Form, fitness, fatigue and Froome – what we’ve learnt from the Tour of Romandy

As expected, Chris Froome beat Simon Spilak by some margin in the time trial which rounded off the Tour of Romandy. This gave him the overall win and resulted in exactly the same podium as last year, with world champion, Rui Costa, in third.

But as with so many stage races, the result itself seems less significant than what it might mean for the Tour de France in July.

Form

In most sports, form’s a pretty nebulous concept – something usually only glimpsed with the benefit of hindsight after a string of victories. In cycling, the definition’s much more prosaic. Form comes from the balance between fitness and fatigue and so teams manipulate training and rest so that riders are in optimal condition when it matters most.

This means that form doesn’t arrive as an unheralded gift from VO2 Maximus, the Roman god of aerobic fitness. Instead, it is built – painstakingly and predictably. This is why tracking form makes sense. However, the mechanics of how form is built mean that tracking form does not make sense.

Come again?

Okay, some concrete examples might help. Let’s start with the obvious – Froome himself.

Chris Froome won the final time trial in the Tour of Romandy, beating the world champion in that discipline, Tony Martin, by a second. This shows that he is already in great form and he won’t have peaked yet. As I said, form is built and there are more than foundations to work with here. There is a tall tower with a few layers of bricks still to be added. Things are looking good.

Now let’s compare that to Vincenzo Nibali. He also rode the Tour of Romandy, finishing fifth overall. He lost time on the key mountain stage when he couldn’t follow Froome on the climb. Is he out of the reckoning for the Tour?

Well, no. Firstly, he could have raced with more fatigue than Froome. Their underlying fitness – which is what is being built – could have been similar. ‘Fit but tired’ becomes ‘in form’ after a bit of rest. Secondly, there’s still quite a bit of time to go before the Tour. If Nibali had really struggled, we could perhaps think about counting him out. But he wasn’t so far away.

Essentially, we’re talking shades of grey here. From what we’ve seen, Froome is currently looking better than Nibali, but we can’t conclude anything until the Tour – that’s the whole point.

Anyone else worth mentioning?

Other than Froome, another major Tour contender whose preparations have been going beautifully is Alberto Contador. He didn’t race in Romandy, but he’s already won a couple of big stage races this season and finished second in a couple more.

At the opposite extreme, there’s Richie Porte. Here construction deadlines have been pushed back due to illness. Originally aiming for the Giro, he’s now building towards the Tour, but even that doesn’t seem to be going smoothly because he dropped out of this race on the penultimate stage. It’s a good example of how the best-laid plans gang aft agley.

In Porte’s own words:

“I went from being up there on one mountain stage, and in quite good condition, to being knelt over a toilet in my time trial position due to gastroenteritis. I thought that I was okay for Catalunya but I just had nothing in the tank and when you know, you just know.”

He apparently lost three weeks of training. That’s a lot, because you not only lose fitness over those three weeks, you also miss out on all the additional fitness you should have gained in that time.

What’s next?

The Giro starts on Friday in, er, Belfast. I’ll do some preview stuff this week. I haven’t decided exactly what yet. Let me know if you have strong feelings on the matter and I’ll maybe half-consider doing what you request, but only if it’s pretty much what I was going to do anyway.