A key part of any stage racer’s arsenal is the ability to maximise your result on a day when you’re not necessarily the dominant rider. Chris Froome‘s performance on the queen stage of the Tour of Oman up Green Mountain (stage four) demonstrated the kind of on-the-spot tactical acuity which will stand him in good stead in July.
Start the video below at around 16:30, as the main contenders – Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Cadel Evans (BMC) and Froome – hit the final 3km of the punishing climb.
Froome finds himself gapped on no fewer than three occasions, but each time he keeps his cool, does not panic and works his way back to the front at his own pace, saving his legs for when he most needs them at the end of the stage.
Rodriguez is the first to attack and initially only Contador can follow him as Froome shakes his head, apparently in trouble. However, whether he is bluffing or genuinely unable to immediately respond, he does not panic. Instead he gradually rides across the gap and then puts in an immediate attack of his own – a gentle acceleration, not a stinging, leg-sapping one – to test everyone’s legs before easing off.
Next it is Contador’s turn to try to crack the others. Nibali and Rodriguez are first to respond, and again Froome drops back a few lengths before gradually easing up a gear to make the junction to the front three.
Finally, inside the last kilometre, it is Rodriguez who makes the decisive jump and again Froome makes the perfect tactical call from a GC perspective in the knowledge that the Spaniard is some way down the order and can be allowed some slack. He weaves off to one side, forcing Contador and Nibali to give chase before springing past them on his own terms and leaving both for dead. Indeed, having kept his legs relatively fresh by not being forced into any rapid accelerations earlier in the climb, he is able to close to within four seconds of Rodriguez at the finish, crossing the line fully 23 seconds ahead of Contador and 31 in front of Nibali.
Contador, for all his thrilling and swashbuckling dashes, essentially burnt himself out on this occasion, costing him in the final, gruelling crawl to the line. Instead it was the experienced diesel engine of Evans, who at one point appeared to have been dropped completely by the leading quartet, who kept on going and chugged past Contador and Nibali to take third place.
There is little doubt that Rodriguez was the strongest on the day and also that neither Contador nor Nibali were yet in 100% racing shape – but then equally neither was Froome. By keeping his cool at the critical moments and having the confidence to ride at his own pace, he maximised his result on the day, moving into the overall lead with a handy 24-second advantage.
On the undulating fifth stage the following day, that cushion provided a suitable margin of error such that when Contador attacked spectacularly and repeatedly on the three small climbs late in the stage, Froome had the luxury of allowing the elastic to stretch a bit before inexorably reeling it back in without having to take undue risks. By keeping his legs fresh again, he was easily able to win a three-man sprint against Contador and Rodriguez at the finish.
That effectively sealed a hard-fought overall victory, but it was the coolness under fire that he had exhibited on Green Mountain the previous day which was the real foundation for a confidence-building first career stage race triumph. Come July, we may look back on this Tour of Oman as the moment Chris Froome went from being a Tour de France contender on paper to one in reality.