chapeau Chris, adiós Bertie


Chris Froome on the way  to winning the 2016 Tour de France – taken from the roadside, watching stage 19

This afternoon saw the largely processional end to La Vuelta 2017 and the crowning of Chris Froome as winner. I thoroughly enjoyed the race which – as usual – involved more up and coming riders than the TdF and so threw up new names in both teams and riders.

Froome took the leader’s red jersey after stage 3 and never relinquished it. A dominant performance and one that means he becomes only the third man to win the Tour de France and La Vuelta in the same year (and the other two did it when the Vuelta was a two week race, with much smaller fields and was run in April/May, before the TdF). It’s a truly great achievement but one for which I fear he will get inadequate credit.

Why? A number of reasons. Partly because Team Sky handled the Therapeutic Use Exemptions matter badly; partly because Sky win too much for many people’s liking; partly because many don’t like Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy; and partly because people often view Chris himself as bland and boring.

Of course, some of these are justified – it’s a win that is not likely to stir the blood but this is pro cycling, not a bullfight. What others see as a boring champion, I see as a very modern, professional cyclist who is respectful, modest and generous to his teammates and rivals.

Perhaps a major part of the problem is that Sky have the single aim of winning the GC rather than entertaining – but I certainly won’t blame them for that.

It will be interesting to see if he ever attempts to win the Giro to complete the Grand Tour ‘set’. I believe that he has only competed in it twice – he was 36th in 2009 and disqualified in 2010 (when he held on to a police motorcycle to get a tow to the next feed station in order to retire with a knee injury). Presumably the TdF will continue to dominate his thoughts for some time to come as he heads towards 5 wins to put himself level with Hinault, Anquetil and Merckx – or a 6th to move beyond those greats?

Chapeau Chris – a man who should certainly be Sports Personality of the Year (recognising that the two wins by Andy Murray puts the emphasis on achievement rather than personality).

In contrast, we saw the final appearance of Alberto Contador. Another divisive character in many ways – not least because of his associations with individuals and teams with mixed reputations and a ban for doping after his 2010 Tour victory. The ban for a finding of Clenbuterol in his system came as a real shock at the time and he has always strenuously denied the allegation of doping, claiming that it was accidentally ingested from contaminated meat.

The amounts in his system were minute and the drug would not be one that would be likely to be used during a Grand Tour but the fact is that he was banned and stripped of a number of wins, including the 2010 Tour itself.

In contrast to Froome, Contador could rarely – if ever – be said to be boring. While Froome plays the percentages and often grinds out wins thanks to his time trailing ability, and (in part) the strength of the team around him, Contador has been something of a maverick and a showman – always looking for the opportunity to attack and win with style.

His stage victory on Saturday was almost the perfect way for him to finish – out in front on his own, on one of the most fearsome climbs in Grand Tour racing, on the last competitive stage in his career. It would be hard to write it any better.

Goodness knows what Contador would have won if he’d had a team like Sky around him – assuming he could have accepted the Sky philosophies!

Love him or hate him, Alberto Contador has been one of the greatest cyclists of his generation and I for one think that the sport will be all the poorer for his retirement.

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