Multiple Tour de France winner, grand tour champion, and #StraightOuttaKenya phenom Chris Froome is making his season debut at the Ruta del Sol. The fact that someone with his stage racing palmarès is opening their season at the Spanish race, though, is not what makes this a big deal. Instead, it’s the fact that Froome is riding under the cloud of a positive dope test in last year’s Vuelta and is still to face the music for what seems to be – at least on the reporting so far – and open and shut case of imbibing too much of the anti-asthma medication he desperately needs to keep up with the peloton.
Some people are writing that he shouldn’t race until the decision comes down. Me? Well, if he’s legal to race, he can race, and he can deal with all the attacks that come with it. He’s already not the most popular guy on a bike in France for a few reasons, and this only digs a deeper hole for him when he eventually comes back to race inside the Hexagon. The boos and hisses, the odd bit of spittle or worse lobbed his way? These will be nothing compared to what is waiting for him should he somehow pull an Armstrong and find his way back to the roads of France this July.
But I’lm getting ahead of myself – he still has the Run del Sol to ride first.
It’s not exactly a good predictor for later season stage racing, I have to say. It’s certainly no Tour de Suisse or Dauphine for judging form. Take a look through the riders who have won there and you’ll see a mix of ‘almost’ stage racers and guys who didn’t live up to their potential, as well as all-around superstars who just never had the legs or the luck in July.
There’s Steven Rooks, the great Dutch hope who never really followed through. Michael Rogers who, for a time, was thought to be Australia’s best shot at winning a grand tour before Cadel Evans came along. Valverde has won it five times – the race record – but who has never been given the chance to shine in France in July, and who crashed out of season 2017 so spectacularly; he’s got a Vuelta to his name, though, and a bunch of classics, too.
And then there’s Froome, an ex-cahmpion at the Ruta himself. Will he have the courage to go for a win when he’s under such a cloud of suspicion?
Well, it is Team Sky, so the answer is probably ‘yes’.
I’ll be watching (or catching the highlights at night, as I’ll be at work during the day…) and keeping an eye on Froome, and eye on Valverde (my pick for the winner), and also an eye on the two Basque teams because everyone should love a Basque team.
Any other favorites for the race?