GAP, France (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) is winning the 2015 Tour de France on two fronts. On the bike, he’s been dominating the peloton with power in numbers, via his Sky teammates, and power numbers, with precisely applied doses of pain.
And just as important, he seems to be turning the tide of public opinion with a steady, consistent message that he hopes can convince even the most ardent skeptics.
Sky has been waging a campaign both on and off the bike to win the yellow jersey and to win hearts and minds. One battle is certainly easier to measure than the other, but Froome’s patience and composure is winning new converts.
And this week, Sky reversed its long-standing policy of not revealing power numbers, something the team always holds very close to its chest, in hopes of easing some of the growing hysteria about the validity of Froome’s performances during this Tour.
A day after Sky revealed Froome’s power numbers from the Pyrenean stage at Pierre-Saint-Martin, Froome said he’s been too busy to gauge the reaction.
“I haven’t seen the reaction. I had a full rest day [Tuesday], and I just switched off from all the media,” Froome said after Wednesday’s stage to Pra Loup. “I haven’t seen the reaction. I know it’s going to be a never-ending battle.”
Each day during the Tour, Froome patiently attends to the media. He fields a few questions each morning at the team bus and start line. After racing, especially when he’s in the yellow jersey, he spends nearly an hour each stage with the podium protocol, accepting the yellow jersey on stage and then fielding more questions from the mixed zone, where TV and radio reporters have a crack at the race leader before heading into a post-stage press conference with written media, which typically lasts about 20 minutes.
So far through this Tour, Froome has patiently answered questions without revealing any angst or losing his patience. There have been no blowups, a la Bradley Wiggins, of the 2012 Tour.
“I think Chris has done an extraordinary job handling the pressure of the media during this Tour,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “I think he’s answered every question from the media. I’ve never seen him lose his cool.”
Since his emergence as a grand tour force in 2011, Froome has steadily grown more confident in the media glare that comes with success. Like any new pro, he didn’t quite know how to handle the barrage of lights and cameras that inevitably come with the yellow jersey. Compared to 2013, when he seemed a bit overwhelmed with the attention that came with his first Tour, an older, wiser Froome is more composed and comfortable handling the press this time around.
On Wednesday, however, he did express his frustration about the ongoing debate about his power numbers and performances. He said he was hesitant to release all of his power numbers into the public arena, echoing a Sky resistance to revealing what could be called the “yellow jersey code.”
“The data will never be enough for some people,” Froome said. “For people to truly understand what I am capable of, to understand why I can do what I do, they’d have to see all of my files, to see all of my power numbers, from every training ride, from everything we do. But that would be giving away our competitive advantage.”
Skeptics on social media are howling about Froome’s alleged power numbers. Efforts Tuesday to quell the storm, when Sky’s head of performance Tim Kerrison revealed Froome’s numbers from stage 10, seemed to have little effect on Froome’s most ardent critics.
Some even called the data numbers a “bold-faced lie,” and others continue to insist that Sky fudged Froome’s numbers to bring them into the realm of what’s considered credible numbers for a clean rider. There is no way to prove that what Sky revealed is accurate, except that the team insists they are.
Froome even inadvertently confirmed that the power numbers leaked onto social media from his winning ride up Mont Ventoux in 2013 were truly his, by saying during a press conference Tuesday morning, “People have seen my numbers from Ventoux, and it doesn’t make a difference.”
Earlier in this Tour, an exasperated Froome asked, “What more can I do?”
“It doesn’t make me angry. I understand where the questions are coming from. I know the history of the Tour, and those who have gone before me,” Froome said. “But at the same time, there needs to be a level of respect. I’ve worked extremely hard to get here, and I am not going to let anyone take that away from me.”
The growing hysteria exploded after Froome’s winning ride in the Pyrénées. Tensions grew on the roadside as well, and Sky riders were spat upon, insulted, and punched. Froome even had the indignity of having a cup of urine thrown on him.
Following an appearance broadcast live on French TV, in what Brailsford described as an “ambush,” Sky’s performances were grilled. The team decided it would reveal some of Froome’s performance numbers after that.
The team, however, stops short of divulging all the numbers into the public arena. Sky says revealing the power numbers that are the architecture of Froome’s training programs would be akin to giving away house secrets.
“That would be giving away our competitive advantage. That is our intellectual property,” Froome said. “Tim Kerrison spent years developing and working on these tools, and just to give that away to our rivals, who have not made the same focus on their training programs, it would be crazy just to give that away.”
Froome echoed comments from Brailsford that the team would be interested in sharing its power files with an oversight body, under the guise of the World Anti-Doping Agency or the UCI, with the agreement of all the major teams and riders.
Yet Froome admitted that revealing numbers will never be enough to quiet his harshest critics.
“When we gave away the data [Tuesday], I was quite sure it wouldn’t be enough,” Froome said. “There are a lot of people who have made up their minds. No matter what we release, it’s not going to change their opinions.”
Of course, Froome could just take a page from the Bradley Wiggins school of media management. When asked about how he would address the doubts surrounding his 2012 winning Tour ride, Wiggins famously retorted before storming out of a press conference: “They’re just f—ing wankers … it justifies their own bone idleness.”