The absence of Chris Froome will change everything about the 2019 Tour de France.
Gone is the pre-race favorite. Gone is the rider of reference who has set the tempo inside the peloton for a half decade. And gone, at least temporarily, is the racer who has emerged as the grand tour dominator for his generation.
And in that absence is a massive vacuum that dozens of teams and riders will be desperately trying to fill. Just like science, the peloton abhors a vacuum.
“Without him, the Tour de France will be very different,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told AFP. “Chris Froome has been the central character of the Tour since 2013.”
A training crash Wednesday had instant implications for everyone inside and out of the Ineos bus. According to early reports, Froome was so seriously injured in the high-speed impact into a low wall that team boss Dave Brailsford didn’t have to wait for a doctor to tell him that Froome would not be racing the Tour. As Froome was being transported to the local hospital, it didn’t take long for news to flash across the peloton that Froome would be missing the Tour.
“I’m shocked,” said Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet. “I had heard he had crashed, but I didn’t know it was so serious. It’s never good when bad luck falls on a rival like that.”
With Froome, everyone had a pretty good idea of how the race was going to end. Without him, someone is going to write their own ending.
Froome is that once-in-a-generation rider who could time trial and climb with equal deadly efficiency. The Kenyan-born rider had no true point of weakness, and once he was draped behind the protective walls of “Fortress Froome,” he was all but impossible to beat.
Much to the chagrin of fans hoping for drama each July, Froome’s dominance coupled with Sky/Ineos’s proficiency often turned the Tour into a race for the podium. With Froome absent as the center of gravity of the Tour, the other contenders will be free to attack in ways they might not be familiar with.
This year’s Tour could be a free-for-all as riders and teams will be desperate to take their chance to win the yellow jersey without the stubborn, dominating presence of Froome.
His absence doesn’t mean Team Ineos won’t be a factor. Cycling’s richest team still counts on defending champion Geraint Thomas, Colombian sensation Egan Bernal and super-domestiques Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski. A Froome-less Ineos means that all of that firepower will be unshackled. They’ve won six Tours with three different riders in seven years, so the ending might not be that different after all.
But make no mistake, Froome’s absence changes everything.
With Froome at the start line, everyone knew who was the rider to beat. Without Froome, now everyone might believe they can win. The mindset changes from, “I have to beat Chris Froome,” to, “I can win the Tour.” That recalculation creates the scenario for something special to happen next month.
Just like in 2014, when Froome crashed out with injury and Vincenzo Nibali took the race by the scruff of the neck, the stage is set for someone to boldly fill the void and to stake their claim as king of the hill. In cycling, to the brave go the spoils.
Most riders would prefer to beat Froome on the road, but everyone will gladly take their shot at victory when he’s not there. There won’t be an asterisk. After all, to win a race, you not only have to finish it but start it as well.
The only thing certain right now is that Froome’s absence means a half-decade’s worth of bridesmaids now believe they have a very good chance to win. For the first time in years, the Tour de France is wide open.