By Thomas Dodd
- Chris Froome celebrating third Tour success, his second successive triumph and third in four years
- GB has now produced four of last five winners of Cycling’s most famous race
- Young British riders also suggest a bright future
Three is definitely now a magic number for Chris Froome following the 2016 Tour de France.
Victory over the weekend confirmed the Briton’s place in Tour folklore and placed him in an elite group of riders who can also call themselves triple winners of the world’s most famous bike race.
Now, only five-time winners Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Bernard Hinault lie ahead of Froome in a list of those who have worn the yellow jersey in Paris after three weeks of competition.
The win marked the defending champion’s third victory in the last four years and the fourth for a British cyclist since 2012 including Bradley Wiggins inaugural success in the event for Great Britain.
But the nature of the Team Sky rider’s most recent triumph was acutely different to his first two.
We were used to seeing the Kenyan-born Froome attack in the very high mountains. Any avid cycling fan will find it hard to forget the demolition he gave out to his rivals on the run up to Aix-les-3-Domaines in 2013, or the stunning bout of acceleration he displayed to leave the field for dead climbing Mont Ventoux a few days later.
Then last year a fierce Team Sky tempo was too hot to handle for most of the chasing pack, setting Froome up for more blistering Alpine ascents.
2016 was a different story, however, as bar a few seconds in the early mountain stages and an uphill time trial, the majority of the eventual four minute five second winning margin was gained on the flat or descent.
A calculated yet devastating ride downhill into the finish in Luchon brought the pre-race favourite 13 valuable seconds starting the second week and when he judged the crosswinds coming in to Montpellier to perfection to escape the main field once more this Tour was pretty much over.
Quite why Froome felt the need to attack when he did in 2016 is unclear. It has been suggested he was perhaps unsure of his strength in the mountains, and was content to try and defend a yellow jersey having gained time elsewhere.
But given how he took command of all other obstacles that were thrown at him, this seems a most misguided theory.
Froome did nothing to harm his public image either. A man not as endeared to the French and British publics in the same way that countrymen Wiggins and Mark Cavendish are, would have won the hearts of the home faithful with his reference to the Nice terror attacks in his podium speech on Sunday.
And the sight of him running up Mont Ventoux bike-less on stage 12 will go down in the annals of Tour history, demonstrating a cheeky cunning that those from these shores would have perhaps associated more with Wiggins.
This win was a pure and simple sign Chris Froome is a man for all weathers and gradients, and as a result, a very richly deserved three-time winner of the Tour de France, who could in the words of his own team principle Sir Dave Brailsford be up challenging for Grand Tour titles for years to come.
If Froome is to be a feature in the biggest races in the distant future, he may well have his hands full with another Brit.
Three weeks ago very few people outside of the cycling world had heard of Adam Yates. One Tour de France later though and the man from Bury is far more of a household name after surprising everybody to finish fourth overall and pick up the white jersey for best young rider in the process.
Despite clearly struggling slightly in the last week, the Orica BikeExchange rider’s mature performance belied his status as a 23-year-old and will lead his bosses to consider building a team around him for next year’s race.
Were it not for an errant one-kilometre-to-go banner on stage seven we could have been talking about a podium finish.
The stage that day was won by another Brit, Steven Cummings, who sent a message to the GB Olympic team selectors who at that point had chosen to overlook him for Rio. Cummings has since taken the place of Peter Kennaugh and will be on the plane to Brazil.
His win on the first day in the Pyrenees meant Britain had won four of the first seven stages.
That was because of the way Cavendish dominated the final 500m of the Tour’s opening week stages.
The Manxman achieved a previously unprecedented goal of wearing the yellow jersey after winning the opening stage, and despite relinquishing the lead a day later, went on to win two more of the first six stages.
One more win followed on the other side of Pyrenees, before the Dimension Data rider called it quits to focus his attention on Rio. He’ll return next year needing just four more win victories to overtake Eddy Merckx and top the all-time list.
And what of the other Brits in the race? Geraint Thomas performed his now customary supporting role for Froome, taking his team leader up and over mountain passes for three weeks, even handing him his bike when the yellow jersey took a tumble on the slippy descent on Stage 19.
Fellow Sky domestiques Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard performed dutifully, two very effective spokes in the Sky wheel that rolled to the ultimate prize in Paris.
Sprinter Daniel McLay also looks like having a bright future. A series of top ten finishes in the opening week will already have him eager to come back next year.
The recent past of British cycling in the Tour de France has been a very successful one, and present circumstances are also ones to be celebrated.
But if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the future looks in very safe hands too.
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