Chris Froome, Team Skys champion, never appeared dominant in the 2017 Tour de France, despite a lack of seasoned challengers, and at 32 he cannot go on eluding the years
With no disrespect to Chris Froome immediately after his fourth Tour de France win I do not believe the Team Sky leader will make it five and thus join the ranks of the immortals: Indurain, Merckx, Hinault and Anquetil not next year and probably not the year after. I appreciate that the allegations that I am indulging in anti-Team Sky, anti-Froome wishful thinking will inundate in but I would like to think the judgment is based on logical analysis as well as emotion. That is not emotion in the tearyourhairout sense but on the impression you get in your bones.
This was not actually the closest of the Froome Tours: that was 2015, when Nairo Quintana had the kind to win and might well have done so if Movistar had been more dynamic before unleashing him at LAlpe dHuez. However, the 2017 race was a Tour in which Froome never looked dominant. Not winning a stage is not a sign of a lack of charisma winning motorcycle races is scarcely simple, as everyone knows but it is usually an indication that a champion are not too what he was.
Partly this may be down to Froomes preparation, which targeted the final week, but Froome at his best would have had the ability to go with Warren Barguil when he assaulted on the Col dIzoard at the Tours final summit finish. Froome is now 32, a difficult age for a Tour champion, and while he has eluded the years thus far, maturing relatively late, it cannot go on for ever. That is the law of nature. This year he had the looking of a rider who is not quite what he was, who won by canny ride and with the help of a supremely strong team.
One would like to imagine that Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali watched this years Tour with an eyebrow created. One would like to hope that both will come to the Tour next year at their best, sensing that there might be more than half a chance to topple the man who has predominated the race since 2013. Each rider offers a different skill set Dumoulin in time trials, Nibali in his race knowledge and his riding up and down mountains and the combination of the two of them would add to the challenge for Froome, who lacked seasoned opposition this July.
Next year the opponent will proliferate and most of those involved will have less to lose than this year. Romain Bardet will know that the rostrum will no longer satisfy France and it would be preferable to danger all and go down in flames. France has only so much patience with adherents. Rigoberto Urn, Daniel Martin and Richie Porte will be older similarly, of course the same debate of anno domini applies to them as much as to Froome but they will still threaten.
The only way to beat Team Sky is to disrupt their game plan and prevent them from racing how they want to. This never happened in 2017, partly because Astanas challenge faltered, partly because there were not enough mature competitors in the race. Teams need to present the multiple challenge, one to assault from distance, one to sit tight and watch.
A combination of Dumoulin and Barguil backed by the same strong Sunweb team that ride so well this year could be very threaten, simply because of their contrasting racing styles. So, too, the Yates twins for Orica, who do similar things on the bike but have unique knowledge of each other and unique allegiance. They will be a year older and stronger, with two Grand Tour top-1 0 finishes behind each of them.
The transfer market Fabio Aru, Mikel Landa, perhaps even Quintana will be closely watched but teams of aspiration will look to present multiple options on the start line next year in Noirmoutier. Unlike Froome the bulk of the opposition is made up of relatively young riders with headroom for improvement. Potentially he could turn out in the Vende in 2018 to face a dozen serious threats, many of them younger than him.