Maybe it was the vitriol coming from media and cycling fans, or maybe the wayward bottle that Vincenzo Nibali totally didn’t throw at him. More likely it was a combination of it all. Regardless, this was the year Chris Froome dropped the nice-guy routine.
After stage 6 of this year’s Tour de France, it was clear we were dealing with a different Froome. That’s when, after feeling that Nibali had flung a bidon at him, he rode to the Astana team bus, handed his bike to a staffer, and forced his way on to confront the Italian. Later in the race, when Froome got in Nibali’s face over what he felt was an unsportsmanlike attack in stage 19, Nibali told reporters, “I don’t deserve the words he said. They are too hard, and not right to say.”
Froome addressed his tougher demeanor during a Tour press conference. “I try to be as polite as possible,” he said. “But don’t take that for weakness. Don’t take that as you can push me around, or that you can get away with disrespecting me or my teammates. I will stand up for what I believe in.”
Froome had to stand up to more than just Nibali. For starters, there was what was widely accepted to be one of the most brutal Tour routes in recent memory. He had even suggested he might skip it, as he felt it was too heavy on climbs and too light on time trials. But instead, he deemphasized time trialing and doubled down on his climbing skills, which he unleashed with an attack on stage 10 to La Pierre-Saint-Martin that rendered fellow pre-race favorites like Nibali, Nairo Quintana, and Alberto Contador little more than collateral damage.
So dominant was his stage 10 ride, Froome’s Team Sky released his power data in hopes of silencing the critics. It didn’t work. From that point on, Froome became the focal point of countless people’s frustrations with pro cycling. “Experts” presented his power data as evidence of doping. The masses on Twitter found new ways to cram accusations into 140 characters. And roadside spectators in France went from annoying (shouting “doper” in Froome’s ear) to gross (spitting on him) to grosser (hurling urine at him).
He withstood it all and won. So go ahead and make fun of his form on the bike, just don’t do it to his face. As Froome showed us this year, he’s one tough dude.
Honorable mention: Fabian Cancellara
If Chris Froome has the figurative backbone of the year, Fabian Cancellara has the actual one. His summertime return from a broken back was derailed when he went over the handlebars at the Tour — while wearing yellow — and broke his back. One broken back in a lifetime would convince most of us to take it easy. A second one would have us taking up quilting. But Spartacus was back racing at the Vuelta, before a virus put an end to his season. Here’s hoping he finds a way in his final pro season to make all the pain worthwhile.