With the 2016 Rio Olympic Games quickly approaching, Great Britain could do with as much sporting success, momentum and joy as possible. Chris Froome has just provided all of those in abundance. Not for the first time. Not even for the second. On the eve of an Olympics where he aims to become the first ever to win both the road race and time trial, Froome has just become a three-time Tour de France winner. He has now won 3 of the last 4 Tours. To win one is a great achievement. To be a three-time champion is remarkable. It is one of the finest sporting hat-tricks imaginable.
The 31 year-old defending champion dominated from pretty much the start to the finish, controlling almost all of the 21 Stages. The early sparring is always crucial in laying down a marker and Froome did just that, gaining early advantages over Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte and Alberto Contador who crashed on the first two days. A key moment occurred on Stage 8, when Froome launched a surprise attack on the descent to secure a yellow jersey that he would never relinquish. The nail was hammered into the coffins of any riders still holding hopes of challenging when Froome blitzed the field to win the second time trial, a whole 21 seconds ahead of second place. His lead had become virtually unassailable. A notable indicator of his dominance was that he won without ever needing to launch one of the high-cadence mountain attacks that defined his past victories in 2013 and 2015.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing – he was one of many to fall in dangerously wet conditions on the final Friday and provided one of the defining, and most bizarre, images of the Tour when he found himself running towards the Stage 12 finish after Porte has brought him down and broken his bike following a crash with a motorbike. There was also persistent rain in the Alpines, treacherous descents, another fall and the constant chance that one mistake could cause it to end in disaster. Nevertheless, the swarms of Sky Teammates admirably guarded him for his procession towards the Champs Élysées for a victory that makes him the first Briton to win the Tour on 3 occasions.
Indeed, whilst this is ultimately an individual race the team aspect and understanding is absolutely essential if any aspiring rider is to win this most prestigious of competitions. Thus the work that was done was done by his Team Sky colleagues was both obvious to spectators and competitors and crucial in Froome navigating his way to glory, particularly in the last week of the race. The work of Geraint Thomas was especially notable, not just by providing shelter for Froome in the face of strong winds but by generally supporting him at key points in the race, such as when he fell on the Saint Gervais stage. The names of Mikel Nieve, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao and Waut Poels also deserve mention for their fine work in the mountains – reeling in any riders attempting attacks and swarming round Froome to protect him and set a steady pace. It was a fine example to general sports fans of the value of finely tuned and committed teamwork. The way all 9 of Sir Dave Brailsford’s Sky riders crossed the line together, arm in arm, was particularly symbolic.
The Tour de France is the most physically and mentally gruelling race in the sport and brings out the very best of its riders. All Froome’s qualities were on show. Yes he had won it twice before but this felt like a real coming of age. Froome showed that as well as being typically powerful on summit finishes and explosive on time trials he is tactically astute, inventive and has a real psychological hold over the rest of the field. He has always been immensely determined and strong but showed real bravery and judgement at key moments. For example, when pulling off a thrilling counterattack in the crosswinds on stage 11. He coped well under the pressure of knowing that if he failed, all those Team Sky riders who had been totally committed to supporting him would fall too.
If there is anything that young athletes can learn from champions like Froome it is that they are always trying to improve. Always striving to push themselves that little bit harder. Under Brailsford, who has long advocated the importance of making marginal gains, Froome has progressed year on year to the point that, on securing his third Tour, he now looks as close to the complete cyclist as he could possibly be. In previous Tour wins years he has looked vulnerable in the last week, losing time to his closest challenger Quintana. Yet after hard work over the past year Froome looked almost stronger in the final stages rather than weaker. He always has his foot on the pedal, pushing the boundaries of his capabilities and at present it is going to take a lot for anyone to catch him.
To put his achievement into context, Froome has become only the 8th person, ignoring Lance Armstrong, to have won 3 or more Tours. The next target will be to join that select pantheon of 4 riders to have won it 5 times. Do not be surprised if he pulls it off. As Froome sat up and enjoyed the moment as he crossed the finishing line it was confirmed once and for all that this is very much the Froome era. British sport, and the entire cycling world, is lucky to have him.