After three second-place finishes in five starts, Chris Froome finally conquered the Alto de l’Angliru on Sunday, 49 days after claiming his fourth Tour de France title. The 32-year-old is only the third rider to achieve the double in the same year and the first to do so after Vuelta was moved to the summer.
But while he may have ridden into the history books, Froome, and his Team Sky, will remain unloved by purists, rivals and fans. Team Sky (the Manchester City, Golden State Warriors of professional cycling) have an annual budget of €35 million as compared to the average €16m of the 18 World Tour teams. Their cyclists ride aerodynamic marvels and have state-of-the-art resources to support them. In 2015, Sky brought a luxury camper van to the Giro d’Italia for general classification captain Richie Porte. Authorities, however, commanded all riders to sleep inside the allotted hotel. This year at Vuelta, the team ditched the hotel entirely, rolling out instead a Formula One type expandable trailer which folds out to two levels. Sky’s rivals believe the team’s financial clout is unsettling the sport and suggest budget limits and salary caps to level the playing field, much to Froome’s chagrin.
“So everyone is going to be the same?” Froome said at the Vuelta. “We should all ride the same bikes. We should all have the same equipment sponsors. We should eat the same rice and porridge each morning. Where do you draw the line? To take (Team Sky’s advantage) away, it’s almost as if we are becoming communists.”
The budget has also been used to line up formidable riders as domestiques to support Froome and prevent any counter or long-range attacks, essentially smothering the competition and further alienating cycling aficionados.
It is up to Froome to win them back, one historic feat at a time.
6862 kms: Distance covered this summer
252,000: calories burnt
163: hours on bike
# After his fourth Tour de France triumph in July, Froome won the Vuelta a Espana — an annual multi-stage bicycle race — to become only the third rider to achieve the double after two Frenchmen, Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978.
# Froome has won the race in a more competitive landscape. Anquetil had 12 other teams to contend with at the 1963 Tour and eight at the Vuelta. Hinault came up against 10 others in France and nine at the Vuelta. Froome has had to compete with 21 squads of nine riders at both the Tour and Vuelta.
# Both Anquetil and Hinault won their doubles when the Vuelta was held in April, competing from spring to the mid-summer. Froome rode in the tougher conditions of mid-summer to late summer. There were only 26 days between the Tour ending in Paris this year and the Vuelta beginning in Nimes.
# Froome said a fifth Tour de France is his priority next season but left the door open for cycling equivalent of the ‘grand slam’ — winning the Giro, Tour and Vuelta.