Road

Analysis: The Froome speculation train has left the station

The implications of Froome's big move will only fuel hype and anticipation in buildup toward Tour de France.

If Team Ineos and Chris Froome hoped their public acknowledgment Thursday of cycling’s worst-kept secret was going to stop an endless drip of speculation, they were wrong.

Now that the cat’s officially out of the bag — with the bombshell confirmation that Froome would leave his long-time home at Ineos to join Israel Start-Up Nation in 2021 — the hype machine will simply switch gears.

For weeks on end, journalists, pundits, and anyone with a Twitter account have been conjecturing on the immediate future of Froome, the four-time Tour de France winner on the comeback trail. And for good reason — it’s a very juicy story.

One of the reasons why Team Ineos boss Dave Brailsford agreed to confirm the news — and essentially break the barrier of the August 1 deadline for official transfers — is that the never-ending stories about Froome’s future were becoming a distraction as the team prepares for a run at an unprecedented eighth Tour win in nine years.

Although the elite men’s WorldTour peloton is a tightly-knit group of a few hundred genetically blessed, hard-working souls, it remains a den of rumors and gossip. Negotiations between Froome’s camp, Brailsford, and Israel Start-Up Nation have been going on for weeks, so it was impossible to keep things under wraps any longer.

In fact, Thursday’s public confirmation reveals just how fast information moves and how the media landscape continues to change. While gumshoe journalism still holds value, especially when it involves original, well-reported, and well-told stories, just about anyone with a smartphone immediately knew the Froome news. It went viral before even the fastest typist could get something posted on a website.

So if news is now reduced to a commodity that is largely free to everyone, it’s the interpretation and meaning of headlines that holds value.

So enter the speculation train.

And why not? When it comes to intriguing stories inside the peloton right now, the ongoing Froome saga is one that will keep giving. After all, it involves many of the most interesting and sometimes divisive characters in the sport.

There’s Froome, who remains a lightning rod for controversy among naysayers despite emerging as the most successful grand tour rider of his generation. Whether it’s his sometimes awkward (yet highly effective) riding style that irks the purists, or the incredulity among doubters who won’t believe anyone can win a grand tour without being doped to the gills, Froome, despite his Boy Scout demeanor and impeccable professionalism, oddly seems to draw the ire from a wide spectrum of the cycling public.

Froome – the most softly-spoken yet most divisive figure in the modern peloton? Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Despite what his critics might say, anyone who knows Froome cannot deny his professionalism, his work ethic, mental tenacity and drive. If anyone can come back from a harrowing, career-threatening injury like he suffered last summer at the Critérium du Dauphiné, everyone agrees it’s him. So the prospect of Froome, who hasn’t won a Tour since 2017, racing for a record-tying fifth yellow jersey — assuming we don’t count those seven wins by the fella from Texas — on a team he’s now publicly confirmed he’s leaving for a team that’s not yet actually raced a Tour is, well, about as good as it gets.

And then there’s Brailsford, who has already proven to be the most effective if equally controversial team managers in Tour history, winning seven of the past eight editions with four different riders. Brailsford’s decision to cut loose Froome reconfirms his calculating, sometimes icy but highly effective numbers- and results-driven focus. In 2013, he dropped Bradley Wiggins in favor of Froome, and now he’s repeating the playbook, moving past Froome in favor of Egan Bernal, and the alluring future the 23-year-old diamond-in-the-rough promises. With Bernal and a host of other young talents that Brailsford has been quietly nurturing over the past few seasons, Ineos and their British manager could be hogging the top step of the Tour going well into the next decade even without Froome.

There will be more layers to untangle going into 2021. Froome’s wins are sometimes discounted because he’s been at the head of Sky’s impenetrable fortress of expensive domestiques. Brailsford’s racing style has long drawn criticism for snuffing the excitement out of the Tour by steamrolling rivals with an effective, if race-smothering, high-tempo offense. By 2021, Froome will be without this luxury at Israel Start-Up Nation, though sources tell VeloNews more top names will be joining for 2021. Froome will soon be the guy having to storm the walls of his former castle. Will that earn him approval from those fans who have looked down their noses at him for years?

Add Bernal, Geraint Thomas, the rise of Jumbo-Visma, the stubborn tenacity of Nairo Quintana, the unbridled ambitions of Israel Start-Up Nation’s co-owner Sylvan Adams, and the unpredictable raw power of Tadej Pogačar, who has absolutely nothing to lose in his Tour debut, and — whew! — the 2020 Tour is stacking up to be more thrilling than the latest binge-worthy drama on Netflix.

Of course, drama like this is why anyone who follows and loves professional cycling, despite its many exasperating and hair-pulling flaws, is so irrevocably hooked on it. No sport delivers as much on-the-road drama and inside-the-bus intrigue as cycling.

And, oh yeah, let’s add a world pandemic, just in case things were not spicy enough.