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‘Froome is the easy favourite of Tour de France’

Photo: AFP

Chris Froome finished second in last year’s Tour de France but many think he outperformed teammate and Tour winner Bradley Wiggins overall. France 24 takes a look at the man to beat in this year’s race.

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During last year’s Tour de France, Chris Froome raced side-by-side with colleague Bradley Wiggins, setting the rhythm that was crucial in helping the Team Sky leader triumph in the sport’s biggest race.

At one point, on stage 11 from Albertville to La Toussuire, Froome made a break away from Wiggins near the finish before being told to back down by team bosses, signalling to many that while Wiggins was first in the pecking order, Froome, who finished the 2012 Tour second overall, was the stronger man.

This year, with Wiggins skipping the race that started in the island of Corsica on Saturday, all eyes are on the 28-year-old cyclist Froome.

“He is easily the Tour’s favourite this year,” Bernard Thévenet, two-time Tour de France winner told FRANCE 24, insisting the Kenyan-born rider’s natural prowess and his particular skill on climbs should secure him the coveted yellow jersey.

A likely back-to-back victory for Team Sky has continued to fuel comparisons between Froome and Wiggins.

Thévenet said that Wiggins relied less on physical strength and had trained long hours to become Tour de France champion, while Froome possessed undeniable natural abilities.

It is a contrast echoed by Patrick Chassé, a French sports journalist specialised in cycling.

“Where Wiggins has perfect form and has worked very hard for his achievements, Froome is raw talent; his advantage is in his sheer energy and force,” Chassé told FRANCE 24.

Chassé said that this year’s Tour was one of the most mountainous ever, giving an edge to Froome, but that triumph depended on the entire race.

“Froome is explosive on the mountains, but like all the other Tour de France champions in recent history, he is an all-around cyclist, and that is what will earn him victory in the end.”

A late start

Another big difference between the two former Sky teammates is their relationship to the media, the French journalists added.

Wilkins is very reserved and has had to learn to surpass his introverted nature in order to face the press. Froome, on the other had, is at ease with international journalists.

“As a French journalist, one always worries about interacting with English-speaking sportsmen. But Froome knocks down that barrier immediately,” Chassé noted. “The fact that he is learning to speak French and Italian shows he is very open to the media.”

Froome’s interest in languages perhaps mirrors his unique and multinational journey into pro road cycling.

Born in Nairobi in 1985, his introduction into the sport came after he moved to South African for schooling as a teen. He became a pro only at the age of 22, but rides under a British licence based on his passport and his family’s country of origin.

Starting his pro career with Team Barloworld, he was previously based in Italy. Froome then joined Team Sky in 2008 –also the year of his first Tour de France– and has since moved to Monaco.

His first major breakthrough came during the 2011 Vuelta in Spain, where he finished second overall. He has shined this year, finishing first in four major international competitions.

The man to beat

Pointing to the growing list of titles claimed this season, the journalist Chasée there is little doubt that Froome will be the rider everyone else will be chasing as the Tour hits the mainland on Tuesday.

“He has completely proven his status as this year’s frontrunner by winning the way he has done, which is not the case with the other highly respected riders on the Tour,” he said.

All the more so since Spaniard Alberto Contador, who won the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009, continues to nurse injuries sustained from a crash that brought him and other favourites down in dramatic fashion in the first stage.

However, Chasée wondered if all the exertion spent by Froome earlier in the year would not catch up to the rider by the end of the gruelling Tour. “The risk is that he will lack the strength needed at the end of the race,” he said.

“There could always be a strategic mistake made by the team. But Team Sky is not the kind of group that allows those kinds of mistakes,” the two-time champ Thévenet noted.

He saw little – other than another unpredictable crash – stopping Froome from his rendezvous with cycling history.

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