Team Sky’s Chris Froome just won the Tour de France for the third time. The old conventional wisdom held that Froome was among the most boring men to win the Tour de France. On the pivotal mountain stages, instead of attacking with panache and guts, he chugged along, head down, eyes glued to his power meter as rivals slowly disappeared. His post-race interviews were predictably genial. He never lost his temper, threw his bike, or spewed profanity at the media as 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins once famously did. If Froome was routinely dismissed as lackluster product of the high-budget Team Sky juggernaut, this year’s Tour changed our minds. This time around Froome raced with an unpredictable style, and we couldn't help eat it up. Three episodes, in particular, showed us an entirely different side to Froome at this year’s Tour.
Stage 8: Attacking the Descent
As a select group of favorites climbed the steep slopes of the Peyresourde on the Tour's second mountain day, it seemed like nobody would make a play for the yellow leader's jersey. Froome’s dominant team led the way up the mountain and he followed comfortably. But then Froome attacked — not on the climb but over the top to launch a screaming descent. Tucked down tight, straddling the top tube of his bike, Froome flew down the twisting descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon in a high-risk move that left his rivals dumbfounded. So surprised was Froome’s competition that they only took up the chase late in the game. The time gap wasn’t huge at the line, just 13 seconds, but the message was clear. Froome had come to this year’s Tour to race, not just see who was the fittest. Froome later said he’d felt like a kid again on that wild race down the mountain.
Stage 11: Attacking Into the Wind
Four days later saw Froome on the move again. The stage to Montpelier was billed as a flat route, one for the sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel. Instead, high winds roiled the field and turned the day into a nervous, high-intensity roller coaster as racers fought to stay out of the wind without losing contact with the front group.
Late in the stage, world champion Peter Sagan and Majiec Bodnar of Tinkoff attacked the field. To everyone’s surprise, Chris Froome was first to respond with only his teammate Geraint Thomas joining the breakaway. Froome was soon swapping pulls with the world champion like it was no big deal, and even challenged him for the sprint. Sagan predictably won the stage, but Froome’s presence in the late break — which only added 12 seconds to his lead — was almost unprecedented.
Stage 12: Running Up a Mountain
Froome’s place in Tour legend was cemented on Mont Ventoux, a beast of a climb whose bare limestone face towers over the Provence countryside. Rabid, hard-partying fans overflowed into the road when Froome’s small group approached the final kilometers of the climb, which left only a narrow path for the race and its accompanying motorbikes to follow.
A sudden stop from a lead motorbike put Froome, BMC’s Richie Porte, and Trek Factory’s Bauke Mollema on the ground in an impromptu game of Twister. The crash broke Froome’s carbon bike and left him watching as his rivals raced up the mountain without him. With crowds blocking the support cars with spare bikes, Froome began to run up the climb. Anyone who’s ever worn road cycling shoes will know just how difficult it is to walk (let alone run) in them, but there was Froome jogging up the mountain in the yellow jersey, fueled on sheer determination.
When Froome crossed the finish line well behind his rivals on Ventoux, his face told the story of the day. Though the times were later adjusted, Froome believed in that moment that he’d lost the Tour and his disappointment showed so very clearly. Here was cycling’s human face, and one we could all relate to.
As he rode into Paris on the Tour’s final day, Froome celebrated with an obvious joy. Though this year marked his third Tour victory, Froome said the novelty hadn’t worn off. He dreams of returning to the Tour and winning again, maybe equaling or surpassing the feats of cycling greats such as Bernard Hinault with his five Tour victories.
For fans of the Tour, that’s good news. With this year’s race, it feels like we’re just getting to know Froome, the boy racer, who until now has hidden behind his power meter and his phalanx of teammates. This new irrepressible, attacking Froome is just plain fun. And maybe what cycling needs right about now is some fun.