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Every June we cycling fans overanalyze the Critérium du Dauphiné for compelling pre-Tour de France storylines that we can yammer about around the office water cooler. This year’s race did not disappoint.
The biggest post-Dauphiné storyline involves the budding rivalry between former teammates Chris Froome and Richie Porte. It’s been two years since Porte departed Team Sky, and during that time the two have composed themselves like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in that super-fantastic training montage from Rocky III. Rivals, yes, but also great pals who may indulge in a post-interval hug or two. Froome and Porte were so friendly that pundits even accused them of collusion during the 2016 Tour. Froome and Porte had cultivated a strong friendship — a “bromance” in the parlance of our times.
The bromance appears to be on the rocks after this year’s Dauphiné, which saw Porte blow his lead to Jakob Fuglsang on the eighth and final stage to Plateau de Solaison. Froome did not help Porte’s efforts. The Sky captain’s tactics essentially set Fuglsang up for the win (more on that later).
Porte and Froome jabbed each other with some minor word barbs after the stage. Like all good quote bombs in our polite, gentle sport, both men’s comments are completely dull and indirect. Instead, they ooze with subtext and read-between-the-lines greatness. So let us overanalyze these seemingly innocuous comments, to see what we can learn.
First up is Porte, who accused undisclosed teams of negative racing tactics that were. From CyclingWeekly.com:
“It’s obviously bitterly disappointing to lose by 10 seconds, but I was against it from the start. There were teams that were happy to see me not win and sacrifice their own chances, but I guess that’s racing. It’s maybe a lesson learnt for July but I’m happy with where I’m at.”
What mystery team is Porte referencing in his quote? Wanty Groupe Gobert? Not exactly. Porte is obviously referencing Sky and Froome. No one team, other than Astana, had such an impact on Porte’s downfall than Sky. Come, let us examine the stage 8 YouTube clip.
As the group begins the ascent of the Col du Colombière, the penultimate climb of the day, Porte is isolated in a group of rivals, with Fabio Aru (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) up the road. Porte stays glued to Froome, and why wouldn’t he? Froome sits second on GC and the two-time defending champ — not exactly a lightweight. Porte’s attention to Froome, however, opens the door for more rivals to slip up the road. Romain Bardet, Dan Martin, and Jakob Fuglsang go first, followed by a group containing Alberto Contador. As the latter sprints off, Porte gives two long, steady looks back at Froome. Will this aggression stand? Will Froome help his old buddy and take a pull or two?
No. Froome instead rides Porte’s wheel until 1km from the summit, where he attacks over the top to join the Contador/Fuglsang group. Froome then has his teammate Michael Kwiatkowski bury himself at the front of the group to the base of the final climb to further gap Porte, where he himself commences burying himself to widen the gap back to Porte. Porte mounts a chase, but the damage has been done. When Fuglsang mounts his winning attack, Porte is too far down.
I have no doubt that Froome was racing to win. He came up short, and his effort doomed Porte.
Froome is next up. He told a gaggle of reporters that Porte — the guy who lost — was actually the strongest in the race and should now be considered the favorite to win the Tour. From Cyclingnews.com:
“I’d still say that Richie was far and above the strongest man in the race. He did get caught out tactically, his team did get caught out tactically today, but I still say that he’s the favorite for July and the strongest rider in the peloton at the moment. “
This quote may seem innocuous, but I read it as some complex psych-out stuff. Bestowing the”strongest in the race” title to the loser is quite the backhanded compliment. The subtext is pretty clear: Porte had the legs but not the brain. Porte was the strongest? Great. Hillary won the popular vote.
Finally, we have Froome telling reporters that Porte is now the favorite to win the Tour de France, which is more next-level head games material. The title “Tour Favorite” brings oodles of unwanted media scrutiny, press and sponsor obligations, and overall pressure in the lead up to the race. Traditionally, that title is reserved for the defending champion, the tested rival, and the perhaps the overall winner of the Dauphiné.
In labeling Porte the favorite, Froome just dumped all of that extra baggage onto the Australian’s back. Porte gets all of the pressure without the bonus of adding that wacky Dauphiné winners trophy to his coffee table. Of course Froome is wise to lob some head games at Porte. The Australian is obviously on amazing form heading into the Tour de France, and his strengths on the climbs and time trials make him the obvious rival.
Can we bury the Froome/Porte bromance? Who knows. We do know that these two are worthy adversaries. We can only hope that both men give us a Tour de France to remember.