- Thanks to an early crash, Chris Froome sits 1:42 behind the leader in the 2018 Tour de France after nine stages.
- If he closes the gap in the mountains and claims a fifth Yellow Jersey, Froome would tie the all-time record.
- Another Tour win would also complete Froome’s quest for the Giro d’Italia/Tour de France double, a feat not accomplished since 1998.
You can forgive Chris Froome for feeling like most of Europe doesn’t want him to win the 2018 Tour de France.
The route, complete with cobblestones and gravel roads, was designed to wreak havoc, to upset the traditional world order that has led to Froome winning three straight Yellow Jerseys and four of the last five.
The organizers (Amaury Sport Organisation) wanted to keep him out of the race while a doping investigation was being resolved, only dropping their bid when the Briton was cleared of any wrongdoing.
And the fans? Well, let’s just say that they have preferred for Froome to wear a different sort of yellow jersey in the past.
— VICE Sports (@VICESports) July 19, 2015
But his divisiveness aside, there is no denying that Froome is going to go down in history as the greatest Grand Tour rider of this generation. After winning the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Froome has now captured all three of the Grand Tours and has six total wins (four at the Tour de France, one at the Giro d’Italia, and one at the Vuelta a Espana).
He has also won the last three in succession, claiming both the Tour and Vuelta to wrap up 2017.
Pulling off the Tour/Vuelta double as he did last year is a rare feat. Only two other men have ever done so (French legends Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault). If Froome wins the 2018 Tour, he will join another rarified group of men who have pulled off the Giro/Tour double. (See infographic below.)
Nine stages into the 2018 Tour, Froome’s bid is teetering on the brink.
The Sky rider has already crashed twice, once in the very first stage and again on the cobblestones into Roubaix on Stage 9. The latter left him unscathed, but the former cost him time against most of his rivals.
He entered Stage 2 already 51 seconds behind fellow General Classification hopefuls Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Tom DuMoulin (Team Sunweb), Romain Bardet (AG2R), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Mikel Landa (Movistar), and others.
However, the early stages were even harder on (arguably) Froome’s two biggest competitors, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and former teammate Richie Porte (BMC). Quintana lost 1:15 on Stage 1 and is now almost three minutes behind the leaders. Porte finished with Froome on Stage 1 … and then broke his collarbone on the cobbles of Stage 9, forcing him to quit.
Most of Froome’s other challengers also suffered setbacks in the early going and the standings at the first rest day (Monday, July 16) could look considerably worse for him. He currently sits 8th overall, 1:43 behind race leader Greg Van Avermaet, but only 51 seconds behind the first real GC threat: his own teammate Geraint Thomas.
And Thomas, long a loyal lieutenant for Froome, only becomes a GC threat if it looks like Froome, the undisputed team leader, doesn’t have the legs to win. As long as Froome is in the mix, Thomas will be asked to work for his captain, spending his energy leading Froome up the steepest pitches and protecting him from attacks instead of saving it for the crucible finishes.
2018 TDF GC Standings (after Stage 9)
|1||Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)||36:07:17|
|2||Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)||0:00:43|
|3||Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)||0:00:44|
|4||Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors)||0:00:50|
|5||Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)||0:01:31|
|6||Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe)||0:01:32|
|7||Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)||0:01:33|
|8||Chris Froome (Team Sky)||0:01:42|
|9||Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)||0:01:42|
|10||Mikel Landa (Movistar)||0:01:42|
|11||Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb)||0:01:43|
|12||Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)||0:01:48|
|13||Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo)||0:01:57|
|14||Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)||0:01:58|
|15||Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)||0:02:03|
|16||Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)||0:02:06|
|17||Romain Bardet (AG2R)||0:02:32|
|21||Nairo Quintana (Movistar)||0:02:50|
As the table above shows, aside from Thomas, there is no major gap between Froome and any of the other GC contenders. Fuglsang’s gossamer nine-second advantage will be quickly swept aside if Froome is on form in the mountains, which is where the race is heading immediately after the rest day.
Stages 10 and 11 feature the first real testing climbs of the Tour, and the mountains are where this race is won and lost almost every year. Onlookers will learn quickly if anyone has it in them to outduel the three-time reigning champion in his favorite terrain.
Based on the fact that no one has been able to do so for the better part of five years, Froome heads into the second week as the sizable race favorite, almost even money to win his fifth title despite the fact that no one has been able to claim both the Giro and Tour in the same year since a thoroughly doped-up Marco Pantani in 1998.
2018 TDF GC Odds (after Stage 9)
|1||Chris Froome (Team Sky)||6/5|
|2||Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)||7/1|
|3||Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)||8/1|
|4||Mikel Landa (Astana)||12/1|
|5||Nairo Quintana (Movistar)||20/1|
|6||Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)||20/1|
|7||Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb)||20/1|
|8||Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)||20/1|
Froome has, for the most part, survived the part of the race that was designed to cause chaos. The cobblestones didn’t get him, and now the course heads into his neck of the woods: high elevations and the individual time trial (Stage 20).
Perhaps a young rider like Adam Yates will emerge and outclimb Froome. Perhaps Jakob Fuglsang will prove to be a true Grand Tour contender late in his career. Perhaps an aging legend like Vincenzo Nibali still has one last bit of heroism in him.
The safer bet, though: the physical freak that is Chris Froome adds one more golden achievement to his already gilded palmares.