GAP, France (VN) — Maybe it’s the doping questions, which have been non-stop since his searing attack up Mont Ventoux on Sunday.
Maybe it’s the days in yellow, and the mounting pressure, and constant rigmarole of the 100th Tour de France.
Maybe it’s Alberto Contador, who’s been an annoyance and threat at the same time — a smaller dog nipping at the bigger one.
Or maybe it’s just impossible to be nice in a three-week bike race … to everyone.
Whatever it is, leading the Tour for more than a week may be getting to Chris Froome (Sky), who’s been a soft-spoken monster at the race, but has gotten a bit louder lately.
He’s mashed up his rivals on the road with his hyper cadence, and carried himself quietly and peacefully with the hounding press at the Tour de France, and even with those who want the shirt off his back. It all comes in sharp relief to last year’s winner and Sky teammate, Bradley Wiggins, who was never short on cheek or expletives.
While it’s unimaginable that Froome would ever reach a Wiggins-like chill, his tenor has changed, if ever so slightly. He’s more human than robot.
On the second rest day of the Tour, Monday, after his startling performance on Ventoux in which he stuffed Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) into a leg blender, Froome was badgered with doping questions in an abbreviated press conference, as the media was told it would get 15 minutes. More than half the questions related to doping.
“I just think it’s quite sad that we’re sitting here the day after the biggest victory of my life talking about doping,” Froome said. “Quite frankly … my teammates and I have spent months away from home, slept [at high altitude] on volcanoes to get ready for this race … training together, just working our arses off.
“And here I am, sitting here being accused of being a cheat and a liar. That’s just not cool.”
But to be fair, if this is a riled-up version of Froome, he’s still light years behind Wiggins, who called reporters “cunts” for asking about doping.
A day later, after a testy stage to Gap, Froome was asked about his bilharzia, a parasitic condition that he’d been treated for, and if he had a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE, to treat any medical issues, to which he took slight exception.
“TUEs are rather personal,” he said. “But I’m happy to release that. I don’t have TUEs and I haven’t had any during this Tour and hopefully I won’t need any.”
Not much in the way of defiance, but something more than he and his well-heeled Sky operation have displayed. That’s how polished they are.
Also on Tuesday, Froome was attacked by Contador on the infamous Col de Manse descent to Gap, where Lance Armstrong rode through a field to avoid a busted-up Joseba Beloki in 2003.
Froome marked the Spaniard on the descent, but Contador crashed in a tight right-hander, sending Froome to the outside of the road, and nearly into oblivion. The Brit put a foot down, but made it back to the road safely and an ultimately successful chase back to the general classification group was on.
Froome, who leads the second-placed Contador by more than four minutes, said the Spaniard and Saxo were taking unnecessary risks, and called Contador “desperate.” He also admonished the attacking Contador on Twitter: “Almost went over your head, @albertocontador.. little more care next time?”
And when asked why he chose to follow Contador’s wheel, Froome was succinct. “No, you’re right,” he said. “I should probably let him go up the road and take the yellow jersey.”
Nerves will be running high on Thursday as the bunch makes its way up Alpe d’Huez twice, and must descend the much-maligned Col de Sarenne, a dangerous and unprotected pitch that sees its Tour debut. Only the road knows what Froome will have to say after another testing day in the saddle.