After an afternoon on the offensive in the white heat of Mont Ventoux, Chris Froome (Sky) was back on the defensive during the rest day of the Tour de France as the yellow jersey faced the press in Orange on Monday morning ahead of a training ride with his teammates.
Froome’s emphatic victory atop the Giant of Provence on Sunday has cemented his status at the head of the overall standings – he now leads Bauke Mollema (Belkin) by 4:14 – but the extent of his superiority has also inspired an ambiguous reaction from many observers.
“I can only be open and say to people that I know within myself that I have trained extremely hard to get here,” Froome said when asked about doubts surrounding the legitimacy of his performances. “All the results I get are my own results and the product of my own training and determination. It’s really been a long effort for me to get to where I am now. I know what I’ve done to get here and I’m extremely proud of what I’ve done.”
Comparing the champions of different generations based on their performances on the great climbs has always formed part of the folklore of cycling, but in the post-Lance Armstrong era, the echoes of history can have an uncomfortable ring.
Froome’s pursuit of Nairo Quintana on the slopes of the Ventoux prompted comparisons with Armstrong’s duel with Marco Pantani on the same climb in 2000, but he clarified that he had not declared himself “honoured” to be compared to the American in an interview in the mixed zone after Sunday’s stage.
“I’m not sure I said I was honoured, I said I would only take it as a compliment,” Froome said. “Obviously Lance won those races, but to compare me with Lance… I mean, Lance cheated. I’m not cheating. End of story.”
Twelve months ago, then-yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins also faced questions regarding the credibility of Sky’s programme but the whiff of an internecine feud with Froome meant that there was another story competing for attention.
There is no such respite for Froome at this Tour, as his commanding position atop the overall standings means that discussion of his team’s tactical approach to the final week was almost an afterthought during the press conference, which was limited to just 15 minutes.
“Losing [Vasili] Kiryienka after the first week and Edvald Boasson Hagen a few days later were huge moments for us where we lost a lot of horsepower. Since then, it’s been about managing the resources we have and the guys we have,” Froome said. “Every day when the attacks start, we’re under pressure. That’s when my teammates are under pressure and that’s when the emphasis is on them to control the race and get the race to settle down.”
Sky manager Dave Brailsford was seated alongside Froome during the press conference, and admitted that he was tired of “being asked the same question every day.” As Froome is discovering on this Tour, answering such questions is part of the responsibilities of winning the most important race on the calendar.
“I just think it’s quite sad that we’re sitting here the day after the biggest victory of my life, quite an historic win, talking about doping. Quite frankly, my teammates and I have been away from home for months, training together just working our arses off to get here and here I am basically being accused of being a cheat and a liar and that’s not good,” Froome said, before promptly upping and leaving to answer further questions from the television crews set up outside the team hotel.