After months of speculation, it is now no secret that seven-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome will not be having his contract renewed with Team INEOS after 2020. So why now? Why is this big news for cycling and what next for Froome?
First things first, the talk of a mid-season transfer is now put to bed. For 2021 he’ll be riding for Israel Start-Up Nation but it’s clear that if Froome rides this year’s rescheduled Tour de France it will be his last with the British team. To enter the special club of five star winners is going to be tough but an announcement before the race has even begun will open up more speculation about team selection and internal rivalry.
Team INEOS are accustomed to media spotlight with Tour de France dominance since 2012 so the pressure will be on them to deliver as the dominant team, so could this news cause everything to fall apart or strengthen the team further?
Let’s not hide away from the facts. 14 Grand Tour stage wins, one Giro d’Italia, two Vuelta a España and four Tour de France titles since 2011 – Chris Froome is one of the greatest tour riders of his generation.
Despite the Giro victory, 2018 didn’t go to plan with Geraint Thomas clearly the stronger rider and in 2019 Froome’s crash at the Dauphiné scuppered his plans to ride for a fifth title hence Egan Bernal’s victory and Thomas’s second place last year.
Regardless of his critics, his haters and the controversy surrounding the salbutamol case, which he was later cleared of, you cannot deny that Froome’s victories are nothing more than remarkable. Tactically spot on, overcoming difficulties and having a will to win – that has to be admired.
The turning point was 2017 with Geraint Thomas going for sole leadership at the Giro with an ambition to win Grand Tours plus Froome not at his absolute best to secure his fourth yellow jersey alongside an historic Tour-Vuelta double. Holding three Grand Tours at once in 2018 plus Geraint Thomas’s quality, certainly threw the cat among the pigeons.
To make things more complicated it was Froome’s almost career-ending crash at the Dauphiné that gave Thomas the green light for leadership only for Egan Bernal to win yellow. With Geraint Thomas not knowing how last year’s Tour would’ve finished with the weather affecting the final two stages in the Alps, Bernal’s triumph added more internal ambition.
Still with me?
Managing individual aspirations on the road will be interesting. How will INEOS deal with the situation and that’s only if Chris Froome starts the Tour. Bernal’s comments that he won’t sacrifice himself if he’s at 100 per cent and Geraint Thomas having a stake in claiming his second Tour title adds all sorts of spice to this year’s Tour de France.
The aim will surely be to see how each rider fares up until the third week and see who is in the best shape to win overall. It’ll therefore come down to team management and tactics, in the hope that nothing unfortunate happens.
Make no mistake this is a huge moment for cycling. It’ll signal the end of Sir Dave Brailsford’s partnership with Chris Froome and quoted from the team website, Brailsford says:
“Chris has been with us from the start. He is a great champion and we have shared many memorable moments over the years but I do believe this is the right decision for the Team and for Chris. Given his achievements in the sport, Chris is understandably keen to have sole team leadership in the next chapter of his career – which is not something we are able to guarantee him at this point. A move away from Team INEOS can give him that certainty”
I’m sure there’s a mix of sadness and pride within Brailsford’s mindset, his knowledge that he cannot guarantee leadership but joy in what he’s seen Froome achieve. The future of Team INEOS now lies in the talent of youngsters. Egan Bernal is only 23-years of age and has plans to win every Grand Tour, newly appointed 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz certainly won’t want to stop at just one Grand Tour, Pavel Sivakov has a bright future plus British duo Tao Geoghegan-Hart and Owain Doull could easily develop themselves as mountain goats in my personal opinion.
Rumours of Geraint Thomas transferring to other squads has always been talked out and I think that will be another inevitable outcome, unless I’m proved otherwise. The future is with new emerging talent and in INEOS their future isn’t going to rely on Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas forever. I’m certainly not writing them both off but times do change.
This isn’t new for cycling and not new for Team INEOS but it could signal a shift in Tour de France dominance. Jumbo-Visma have competed and continue to look strong, Movistar might get their house in order, Thibaut Pinot stands the best chance in ending French pain for over 35 years plus new Grand Tour talent is emerging across the peloton. Israel Start-Up Nation under the ownership of Israeli-Canadian property developer Sylvan Adams have targets of their own after being upgraded from pro-contintental to World Tour level.
Sole leadership is what Froome seeks and he’ll certainly get that in 2021. One last chance to win a fifth Tour with Team INEOS is going to be hard. In recent years he hasn’t been in the best form at the Tour and if it wasn’t for his crash last year, who knows what could’ve been the final outcome!
In my own personal opinion this was the news cycling fans were all expecting. The end of Chris Froome’s leadership at Team INEOS and a new future for the British team. Lots of respect to him and lots of challenges for Froome still to conquer.
The big question is what will his position be if he starts this year’s Tour? After the crash, what will his physical form look like? Look out for the 29th August because this year’s rescheduled Tour de France is going to be epic.
Featured image courtesy of imago