An open letter to Chris Froome
It took some time, and several wild exploits at the Tour de France, but this writer is now a fan of Chris Froome.
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Well, you did it, Chris Froome. You managed to turn me into a bona fide fan. And there’s still over a week to go in the Tour de France.
As someone who has a professional obligation to watch nearly every major bike race (it’s not hazardous duty), you were hard to root for. My heart dropped a little when I heard you’d line up for the 2014 Vuelta, and I secretly cheered when you lost. At last year’s Tour, I rolled my eyes with ennui as you put every major contender in a box on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
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You see, if I’m going to watch all these bike races, I don’t want them to feel and look the same. I like excitement, drama, and uncertainty — and I bet most fans would agree.
Vincenzo Nibali offers wild unpredictability, like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who scampers around the field like a scalded prairie dog. Nairo Quintana is appealing as an up-and-comer with preternatural talent, like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. You, Mr. Froome, were (until now) the cycling equivalent of Peyton Manning. And I say this as a Denver Broncos fan — you were formulaic and somewhat boring. The approach was clinical, carefully strategic, and as risk-averse as a beige Volvo (and yes, I drive a beige Volvo).
But then, you go and do something like this and TOTALLY redeem yourself. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad anymore. That’s amazing.”
Attacking a descent like that, in stage 8 to Bagnères-de-Luchon was so unexpected, so premature, as far as the GC is concerned, and so… Nibali-esque. I even pegged the Italian to win this stage, and you go ahead and cherry-pick it. The exploit would be akin to Manning — known for standing still and chucking the pigskin — taking off and hurdling the line of scrimmage, giving Troy Polamalu a stiff-arm, and high-stepping into the end zone. Oh, and then he’d do some sort of coordinated celebration dance that would get him fined.
Now if that were the end of it, the needle on the “Spencer’s take on Froome” gauge might have just crept up to the center. But after stages 11 and 12, that thing was buried in the red.
Damn, watching you sprint with Sagan on a crosswind day — it was truly amazing. To stick with my analogy, that’s like Manning going in at middle linebacker to try tackling Marshawn Lynch. And if you don’t follow American football (since you’re British), just know that Lynch’s nickname is “Beastmode” and Manning is essentially a geriatric.
As if that wasn’t enough in this nutty first half of the Tour, you kept your cool in what was arguably one of the craziest moments the Tour has ever seen. You didn’t chuck your bike into the Ventoux forest. You didn’t panic. No Chris, you just started running, like a hockey player who’s lost his stick but keeps playing on despite the obvious disadvantage. Of all the guys on Ventoux, clearly you wanted it the most.
Then in Friday’s stage 13 time trial, you lowered the boom on your GC rivals (if you like the hockey comparison), in classic Froome fashion. Okay, that stage didn’t really get my pulse racing, but it’s a time trial after all.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t go downhill fast, that you lack panache, or that you’re a boring racer. Chris, from here on, if you just want to do that thing where you pedal super hard up hills with your head down and elbows out, that’s fine by me. Your GC lead may be 1:47, but you’ve locked up the seersucker jersey (Hey, it’s hot in July!), which designates my favorite rider.