To find your name, you have to go down in the general classification, skip lines, look even lower, search in waters frequented by sprinters. At the start of the 6e stage of the Tour de France 2021, Thursday 1er July in Tours, Christopher Froome was at 165e place, with 32 minutes and 49 seconds behind the first, the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel. They were only 13 behind him.
→ THE ROUTE. Find the map of the 2021 Tour de France stages
It is not only the consequences of the enormous collective fall of the first day in Brittany, of which the Briton was also a victim. Others have fallen. They got up and rolled far ahead. The Laval time trial did not allow him to catch up, just to gain a place. He finished it in 121e position, like a no-rank, more than four minutes behind the winner of the day, the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
“Happy to help someone else”
At 36, the man who has won the Tour de France four times (in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) is simply not what he used to be. He is no longer the climber who flew in the passes, the roller who rushed into the plain and the leader of the Sky team, now Ineos Grenadiers, who did not extend his contract in 2020. The former yellow jersey with a skinny silhouette is a simple team member of the Israel Start-Up Nation training, working for a Canadian leader named Michael Woods.
Whenever a microphone reaches out to him, Christopher Froome says it politely, without bragging about questions about his ambitions: he is ” happy “ to participate in the biggest race in the world after two years of absence and he pedals to help one of his comrades to win a stage. This luxury road captain repeated it again after the Laval time trial: “It’s nothing new to me, anytime I’m in a race that I can’t win I’m happy to help someone else. For years people have helped me, it’s good to be able to reciprocate a bit. “
Three years after his last appearance in the Tour de France, concluded with a third place, this is his victory as a cyclist with a career dented by his fall in 2019 during a reconnaissance of the Critérium du Dauphiné route. Fractures of the femur, elbow, hip, vertebra, sternum, broken ribs, he was no longer a runner, he was a broken athlete whose future depended on the skill of surgeons. Others would have stopped there, the expenses and the career. Not him.
47e place in the Critérium du Dauphiné
Christopher Froome got back in the saddle in 2020, with the hope of winning a fifth Tour and joining Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain in the charts. He affirmed it again in an interview with Bicycle Magazine made last February. These spring results showed him that the step would be really too high, unless he thought that a 47e place in the Critérium du Dauphiné, about forty minutes from the winner, is an encouraging performance.
→ FIND the general classification of the Tour de France 2021
In Brest, for the presentation ceremony of the 184 competitors, the declining champion was still entitled to the protocol reserved for the “big names” of the entry list. His seven Israel-Start-up nation teammates were invited to step onto the podium without him and he joined them with a delay to be put more in the spotlight, before saying a few words in French.
“The circle is closed for me”
The public was there. But, at the applause, Christopher Froome was already far from Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel or Tadej Pogaçar, the heroes of the moment. It was in this same Breton town that he discovered the Tour, in 2008, as an unknown neo-professional. “The circle is closed for me”, he blurted out, like an artist on a farewell tour.
The loop will now pass through these alpine mountains which were so often the backdrop for these past exploits, when he stood on his pedals to respond to the slightest attack. Saturday July 3, between Oyonnax and Le Grand-Bornand, the 1,618 meters of the col de la Colombière await him. Sunday July 4, it will be a summit finish in Tignes, even higher, at 2,107 meters above sea level. We wonder where it will come out.