Defending Tour de France champ Chris Froome begins his quest for a repeat today in Yorkshire as he battles his primary challengers and turmoil within his team from the ousting of Sir Bradley Wiggins as a support rider. Riding for Team Sky based in Manchester, the 29-year-old Froome faces strong challenges from Spaniard Alberto Contador of the Tinkoff-Saxo team and US rider Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp. Contador comes into Le Tour in excellent form and Talansky bested both Froome and Contador in the recent Criterium du Dauphine, a significant Tour tune up event.
In the run up to this year’s tour, Team Sky manager David Brailsford faced a difficult decision regarding Wiggins. Sky’s current lead rider Froome did not trust that Wiggins would have his back as a supporting rider and Brailsford had to determine whether or not to exclude the popular 2012 Tour de France champ from the team. Given the personal acrimony between the two riders, and even their wives, Brailsford made the command decision to keep Wiggins off the tour team. After Braisford’s decision, Wiggins has voiced his displeasure in interviews, which could lead to complete banishment from Team Sky.
Challenger Alberto Contador comes into the 2014 Tour de France in excellent shape and ready to turn Chris Froomes’ team turmoil against him. In races leading up to Le Tour, Contador has finished at least second in all contested events. After a doping conviction caused a vacation of Contador’s 2010 title and subsequent fifth place finish the next year, the Spaniard tried a new approach in this training. He moved away from his residence near Madrid to train in Lugano, Switzerland with abundant mountain training rides possible. He appears to be Froome’s major foe in reaching the final podium with the yellow jersey once again.
Talansky is a 25-year-old hard charger out of Florida. Talansky was a distance runner who segued into cycling after a stress fracture. He showed his disdain for taking the easy path when he tossed aside a certain third place podium finish in Dauphine to join a breakaway group on the last day. He could easily have crashed and burned by chasing the breakaway, but ended up winning Dauphine as a result of his charge. Similar to Contador, Talansky arrives at the beginning Tour stage full of confidence and fit to challenge Froome.
For his part, Froome has had a challenging spring. The defending champ fought off a lung infection earlier in the year and then took a hard fall at Dauphine. He claims to be serviceable, but the jury is still out as to whether he has recovered enough from his dual physical challenges to withstand the rigors of Le Tour. Now that Wiggins is reduced to sniping from the sideline, at least Froome can deal with challenges from outside the team instead of within.
As the Tour de France begins today, Chris Froome attempts to beat his challengers Contador and Talansky the same way he conquered his own Team Sky turmoil. The Tour de France is the ultimate endurance test for a cycling team. David Brailsford has delivered Froome his preferred supporting team, now the defending champ needs to begin his quest for another championship.
Commentary by William Costolo