Chris Froome’s profile remains mystifyingly low in Britain but his Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said he was up there with the greats of cycling after he claimed a fourth Tour de France in five years on Sunday.
It has not been a happy year for Brailsford, dogged by suspicions over Sky’s use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and the contents of a now notorious jiffy bag, but for the past three weeks Froome, as usual, has given his boss an easy ride.
The 32-year-old Froome was made to battle harder than ever by his rivals as he moved to within one Tour victory of the record five of Belgian Eddy Merckx, Spain’s Miguel Indurain and French duo Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.
“He is right up there with the greats now, there is no denying it,” Brailsford said. “I’m proud of Chris. He is a great ambassador for cycling and the team.”
Considering Froome was arguably stronger than team mate Bradley Wiggins, who became the first British rider to win the Tour in 2012 and crashed out in 2014, he could conceivably have moved past those four iconic riders on Sunday.
He will have to wait another year to match them but with Team Sky looking more powerful than ever, providing he is fit, he will be the favourite when the 2018 edition starts in Vendee.
Brailsford, whose team enjoy the benefit of a $40-million budget, said Froome could remain at the top for several years.
“There is no reason to think that Chris can’t go on,” he said. “Physically he has got what it takes. I don’t think that’s going to diminish in the next few years or so. “Then it comes to hunger and mentality and the Chris I’ve seen here is as hungry as ever and working as hard as ever. He’s getting better tactically and better technically. “As long as that keeps the same he will be a force for a couple of seasons to come.”
Those looking for weaknesses will point to the fact that this year’s 54-second winning margin over Rigoberto Uran was the smallest of Froome’s four wins.
Unlike in 2013, 2015 and 2016 he failed to win a stage and there were times, especially on the Pyrenees climb to Peyragudes, where he was attacked and beaten by French hope Romain Bardet.
Take out the advantage he enjoyed in the two time trials, one in Duesseldorf on day one and the other in Marseille on Saturday, and it could have been a different story.
Even then, his high-calibre Sky team, packed with riders who would be the head honchos in other outfits, would possibly have found a way to make sure Froome arrived in Paris wearing yellow.
Brailsford said his squad had delivered again.
“One of the key moments was Geraint (Thomas) winning the prologue,” he said. ” We didn’t have the greatest Dauphine (race) but we just hit off on the right mark.
“Getting the yellow jersey from the off gave everyone a real boost, we felt right we are on it.”
Brailsford also pointed to the way the team reacted when Froome’s back wheel broke on the penultimate climb of stage 15, leaving him 45 seconds behind a group powered by Bardet’s AG2R-La Mondiale group and facing losing the yellow jersey for the second time in the race.
“He was in real trouble, if he hadn’t got back with the group before that last sharp climb his race was over,” he said.
“I think the team reacted under pressure and were so synchronised. That was critical.”
With the Tour over, attention may well turn back to Brailsford’s handling of the team in the light of a UK Anti-Doping investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
So perhaps the Vuelta starting on Aug. 19, when Froome will go for a double, cannot come soon enough.