Picture by Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix.com
It was a moment that no one was expecting, not even Sky’s management who are reputed for analysing and planning every detail, but were caught out by team leader Chris Froome. As the Tour de France peloton approached the summit of the Col de Peyresourde before the high-speed descent into the stage eight finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon, Froome decided to test out a scheme that had formed in his mind.
“Tactics is something I’ve thought a lot about, and especially realising that, great as it is sometimes to be the strongest guy in the race and just use the simple tactic of waiting until the hardest moment and then pushing on, there are moments when you maybe don’t feel like the strongest guy and those are the times when you really have to rely on tactics over pure brute force to win you the race,” he told me as he reflected on tactics as a whole and, specifically, on what happened next.
“You’ve got to bear in mind that I won the polka-dot jersey [as the King of the Mountains] the year before and also that the stage that finished with the descent off the Peyresourde was the first mountain stage of the 2016 Tour. We’d gone over three previous climbs before the final, and on each of them I’d pushed on a little bit and taken the points that I could behind the breakaway.
“I knew my GC rivals had seen me do that, so when we came to the last one, I thought, ‘We’re still all together. They’re going to see me push over the top and think that I’m just going to be going for the points again.’ I think that only came to me in the last couple of kilometres before the summit of that climb. I thought, ‘Hold on, if I make a move over the top they might, even if just for a second, lower their guard thinking that I’m just picking up the points. But if I carry on pushing over the other side it will be interesting to see what their response is. So why not? The worst that can happen is that they’ll bring me back.’
“I caught everyone off-guard, including Nico [Portal, Sky’s DS] with the attack. There was a bit of a silence when I first moved, and then I could tell that Nico was getting into it, encouraging me.
“Tactics are still vitally important when racing, perhaps much more so now because everyone is so evenly matched. The level of racing has risen so much across the board that it’s harder to find the gains needed to win. Everyone’s training at altitude, everyone’s doing similar intervals, so it’s harder to find the two or three per cent you need to beat the guy next to you. Even though I only gained about 20 seconds in the end, days like that can make a real difference, especially if they can help keep your rivals guessing as well.”
The route of the 2018 Tour offers Froome the chance to repeat this unexpected coup, notably on the stages into Le Grand Bornand, Luchon and Laruns. If he does, note how he’s changed his position since that victory two years ago. Following consultation with aerodynamics expert Bert Blocken at the University of Eindhoven. Although Froome still drops down onto his top tube when he’s looking to get up to top speed on descents, he doesn’t go down quite as far and keeps his back flatter.
Full Gas is the essential guide to make sense of all things peloton.
For details on where to buy Full Gas click here