It was reported earlier this week that Chris Froome of Israel StartUp Nation might yet ride the 2021 Giro, despite having his sights supposedly set firmly upon a fifth Tour de France title.
To risk one of his final shots at joining the fabled Five Tours club, alongside Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, for the sake of a ride at the Giro seems staggeringly unwise given both the feat’s recent history and Froome’s advancing years.
It’s widely thought that the Giro-Tour double is impossible in the modern, post-EPO era (the last rider to win both in a season was Marco Pantani in 1998). Froome has attempted it once, winning the Giro in 2018 before placing third in the Tour de France. If he had saved himself for the Tour alone, he could easily be sitting pretty with five yellow jerseys on his wall at home.
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For what it’s worth, Tom Dumoulin also did the Giro-Tour double in 2018 and came away with a laudable, but ultimately not-quite-good-enough brace of second places. Nairo Quintana attempted it the year before, securing a second in Il Giro and a beleaguered 12th in Le Tour. All this is to say that the Giro-Tour double is staggeringly hard, even for an athlete of Froome’s calibre. Even at his best, it’s hard to picture him doing the business.
It would be fanciful to imagine an older, more battle-scarred Chris Froome, who has finished just one Grand Tour since July 2018 – and that in 98th place – somehow improving upon the hugely impressive results of 2018.
All of which leads us to the question of why bother entering Il Giro and putting his body through that much torment, if Froome is unlikely to deliver a win? He is a champion of Il Giro and he has won enough stage races to turn up at any of them with expectations of challenging for a win – so why go?
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Is it for the form? Does Froome still lack the sheer quantity of racing in the legs that adds up to Tour-winning form? After a long layoff with that excruciating injury from the Dauphiné, it could simply be the case that he needs the miles – and if he finds miles are in desperately short supply, Il Giro is a fantastic place to get them.
Israel StartUp Nation has suggested Covid-19 as a potential reason for Froome doing the Giro – although it’s not quite clear how that would work. Perhaps if the Dauphiné is cancelled, Froome will ride a week of the Giro to fine-tune his legs – but for that to happen, the team would have to know the Dauphiné were cancelled some three weeks before it was due to begin.
Or is it his team simply trying to squeeze as much value as they can from their expensive new asset before he’s too far over the hill? If they do not truly believe he can win Le Tour this year, it would make sound (if cynical) commercial sense to roll Froome out in the blue and white of Israel whenever they can.
Froome has always seemed like a rider who simply enjoys competing on his bike, his delight at Geraint Thomas’ Tour win at the expense of his own hopes seemed totally genuine and serves as a reinforcement of that assumption. Perhaps he has let go of the aim of winning five Tours after all, but it would be a great shame if cycling fans did not at least get to see him try one last time with fresh, fully-recovered legs.