Comment: What next for Chris Froome?
Triple Grand Tour champion faces a career-defining paradox: he is simultaneously an all-time great and on the brink of losing his legacy
Chris Froome’s stunning solo attack on stage 19 of the 2018 Giro d’Italia was, whichever way you look at it, a career-defining ride.
The Team Sky man earned his place in the pantheon of cycling’s Grand Tour greats, and he did it in style – riding away from his pink jersey rivals, including defending champion Tom Dumoulin, to overturn a three-minute deficit and jump from fourth to first overall.
It was a ride to remember, an iconic moment to pin to Froome’s name, rather than just a collection of records and statistics.
This was a Grand Tour won in style, rather than the monotonous burning through of his team-mates before a late attack over weary rivals – a criticism previously levelled at some of Team Sky’s triumphs.
Froome's Giro d’Italia victory – a third consecutive Grand Tour win, unprecedented in the modern era – completed his Grand Tour triple, something only six other riders have ever achieved.
The record books will now show Froome's name alongside greats like Anquetil, Gimondi, Merckx and Hinault, and modern icons like Contador and Nibali. When he won the Vuelta a Espana for the first time in September, after a number of near misses, commentators said he needed to win the Giro d’Italia to be considered a great. And so he went and did exactly that.
But Froome's Giro d'Italia victory was set against the backdrop of a lingering doping investigation. Indeed, we still don't actually know if Froome will remain the Vuelta a Espana 2017 champion, after it was revealed he had returned an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during an in-competition test.
Froome maintains his innocence, and he and the team are apparently still working on getting to the bottom of it – for his part, Froome has repeatedly stated he is confident he can prove his innocence.
"Dumoulin himself would not have been able to race at the Giro d'Italia due to Team Sunweb being part of the MPCC, which Team Sky are not"
For the time being at least, Froome has a big asterisk next to his name and his recent achievements. Should he lose his Vuelta a Espana title, a back-dated ban could also cost him his Giro d’Italia win too, à la Alberto Contador in 2011.
Indeed, Tom Dumoulin – the man who would stand to inherit the title in the event of any relegation of Froome – stated pre-race he did not think Froome should be at the Giro; Dumoulin himself would not have been able to race due to Team Sunweb being part of the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling), which Team Sky are not.
There is certainly an argument that Froome stepping away from the pro peloton during the investigation would have eradicated the current situation.
On the other hand, were it not for details of his adverse analytical finding being leaked before Christmas, the investigation – which Froome insists will absolve him of any wrongdoing – would still be going on in private.
Froome is 33 now and may never get the chance to challenge for such an historic achievement again, and as a professional you can understand him not wavering from his goals given he had no obligation to stand aside.
Unfortunately, even if Froome is absolved, a doping accusation is not easily shaken off – he has already had urine thrown at him during races and was allegedly spat on at the Giro d’Italia.
"Froome is simultaneously both one of the greatest cyclists of all time and also a man on the brink of suspension and the destruction of his legacy"
As soon as Froome's adverse analytical finding entered the public domain, some had already made their minds up – even if their unfounded allegations into Froome’s previous performances continue to be wide of the mark. If it’s an overdose of a legal asthma medication that costs Froome his legacy, it would smack of Al Capone being sent down for tax evasion considering some of the unfounded allegations the Team Sky man has had to face from some quarters.
And yet the bottom line remains that Froome and Team Sky must comprehensively explain why there was twice the permitted limit of salbutamol in his urine test during last year’s Vuelta.
Where does Froome go from here? He is currently in a paradox – he is simultaneously both one of the greatest cyclists of all time and also a man on the brink of suspension and the destruction of his legacy.
This is a pivotal moment for cycling. As Froome rides into the history books, the sport faces the potential of one of its modern superstars - and a Team Sky rider - being banned.
And yet Froome stands on the brink of more history – his goal of targeting the Giro-Tour double is already 50 per cent complete as he bids to achieve what no rider has managed in the last two decades.
It would also mean a record-equaling fifth Tour de France triumph, while just two more days in the yellow jersey would move him third on the all-time list (16 would take him second).
Froome, undoubtedly, will continue his preparations for the Tour. He has questions to answer, and would be naïve to think otherwise, but there is little more he can do than sit tight while Team Sky call in expert help.
"We are already eight months on from the Vuelta and five from the failed test being leaked to the public, and the clamour for answers will only grow as time goes on"
While Froome sits tight, you can’t blame him for wanting to press on in his pursuit of more Grand Tour history, but even the 33-year-old's staunchest fans must accept there is a question mark over his name until the investigation is concluded.
We are already eight months on from the Vuelta and five from the failed test being leaked to the public, and the clamour for answers will only grow as time goes on.