Belfast Telegraph

Chris Froome focuses on another Tour win as next prize

By Kevin Garside

Before you cast that vote for Andy Murray in Sunday's sports personality pageant, consider this.

It is stage 15. Chris Froome is leading the Tour de France. He is knackered. More than 200km (125 miles) of French asphalt are already behind him. That was the easy bit.

He looks over his handlebars and sees the Beast of Provence, Mont Ventoux, winking at him in the manner of a Seventies football hooligan; come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.

The legs have gone, his energy reserves are shot and there are still 21km to go. And not just any old kilometres, arguably the hardest yards in cycling, a stretch that in 1967 cost another Englishman, Tom Simpson, his life.

It is one of the great sporting parlour debates; which sport asks the most of its participants? I recall James Cracknell explaining how in Olympic rowing finals the four in the boat are asked to row beyond endurance, to drain from their extremities, from hair follicles and fingernails, any source of strength they might have left to help propel them across that line.

The race is 2,000 metres long, and the effort is split four ways. That is not to write down the achievement but to talk up the inhumane demands on Froome that day in July.

On the first mountain stage of the 2013 tour, Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrenees, Froome took more than a minute out of hard-boiled climber Alejandro Valverde and almost two out of Alberto Contador to establish early hegemony. The Provençal peak is where he rammed the blade home.

"The Ventoux stage sent a particularly strong message to my rivals," says Froome.

"I was already in the yellow jersey so I think they were expecting me to ride in a very defensive manner, trying to minimise any losses, if there were any, and follow them.

"When I went on the offensive there and took the race on for myself, started opening up the advantage I already had, I think that sent the message, 'You guys are racing for second place already'."

Froome is only 28. He is not expecting the gaze of the BBC audience to fall upon him. It is enough that he is there at all.

"It would be incredible to win the sports award, a dream end to the season, but looking at the competition I'm not even thinking about that. It's great to be on that stage. I'm just grateful for the year that I have had," he said.

"One of the things I have to keep reminding people about is that it is something really extraordinary to have a British victory at the Tour de France two years successively, given that in the previous 100 years we have not had one.

"I think people get lulled into a false sense that this is easy, but it is certainly far from that. I would love to go back next year and do it again. There is a chance that could happen.

"I did get the better of my competition this year and they will be back with a vengeance, training harder than ever to take me on again. I'm going to have to rise to that. It's going to be a big challenge."

Belfast Telegraph

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