It’s still hard to believe, but after months of rumors, Chris Froome finally confirmed it on Wednesday: The 2018 Tour de France won’t be the race the sport deserves. Instead, the four-time defending champion will try for the elusive Giro-Tour double.
In May, we’ll rejoice at Froome’s presence on the Giro start, but in July, we’ll be robbed of a pure showdown on the sport’s biggest stage. Sure, there are thousands of fans celebrating that Froome and the suffocating Sky train will be more vulnerable in July, possibly opening up the race. But I’m having a hard time getting excited about a Tour that doesn’t actually pit the sport’s top stars against each other at their very best.
We can all agree that the Giro is an amazing event, a scenic spectacle that is an expression of so many things people love about cycling. It has earned its place in the sport’s pantheon of great races with a long history of brilliant battles. It managed to stay thrilling in recent years with an always-grueling route and plenty of exciting mountaintop finishes.
Nevertheless, the Giro d’Italia is not the Tour de France. The French grand tour is cycling’s undisputed marquee event — and it should be cycling’s marquee showdown of the sport’s top stars at peak form. But no matter how you slice it, with a Giro in his legs, even Froome will struggle to match the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Richie Porte (BMC), or Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac) if they show up fresh to France. Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin might Froome a huge favor in joining him at the Giro, but most of the other top Tour contenders won’t be so kind.
Froome has won the Tour and the Vuelta España in the same season, of course, but the Giro-Tour and Tour-Vuelta doubles are not one in the same. His competition doesn’t target the Vuelta the way they target the Tour, and most of the Vuelta contenders each year have already raced one grand tour, and are therefore on a level playing field of fatigue.
Alberto Contador tried the double in 2015. He proved to be in brilliant form at the Giro, but as great as his successful bid for pink turned out, he fizzled at the Tour. Quintana gave it a go this year, trying to win the Giro at 90 percent while saving something for the Tour, and came up short on both accounts.
Understandably, there’s something tempting about being the first rider since Marco Pantani to pull off the rare feat — but perhaps there’s a reason “Il Pirata,” whose climbing panache was matched only by his sky-high hematocrit levels, was the last guy to pull it off.
Modern cycling requires its stars to have a shorter list of season objectives than the laundry list of targets Eddy Merckx might have laid out in January each year. Delivering peak performances worthy of topping the GC hopefuls in both races is just too much to ask. In the immortal words of Bruce Hornsby and the Range — or Tupac and Talent, for the (slightly) younger crowd — “That’s just the way it is,” at least in this day and age.
By lining up for the Giro, Froome will torpedo his opportunity to join the exclusive five-time Tour winner club next year. And if Quintana then goes on to win the Tour? For 12 months, cycling analysts will be forced to preface every statement with, “Well, he only won because Froome rode the Giro.”
Plus, while the four-time Tour champ has good years remaining, at 32 years old, he’s reaching his apex. Quintana is 27 and so is Bardet, so theoretically their best years are ahead. Now’s the perfect time for a thrilling battle between the very best cyclists. Everyone should show up fresh to this rumble.
What if Contador had brought his blazing form directly to France for the 2015 Tour? What might a fresh Quintana, reaching his prime, have managed against Froome this past July?
Instead of yellow jerseys, Contador and Quintana were left with excuses and overcooked legs at the end of July.
Froome should spare us the excuses in advance and come to terms with the fact that the Tour is cycling’s main event. He is cycling’s biggest grand tour star. Could you imagine a top athlete like Mikaela Shiffrin or Michael Phelps not giving the Olympics top priority? Froome’s July appointment is mandatory, the rest is just a prelude.
Don’t agree with this take? Read about why Froome’s Giro-Tour double will win over the haters >>