Sky’s the limiting factor for Chris Froome in Tour de France popularity stakes

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Chris Froomes four Tour de France wins place him in extol company, but Team Skys image prevents fans from properly celebrating his achievements

In 1963, the Tour de France organisers devised a road to discomfit Jacques Anquetil, who had just won the race for the third period. The time trial kilometrage was slashed and the mountain stages increased. It did not work: Anquetil took his fourth Tour in emphatic style. A similar process can be traced leading to Chris Froomes fourth Tour win, sealed in Marseille in one of the most scenically beautiful and atmospheric stages the event has ever run.

This Tour route seemed tailored for the young French hopeful Romain Bardet, he of the nerveless descending abilities, more downhill skier than cyclist, but the outcome was the same as in 1963: the person who is, on paper, was least favoured by the route, aimed up the win, taking his fourth Tour.

There were two schools of gues going into this Tour. One is of the view that the new format would result in a nervous, open race. The other that the race would be conservative and tense, with most of the challengers watching and waiting for the final two key stages: Thursdays finish on the Izoard and Saturdays time trial. These past three weeks have tended towards the latter, a few commotions from Daniel Martin and Simon Yates apart.

Froome lost time in the mountains, for the first time in his winning operate, to Bardet and Rigoberto Urn. Thanks to their stage wins, they fared slightly better than Froome when it came to procuring period bonus seconds. Most tellingly of all, on every mountain stage apart from Peyragudes, the trio finished within 10 seconds of each other. A Tour designed with a bare minimum of hour trialling has been won in the time trial stages in Dsseldorf and Marseille.

Froomes challengers will reflect on missed opportunities: at Chambry, where Froome had a mechanical issue, Fabio Aru assaulted and Richie Porte made the opposition wait for the race leader. There was no particular reason for them to do so, other than a decidedly tenuous convention that, in certain circumstances, the maillot jaune should be given leeway.

More conventionally, on the super-short mountain stage to Foix , none of the riders who had considered Froomes weakness at first hand the previous day( at Peyragudes) made a real great efforts to exam him. No one was quite certain what his issue had been and it would surely have been worth ensure what the after-effects were.

Most glaringly, however, when he suffered a violated spoke at the foot of the Col de Peyra Taillade en route to Le Puy-en-Velay , none of the leaders attempted to go clear of the main group on the climb. It was a perfect possibility because for perhaps the only time in the Tour Team Sky were in disarray. It is hard to imagine Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx or Lance Armstrong letting such an opportunity slip away.

Froome won in the style of Anquetil, managing his time gaps, marking his contenders. He owed an immense amount to his squad. Among his daily rites, one was never missed: massive heartfelt thanks to the other riders in white Sky jerseys.

One rival squad administrator summed up the oppositions frustration. Sky have a world time-trial champ[ Vasil Kiryienka] who can ride in the valleys. They have a former world road champ[ Michal Kwiatkowski] who can bury himself on pretty much any climb. And they have a guy[ Mikel Landa] who is capable of winning the Tour who can stay with Chris when the running gets tough.

There are people asking why the top guys on general category dont assault Chris but they would need to be putting out a zillion watts to do that.

It is when you turn to Team Sky, however, that Froomes triumph becomes complicated. Four wins is a massive accomplishment, the moment when a rider abruptly reaches greatness. There should be huge exhilaration around a feat that places a rider in the same bracket as Hinault, Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Anquetil, but that was hard to detect here.

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Tour de France: Chris Froome all but secures his fourth title video highlights

On Saturday, the Tour was relegated to page 12 of lEquipe . There was little Froome love in evidence. A few boos en route to Le Puy-en-Velay and some whistling on Saturday apart, there has been no antipathy either, unlike other years, but it seems that Froome is only slowly winning over the French.

Hes the victim of Skys image to some extent, says Jean Montois, who has encompassed 35 Tours for Agence France-Presse. After Wiggins, everyone emphasised the dehumanised side of Team Sky but Froome has everything that should stimulate him popular: hes polite, hes fair play, he makes an effort to talk French.

Like in all sports, the public doesnt like a squad that crushes everybody else. If he had lost one of his Tours by 15 sec, hed be very popular. I can sense small changes, however; last year was better than 2015 and this year thats continued.

The questions regarding Team Sky remain. They do not touch Froome directly, but are bound to detract from his moment of victory. Having announced during the course of its Tour that he will ride a further two years at Sky, he and the squad are bound together. The issues unveiled in the last nine months, at the centre of UK Anti-Dopings inquiry into allegations of possible wrongdoing, make a grim listing, starting with 55 dosages of the performance-enhancing corticosteroid triamcinolone acquired between 2010 and 2013, with no clear explanation of what it was all used for; Froome, however, has told the Guardian he did not use any of the triamcinolone and was not offered any.

Add in the delivery of testosterone patches to the then team physician Richard Freeman, claimed to have been a mistake; allegations of widespread utilize of the analgesic tramadol; curiously day Therapeutic Use Exemptions for Wiggins, coinciding with major target events. All this on top of the recruitment of a doctor, Geert Leinders, who is now banned for life for misdeeds connected with his previous team, Rabobank.

This relates to a period between five and six years ago, but the issues remain unresolved, with the Ukad inquiry yet to be completed.

Here is the conundrum of Froome 4.0. Being expected to celebrate a clinically taken victory, forged with the assistance of one of the most complete squad performances the Tour has ensure, is one thing. Being expected to do so against Skys background is like being asked to dance at a bridal when the bridegrooms previous spouse disappeared in unexplained circumstances.

Like it or not, want it or not, however much one might admire Froomes management of the race, relishing this success is somehow hard to do.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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