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Froome and the Giro-Tour double: Opportunity or peril

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Chris Froome’s participation in the Giro d’Italia would be a make-or-break gamble for him. It could cement him as one of cycling’s greats or signal the end of his Tour de France domination.

Team Sky’s British star is toying with the idea of attempting a unique triple crown on the heels of his Tour de France and Vuelta a España wins in 2017. No cyclist has ever won all three grand tours in the same season or the two at the end of the year with the Giro, the first of the grand tours, in succession the following season.

This week, The Times reported that Team Sky and Froome are seriously weighing the possibilities. Froome has ridden key climbs expected to be in the 2018 Giro in the last months, including the steep Monte Zoncolan pitches and the gravel road over the Colle delle Finestre pass.

Racing the demanding Giro north up the famous Italian boot to the Alps will consume energy needed for the Tour, a race where Froome has made his mark. Regardless of his Giro result, he would be expected to return on July 7 and race the Tour. If he won the Giro, he would be lining up in Vendée, France, for a rare Giro-Tour double.

Only seven cyclists have won the double. Others have tried the double recently including Alberto Contador in 2015 and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 2017. Neither they nor any other cyclist has been able to win the double since Marco Pantani did in 1998. Success would tip him as one of cycling’s greats along with Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, and Fausto Coppi.

Froome’s elbows-out and head-cocked style is far removed Coppi’s graceful pedal strokes. Aficionados might be convinced to put aesthetics aside if Froome succeeds in adding the Giro d’Italia to his palmarès.

“He should try that [the Giro],” Hinault told the Guardian newspaper in September. “He has proved that you can win the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year, so why not the Giro?”

Organizer RCS Sport is pushing to have Chris Froome on the start line when the race begins in Jerusalem on May 4. Director Mauro Vegni says he is talking with the team and Froome. Also, though RCS Sport will not say directly, the organizer may include design touches in the 2018 route to further entice Froome.

The Giro starts in Jerusalem with a time trial and remains in Israel for three days. The organizer will unveil the rest of the route on November 29. It is due to finish in Rome on May 27 and one rumor is that, like this year, it may end with a time trial. That would make for three time trials, including the expected one through the wine vineyards of Vallagarina or Franciacorta on May 22.

The Giro is “the last big challenge for him,” Vegni said when he presented the opening stages in Jerusalem. “He’s won the Tour and Vuelta, now it remains the Giro. We hope that this will help push Froome to come to the Giro. We are hoping that he can confirm this challenge.”

Much is at stake for Froome and Sky given the Tour de France’s global attention and marketing value. It is not only the biggest race in the world for cyclists like Froome to prove themselves but a major business opportunity for Sky and sponsors 21st Century Fox and Ford. They need Froome to be there and to be ready to win.

With a Giro hangover, Froome will not ride the same in France. It will take its toll on Froome, but how much depends on how he manages the race and rebounds for July. In August, after dominating the Tour, he showed that he could recover well for the Vuelta win. In his favor, an extra week falls between the races with the Tour pushed back in 2018 to allow more space for the FIFA World Cup.

“I would not say it’s impossible,” Froome said in September of racing the Giro and the Tour in 2018. “Nothing is impossible, but it will be difficult.”

The attempt would bode well for fans because a slightly fatigued Froome could produce an exciting 2018 edition of the Tour. An exhausted Froome, however, could risk seeing an early end to his Tour reign.

Contador, after winning the 2015 Giro and placing fifth in the Tour, said, “I came out of the Giro tired. I was fresh mentally, very motivated, but my body was still tired.”

The 32-year-old Brit realized his grand tour potential in the 2011 Vuelta a España. He helped Bradley Wiggins win the 2012 Tour and then returned to do so himself in 2013. Now, he counts four titles.

Chris Froome only raced Giro twice before in 2009 and 2010. Since discovering his grand tour capacity he has not returned. Team Sky instead has sent the other leaders to try to capture the Italian title, including Richie Porte, Wiggins, Mikel Landa, and Geraint Thomas. The team has yet to succeed.

He knows that other young cyclists are knocking at his door. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the winner of the 2017 Giro, is due to race the Tour for the overall in 2018. Others including Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Mikel Landa, who leaves Sky for Movistar in 2018, are improving, as well. If Froome fails to get his fifth title in 2018, then he may never achieve it at all.

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