Blazin' Saddles: The case for and against Chris Froome riding the Giro d'Italia
It's the talk on the street – Chris Froome apparently considering a Grand Tour grand slam by riding the Giro d'Italia in 2018 – but is there any truth in it? We take a closer look at what may be tempting the four-time Tour de France champion to board the plane to Israel – and what may be holding the Sky rider back.
Tiger Woods achieved it by holding all four of golf's majors at one time after his 2001 Masters win; Novak Djokovic did it in 2006 after coming the third man to hold all four tennis majors at the same time after snaring the French Open.
Now there's a growing momentum behind the notion that Chris Froome – off the back of his Tour and Vuelta a Espana successes in 2017 – will attempt to become the first rider since Bernard Hinault in 1982 to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time.
The sight of Froome putting in a first appearance in the Giro since 2010 seemed highly unlikely at the beginning of the week – just ask the respected author and Cycling Podcast lynchpin Richard Moore, who on Monday gave such a prospect "zero chance".
But over the course of the day, Moore must have received some vital intel for he relaxed his stance ever so slightly.
A subsequent report in Tuesday's Times – in which Matt Dickinson claimed Froome was "seriously considering" cycling's equivalent of golf's "Tiger Slam" – saw Moore change tact further, giving Froome a Bjarne Riis-style percentage chance of setting his sights on pink.
All of a sudden, Froome's tilt at the maglia rosa seemed like a foregone conclusion if you believed certain quarters. But was it all hot air and column inches – or is there a genuine chance that the 32-year-old will try and make it three Grand Tours on the bounce? Let's look as the cases for and against…
For: making history
Froome became the first rider in the modern era to win both the Tour and Vuelta in one season last September, but he has unfinished business with the Giro – a race he has completed just the once (in 2009, finishing 32nd, a year before being disqualified on Stage 19 for accepting a tow on the Mortirolo while trying to get to the feed zone to abandon because of knee pain).
"He has proved that you can win the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year, so why not the Giro?" Bernard Hinault – the last man to do the Vuelta/Tour double in 1978 – told the Guardian.
Indeed, win the Giro and Froome would not simply become reigning champion in all three of cycling's major stage races, he would become the seventh rider in cycling history – the most recent being Vincenzo Nibali – to achieve the elusive hat-trick.
Only then, many believe, could Froome cement his place among the true greats of the sport.
What's more – the prospect of not merely matching an existing record, but making one of his own, may be motivating Froome. At least, that's what the Giro director Mauro Vegni thinks.
"He doesn't need to do [another Tour/Vuelta] double: he's already won four Tours, so what double does he need to do?" Vegni said recently. "No, he needs to do the treble – he's won the Tour, he's won the Vuelta and now he has to win the Giro to write history by winning all three Grand Tours in a row."
Tour de France and La Vuelta winner Chris Froome races in the Road World Championships time-trial on WednesdayPA Sport
Against: risking a fifth Tour crown
Completing the grand slam is all well and good, but not if it comes at the detriment of making history in the world's biggest bike race. Should Froome wear the maillot jaune into Paris next July, he will join Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain in the five-Tour club.
Froome is already older than all of the above when they won their respective fifth Tour titles; the Briton knows that his days at the top of cycling's food chain are numbered – especially given the meteoric rise of last year's Giro winner, Tom Dumoulin, and the continued improvement of the home-grown French talent.
With all this in mind, Froome will want to secure a fifth Tour win sooner rather than later – or risk staying the only rider in history to win the Tour on four occasions. A fifth Tour is the priority – and racing the Grand Boucle off the back of not only the Giro, but three previous Grand Tours, could well jeopardise his ambitions. Just ask Nairo Quintana.
Dumoulin, Quintana, Nibali - Giro d'Italia 2017 stage 21Getty Images
For: extra week to prepare for the Tour
It is said that, in the modern era, a Giro-Tour double is infinitely harder than a Tour-Vuelta double for a raft of reasons – from the meteorological to the calibre of competition and timing of the races.
But this year, the running of the football World Cup has pushed back the Grand Depart of the Tour until 7th July – giving riders the best part of six weeks to recover after the Giro, should they wish to ride both.
In theory, such a gap would allow Froome to recover after his Giro exertions before mounting his challenge for a fifth yellow jersey.
Against: that extra week
"In the past, riders wanted a bigger gap between the Giro and the Tour because they felt they needed more time to rest. Now if you listen to trainers, they'll say that it would be better to shorten the gap between the Giro and the Tour because it makes it easier to maintain form over a long period," Vegni said recently – and he has a point.
After all, the Vuelta usually starts less than a month after the Tour – meaning riders can carry their form from across the border from France into Spain. In short, performing well in both doesn't require peaking on two occasions – whereas next year's calendar, although allowing for more recovery time between the Giro and Tour, may play havoc on the bodies of riders wishing to excel in both.
In fact, Vegni has even spoken of shortening the gap between his race and the Tour. Delaying the start of the Giro by a week "would mean doing the high mountains in early June instead of in May, and there would be less of a risk with the weather," Vegni added, with scant recognition of the Criterium du Dauphine.
For: a favourable route
The article in the Times said that Team Sky were "closely examining the route" – although full details will not be known until later this month when RCS launch the route.
While Vegni has ruled out trying to woo Froome with a deliberately favourable route – telling Cyclingnews that "you never design a Grand Tour for one rider in particular, because he might not even turn up" – it is thought that the 2018 route will include 44 kilometres of time trials and enough long climbs to at least make Froome glance up from his stem and take notice.
While this would be considerably fewer time trial kilometres than the 68km enjoyed by Dumoulin last year, a favourable route could well sway Froome. Indeed, despite his suggestions to the contrary, Vegni has also admitted he was "working on motivating him [Froome]", and playing to the strengths of the Sky rider would certainly provide the requisite bait.
For his part, Froome recently said ahead of the Tour de France criterium in Shanghai that "everything was possible at the moment," adding: "The Giro can always be hit and miss [in terms of the weather] at that time of the year, so it may depend on the race location."
Chris Froome in yellowPA Sport
Against: Israel grande partenza
"Obviously, the start in Jerusalem is pretty difficult as well but we'll have to see what the race looks like first before we make any calls," Froome added.
It does seem that if you do want to entice the world's best stage racer back to your race then introducing gimmicks such as a the first grande partenza outside Europe is probably not the best way of going about it.
Any benefits of that extra week of preparation will be outdone by the stress of having to travel all the way to Israel – plus the extra security concerns that such an event will no doubt entail. After all, giving a major sporting event a religious framework in today's day and age – with a finish in the Vatican supposedly on the cards – is playing with fire.
Vegni clearly has a point when he claims that, of late, there have been more terrorist attacks in Europe than Israel – citing London, Barcelona, Nice and Paris. But someone as notoriously conservative as Froome is hardly going to take the risk of three days pedalling around Jerusalem and its environs – even if he prefers hot weather than the cold.
What's more, the race is touted to head to Sicily ahead of Stage 4 ahead of another transfer back to mainland Italy before, no doubt, an Alpine finale. So expect many long, debilitating transfers next May.
It seems that not having some of the world's best cyclists turn up on your race may be the price Vegni pays for his curious political hot potato of an Israeli stunt.
For: Froomey the favourite
Should he take the plunge, Froome would clearly be the odds-on favourite for the maglia rosa – especially with the likes of defending champion Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet and Quintana all prioritising the Tour next season.
Froome's main rivals would be former team-mate Mikel Landa, set to be given a leadership role for his new Movistar team, and the Italian Fabio Aru, who will be UAE Team Emirates' man for the Giro. Such a showdown would be a mouth-watering prospect for fans – and offer subplots aplenty – but on his day Froome should be more than a match for both rivals.
Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain (R), the race leader's yellow jersey, shakes hands with second placed Movistar rider Nairo Quintana of Colombia Reuters
Against: the plight of Nairo Quintana
Froome won't have to look any further than his former Tour rival Quintana for an example of the pitfalls of such a race programme. Off the back of riding both the Tour and Vuelta in 2016, the Colombian attempted the Giro-Tour double this year and stumbled at the first hurdle – missing out to Dumoulin in Italy before finishing outside the top 10 in France.
Last season, Froome pushed himself to his limits to win the Tour-Vuelta double; it's unlikely to see him put his body through something he has never done before – riding more than two consecutive Grand Tours.
Verdict: Zero chance
After winning the Vuelta, Froome admitted that one day he would target the Giro – a promise he reiterated to Vegni over the autumn: "He said he would do it [the Giro], but I told him not to wait until he was 40…"
It's inconceivable to think that Froome won't be tempted at adding a maglia rosa to his palmeres at some point in his career – that much is certain. And he clearly won't wait until he's 40 before having a stab.
But now is surely not the right time – even if a few speculative articles suggest the contrary. Winning five Tours will remain the priority – and until Froome joins Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain – his mind won't shift to dreams of the Giro.
To win the Tour, you cannot do it as an afterthought. But racing the Giro first would force Froome into casting any success in July as a bonus. Only when he's ready to prioritise the Giro will Froome take to the start of La Corsa Rosa.
Vegni could include 100km of time trials, long, steady climbs in mountains, numerous zippy descents – plus guarantee hot weather – and still Froome wouldn't gamble.
The emergence of Tom Dumoulin – a rider very much in the same mould as Froome, but one five years his junior – has thrust the Dutchman to the forefront of Grand Tour cycling. As long as Dumoulin keeps his powder dry for the Tour, there's no way Froome will risk weakening his chances by scratching a pink itch via a journey to the unknown in Italy and Israel.
When will we find out?
The official presentation of the route for the 2018 Giro d'Italia is due to be held on November 29 in Milan, with titbits no doubt set to be leaked over the next fortnight.