Shadow of Armstrong dogs dominant Froome

Chesterman

Paris (AFP) - Chris Froome bristles at comparisons to Lance Armstrong but there is one way in which he cannot avoid them: his success breeds as much scepticism as the American's did.

On the face of it, there is little comparison between the pair.

Armstrong, the brash Texan who blitzed the opposition with an arrogance that earned him the nickname of 'Le Patron' as he bullied those who didn't tow his unofficial line.

The cancer survivor was an inspiration to millions around the world, while inside the confines of professional cycling many gasped incredulously at his achievements.

Froome, by contrast, is quite, unassuming and unfailingly polite.

While Armstrong was relatively small and athletic, ideally built for the triathlon discipline where he began his career, Froome is tall, gangly and awkward-looking.

Armstrong's style was fluid and efficient, Froome's elbows and knees protrude as he rides while his head bobs continuously -- apparently, according to the rider himself, because he finds it too heavy to hold up still and steady.

There are also some similarities in their early career progress as both showed promise in time-trials, although Armstrong was a 'puncheur' and one-day specialist whereas Froome was always a good climber.

Armstrong's metamorphosis into three-week stage racer was certainly more remarkable than Froome's admittedly abrupt emergence in 2011.

- Always a dream -

It was in the time-trials, though, that Froome had his first major successes, finishing second in the British championships and fifth at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

It was in his next season that he started showing ability as a stage racer, with top 15 finishes in the week-long Tours of Castilla y Leon and Romandie.

At the end of the year he was selected as chief 'domestique' for Sky team leader Bradley Wiggins to help his British compatriot in the mountains at the Vuelta a Espana.

He ended up finishing second overall behind Juan Jose Cobo and ahead of his team leader in third.

That was a seminal moment in Froome's career.

"It was always a dream for me to be able to ride general classification (GC), I knew I could climb well and time-trial well," said Froome.

"For me when I grew up, I wanted to be able to ride GC; I didn't think it would come so early but when I went to the Vuelta to support Bradley Wiggins, when I had the job to be the last man in the mountains, I thought: 'I'm doing all the pulling here, there's a group of only five guys left and I'm feeling OK'.

"At that point I thought if I can ride GC here, maybe I'm closer to that than I had thought."

A year later he was again a 'super-domestique' to Wiggins and finished second to his countryman at the Tour de France, although he proved to be the strongest in the mountains and many believed he could have won the Tour -- just as with the Vuelta the previous year -- had he not been obliged to work for his team-mate.

- Suspicion and accusation -

What he had done, however, was show once and for all that he was no longer a 'domestique' and deserved the right to lead Sky at Grand Tours -- the Tour de France included.

The next year Froome led Sky at the Tours of Oman, Criterium International, Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine, winning all four, in much the same way Wiggins had done 12 months earlier -- he won the Dauphine, Romandie and Paris-Nice -- in his build-up to Tour success.

At the Tour itself, Froome decimated the opposition with some stunning victories on mountain top finishes and his road to Tour champion was secure, as was his path to suspicion and accusation.

Since then, Froome has continued to dominate in stage racing -- although he crashed out of the 2014 Tour and was beaten by Alberto Contador at the Vuelta later that year.

But he has continued to win week-long races, including the Dauphine and tours of Romandie, Oman and Andalucia over the last two years, now winning his second 'Grand Boucle' to boot.

But what this year's Tour showed once again is that with domination comes damnation and Armstrong's shadow looms large over Froome even though the Briton has never failed a doping test.