Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Not So Pretty in Pink...... Chris Froome

On Sunday in Rome Chris Froome made history once again by winning the Giro d’Italia in the same calendar year as he secured victory in the Tour de France last July and La Vuelta in September. A feat achieved by the rare few and record that the Kenyan, naturalised Briton, clearly wanted to achieve. And probably dong it the hard way having fallen during his race course recce in Jerusalem and injured himself before the race even started. Battling through the ensuing three weeks to make an impressive breakaway on Monte Zoncolan to shatter the chasers, Simon Yates and Tom Dumoulin. 

Unfortunately, he is also the first cyclists to complete a Grand Tour win while still under investigation for his previous win in Spain. Something which tarnished the bright pink and gold colours that reflected on him in the trophy presentation ceremony on Sunday aftrennoon.in the shadow the Altare della Patria. The spiral golden trophy presented by Alberto Contador himself a winner of the Giro d’Italia in 2008 and who also competed with no verdict in the clenbuterol case in Operation Puerta in 2010. When the verdict was finally handed down Contador was stripped of the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d'Italia wins and many other victories. He was also suspended and his contract with Team Saxo Bank annulled. 

The victory on Sunday is Froome sixth Grand Tour title, following last year's fourth Tour de France win and maiden La Vuelta victory, and sees him become only the seventh man to have won all three races. Indeed, just the third to hold all the three titles simultaneously and placing him amongst the greats – such as Eddy Merckx in 1973 and Bernard Hinault nine years. But they were different times and the Vuelta was earlier in the year. In his time Merckx won four straight between 1972 and 1973 and Hinault took three between 1982 and 1983. But in recent years such feats have been rare. So, Chris Froome’s achievements are starting to attract attention. Particularly in a season he is still under investigation by the UCI from a failed test after the Vuelta last September 

At the 2017 Vuelta Froome returned a salbutamol level of 2,000ng/ml in an anti-doping urine test conducted during the final week with a reading that was twice the permitted level set out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The Team Sky rider and his legal team are still attempting to prove that, despite the reading, he did not exceed the permitted dosage. Because if he is found to be guilty, he could face a lengthy suspension and may have results struck from his palmarès – although which ones remains unclear. Froome has always insisted on his innocence and defended his decision to continue racing with the matter unresolved. Something that other riders in other eras may not have been able to do, such are the resources of Team Sky in sport of cycling. 

A report in Cycling news on the subject was suggested Froome's legal team were looking into using kidney malfunction as a defence for Froome, claiming that the cyclist’s kidneys retained salbutamol from previous days before releasing it all at once. Unlike other substances on WADA's banned list, salbutamol is 'specified', meaning Froome does not automatically receive a provisional suspension, and can continue racing. However, the onus is on him to prove how such levels got into his urine sample. Now almost eight months after he was notified of the test results, Froome’s nowhere near conclusion and so could easily drag on through the Tour de France in July and see Froome add to further to his palmarès. A rather unique situation without doubt. 

As if the controversy was not enough as things stood, Froome then delivered the sceptics a performance that tested belief on the last mountain Stage 19 of the Giro. Producing a solo 80 km attack - having started fourth prior to the 184km stage from Venaria Reale - to finish finished 40-seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin. Who that morning had been over three and half minutes ahead of Froome and just over half a minute behind the then leader Simon Yates. As the Dutchman tried to force the chase to reel in Froome, who by then was the virtual race leader with over 70kms remaining in the stage. But Froome showed no sign of slowing and held a two-minute lead over Dumoulin's chasing group on the ascent of the Sestriere and extended it further to take the King of the Mountains jersey from Yates in the process. In addition, the Maglia Rosa and opened an Irreversible gap just two days from the finish in Rome to ensure that it became ceremonial 

The manner of the breakaway also raised some heckles form sectors, fellow competitors and much social media commentary. For some the performance in Zoncolan bordered on the incredulous and there were some comparisons made with Floyd Landis’ solo win to Morzine at the 2006 Tour de France. Which within four days came to be discredited after a failed post-stage doping test. Leaving Landis travel from hero to zero to become the first winner ever to have the yellow jersey stripped. For Froome’s 80km breakaway to draw comparison amongst fellow riders doesn’t make for very pretty reading. 

However, the Team Sky Director remains defiant: “I think the manner of the victory is the thing that impresses everybody. That's the thing that will stay in everybody's mind. This is going to be such a signature victory of his career,” Sir Dave Brailsford said as Froome wrapped up the title. "The manner that he won this race was absolutely incredible. It's what bike racing is all about — it's exciting, it's spectacular," Mr Brailsford added, “I'm sure it will define his career over time.". Ironic choice of phrase as it may very well define his career someday if the UCI verdict is unfavourable. 

Although the stage route climbs to the top of Colle del Lys (from Viù), after dropping into the Dora Riparia valley and reaching Susa, it climbs once more to the top of Colle delle Finestre with a steady 9.2% gradient throughout with first 9 km on tarmac. Then the last 9 km is a gravel road, all the way to the summit and twenty-nine hairpins tucked in together in less than 4 km over the first part of the climb, A very technical descent follows as the roadway is narrow and initially unprotected, up to Pian dell’Alpe. 

A long uncomplicated climb follows, to the Sestriere categorised summit with a fast drop into Oulx and then a false flat section leading to Bardonecchia. The route takes in the closing climb to the top of Jafferau with a final 7 km run entirely uphill, with sharp 9-10% gradients, topping out at 14% in the first part. As the road narrows in Maillaures, 6 km before the finish, in the steepest section, it leaves only the finish line lies on a 50-m long, 6-m wide home stretch. It is no wonder reactions to that solo performance are mixed given it was almost super human. 

It proved the critical moment of the Giro with Froome when from trailing anonymously in fourth places to outright leader "This was always going to be the biggest challenge of my career," Froome said, "But now I've done the triple and there's no greater award for a professional cyclist. I had every right to be here and as I've said before I know I've done nothing wrong," Froome concluded in his post Gro interviews. 

Yet, even before the opening stage of race in Jerusalem, Tom Dumoulin of the Sunweb Team had plenty to say about Froome’s unresolved salbutamol case: “It’s not good for cycling in general that it’s not solved,” Dumoulin told Sky News. “Everybody is a bit uncertain. If he wins now what will happen if he gets a positive [test result] afterwards? Does he lose his Vuelta title from last year and does he also lose his Giro title? There’s so much uncertainty, nobody benefits, also not Chris Froome. He has the right to race here, it’s his choice to make. It’s not up to me.”, the Dutch rider concluded.

Until we meet again on July 7th 2018 at the Tour de France Grand Depart….

OSM Media @optimum-sports

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