On the 19th Stage of this year’s Giro Chris Froome attacked from eighty one kilometres to go to win by three minutes and turn a deficit of two minutes and fifty four seconds to Tom Dumoulin into a forty second lead. This has led to a certain amount of speculation, egged on by the advertising click reliant cycling websites, about whether such a performance was possible drug free which will continue whether the drugs tests he will have been subject to during the race prove positive or not.
Though extraordinary the circumstances of the attack make the result credible.
1. As a multiple Grand Tour winner just finishing on the podium had far less appeal to Froome than memorable attack than could win the Tour. Also an audacious attempt at victory would put doubt into the minds of his rivals who tired after two weeks or racing might hesitate to commit to a pursuit immediately as well as causing panic amongst their teams. Though is seemed unlikely it would succeed of the riders currently competing Froome was probably was the one with enough all round ability, results and reputation to make it possible.
2. Crashes in the first week of the race had affected his form which in any case had been planned to improve throughout the Giro with a view to being in the best shape for the Tour de France. Even then he had won on the most difficult stage of the race, 14 to Mount Zoncolon, which suggested he wasn’t far off his best. (Though he did lose time the following day an occurrence amongst riders which has become more common in an era of less drug use as recovery suffers).
As he has been improving many riders who started the race stronger have been losing form, most dramatically the race leader Simon Yates who lost thirty eight minutes on the day. That not only took the race leader out of the pursuit but also his team which had been strong throughout and would have likely increased the fire power of the chase.
3. His team have not been at its best and with some exceptions had been notably absent in the later stages of the race so using them early in the stage would be getting the most out of them. Additionally by distancing his rivals from their domestics they would have to work as hard as him, or a little less when in groups on the flat.
4. As I noticed during the day, and was reported later as part of the plan, Froome had helpers with food and drink all along the route whereas the chasers had far less support meaning they had to use some energy and spend time getting nourishment from their team cars which in parts of the climbs and descents was difficult.
5. The closest group chasing included two men who wouldn’t help because of a private battle over the White Jersey for best young rider and who knew the other members would continue working anyway improving their General Classification position. For much of the time the two riders from Groupama-FDJ alternated riding with Tom Doumolin so the chase was two against one with only the Sunweb rider being the equal of Froome on the flat so when he wasn’t on the front the gap increased. As Doumolin commented it may have been a mistake waiting for one of them who he described as descending like an ‘old lady’ which meant losing more time than they should even allowing for Froome taking greater risks.
FDJ Haranguing the non-contributing riders suggests the Gruopama-FDJ duo were letting themselves be distracted from the task at hand and as Thibaut Pinot wasn’t in a race with Chris Froome but with Domenico Pozzovivo for a place on the podium their efforts were geared more towards that than risking all to catch the leader.
Interestingly, or perhaps hypocritically, no comments have been made about the performance of three riders distancing by five minutes a far larger group chasing behind.
6. A gain of three minutes over eighty one kilometres means Froome was riding at just over two seconds per kilometre faster than the chasers which doesn’t sound quite so super human. Of course he had no respite from the wind but as no mention appears to have been made of its direction it suggests that neither a head wind, which would favour a group of riders, had hindered him or a tail wind had aided him.
7.It has been insinuated that this ride had much in common with when Floyd Landis temporarily won the Tour de France before being disqualified for drug use but the exploits of Fausto Coppi may be more apt as without artificial help to aid recovery extremes of performance become more likely.
On the other hand it may have all been a mistake. Chris Froome was only trying to win the Mountains Jersey.