ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France (VN) — There were always doubts, but the team never doubted. There were critics and hecklers, but they only served as motivation for a team whose morale never flagged.
Not that they had much reason to doubt. The men of Team Sky, who shepherded Chris Froome from Corsica to the top of the Semnoz here in the Alps, believed in their leader from the beginning. And Froome repaid their faith with day after day of calm, consistent effort that earned him his place as their captain. Now, with their help, Froome will ride to Paris on Sunday in yellow.
There have been losses along the way.
The team lost two key strongmen: Vasil Kiryienka, to the time cut on stage 9, and Edvald Boasson Hagen to a crash a few days later. Another key lieutenant, Geraint Thomas, rode most of his Tour crippled by a fractured pelvis, sustained in a stage-1 crash. Team support kept him going, he told VeloNews on the summit of the Semnoz today.
“It’s just been a battle, really, from the start,” said Thomas. “I never really thought about this stage, it was always just each day as they came. It was great to feel myself getting better all the time. It was just the morale in the team as well, I’ve buzzed off the form Froomey was in and Richie [Porte] and everyone, all the boys. I took a lot from that, and really just wanted to be here. It’s great to finish it off.”
They have made mistakes.
The team allowed a gap to open in the heavy crosswinds of the Loire valley, allowing rival Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff teammates to drive the race away from Froome. It cost him a minute, critical insurance ahead of the Alps. And the team left him isolated in the Pyrenees to defend his yellow jersey alone.
Froome, the leader, acknowledged the difficulties they faced, but told reporters on Saturday that the team had always faced them together.
“The team has come under pressure different days,” said Froome. “I mean, on one occasion I was left riding at the front of the race alone. On other days, I had teammates with me all the way to the end. This Tour really has had everything thrown at us, and I think it’s fitting for the 100th edition, it really has been a special edition this year.”
Froome relied heavily on the six men who made it through to Saturday’s final Alpine stage, for pacesetting in the mountains, for control of the race throughout, and, more than once, for a physical and emotional boost during a difficult moment.
Today he credited his number one, Richie Porte, with helping him through his lowest moment of the Tour.
“I think [the low point was] probably on L’Alpe d’Huez, when I could feel I was completely flat on energy,” said Froome. “It’s a horrible feeling. I think if you’ve ridden a bike or do endurance sports, you know the feeling I’m talking about, when you literally just have no more energy left, no more fuel left in your body. And seeing a sign saying 5 kilometers to go and knowing those 5km are uphill when you really have nothing left, it’s a really tough thing to get though mentally.
“Thankfully I had my teammate Richie Porte with me at that moment, and he gave me a lot of motivation just to keep going on to the end.”
His teammates, meanwhile, credited his quiet leadership with keeping them focused on the ultimate goal: delivering Sky its second Tour victory in as many years.
“I’ve been roommates with Chris since I joined the team, and to be absolutely honest with you I’ve never seen any stress,” said Porte. “I mean, he doesn’t get stressed. I think that’s why he’s going to be a big champion, he just doesn’t seem to stress about anything. It’s easy to ride for a guy that’s so chilled out. …
“I think it’s just the beginning for Chris. And now he knows how to win, he’s shown that the last three weeks.”
Thomas said much the same.
“[Froome is] strong, he’s confident, and he’s not too emotional or anything,” said Thomas. “He’s pretty consistent in how he is. He’s really a nice guy, really appreciates what you do, let’s you know what he wants from you, and it’s all you can ask for really.”
Only one man can wear the final yellow jersey, and Froome, with his dominant form in both mountain stages and time trials, has certainly earned it. But the victory celebration —just like the race — will be a team affair.
“It’s the stuff of dreams, you know?” said Thomas of his role on the team. “When you’re a kid you dream of riding the Tour, but you never think one day you could be riding into Paris with the yellow jersey on the team.
“It’s an amazing feeling and we’re definitely going to be enjoying it tomorrow.”