Chris Froome has nothing to prove to anyone, his cycling achievements will forever be set in stone. But if you know the man, then you’ll know the four-time Tour de France winner is not one to shirk a challenge, and his latest challenge is arguably the toughest of his entire illustrious career.
Froome is fighting hard to earn himself a starting place at next month’s Tour de France. No mean feat considering he nearly lost his life in a horror crash almost exactly three years ago.
The Briton’s recovery and rehabilitation process has been slow – painfully slow. But Froome has proven time and time again that he faces adversity head-on – and he’s come out the other side with flying colours.
His famous Tour victories in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 understandably catapulted him to legendary status in the cycling world – and beyond. The mental resolve he showed in cycling’s most gruelling of races proved he was a real champion. But that said, his last Tour title in the energy-sapping French mountains was five years ago now and, even for the focused Froome, the road to a record-equalling FIFTH crown now seems very unlikely.
That’s not solely down to Froome’s fitness. The Tour – and the competition – has jumped a gear, or two, in standard. At 37, Froome’s best years are arguably behind him, but he still craves the chance to level the legendary Eddie Merckx with five Tour winners.
Belgian Merckx has long been the benchmark for cyclists in the current era. And no wonder, the cyclist nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ devoured all in front of him during his hey-day. He won a staggering 34 stages during his domination of the Tour between 1969–1974, not to mention five Giro d’Italia crowns and the Vuelta a Esapana during a prolific career.
Froome, himself, has won the Giro and twice won the Vuelta but, approaching the twilight of his career, respectively, he’ll know time is not on his side to join Merckx at the top of the pile. That achievement could be left to defending champion Tadej Pogacar, the Slovenian cyclist who has taken the Tour by storm the last two years.
His two Tour titles, the first which came when he was just 21, demonstrated just how talented – and how much potential – the youngster has to really cement his mark in cycling history. But proven winner Froome didn’t compete in either of those competitions and, had he done, Pogacar could have been pushed to an altogether different level.
If Froome can prove his fitness ahead of this year’s Tour, which runs 1-24 July, then Pogacar and the rest of this year’s title-contenders will need to watch out. It’s a long shot to say Froome will win, but the Tour has so many twists and turns that he could upset the apple cart.
Ominously, perhaps, Froome finished 11th at the Mercan Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes last week, his best result since the accident. And this week he is competing in the Criterium du Dauphine, ironically the race he was on a recon ride for before his potentially career-ending crash.
Since then he has left the established Ineos Grendiers and his established partnership with Sir Dave Brailsford to chance his arm with new team Israel-Premier Tech.
“I’m generally pretty happy with how things are going at the moment,” revealed Froome.
“This is the first time, really, in the last three years that I’ve been fully niggle-free, issue free. I haven’t had any pain, I haven’t had any discomfort, the left-right leg balance is in place.
“Basically, it’s just been an uninterrupted period since January until now of being able to work consistently and move things in the right direction. I’m seeing the results of that.
“I can take a lot of positives. Positives from the start of this year, I can really see a lot of response from my body to the training loads, to everything.
“I feel as if my body is responding differently to how it was last year. I’ve overcome a lot of hurdles.
“Basically I’ve got the all clear now, I’ve got nothing really holding me back now. I can get fully engrossed in the training side of things now, I mean that’s a side that I’m familiar with, I’ve been doing that for years.
“That’s the side that I’m actually looking forward to now these next few months and see where I can get to.”
The seven-time Grand Tour winner added: “I’ve seen a big progression these last couple of months, I’ve just come off a training camp now, the legs are feeling good.
“I’m just taking it one week at a time, focusing on building the feeling of momentum.”
If that momentum keeps building during this month, then Froome could well make his much-anticipated Tour return. And if he does, then his fellow competitors will need to keep a watchful eye on one of cycling’s greats.
“It’s understandable that people have got these expectations given what I’ve achieved in my career, but, at the same time, I think people need to remember where I’m coming from, these last three years, is a completely different place, ” Stressed Froome.
“At this race three years ago I almost lost my life. I couldn’t straighten my leg or put weight on my leg for the best part of four or five months. That was a huge rehabilitation.
“I broke my leg in two places. To come back from something like that isn’t guaranteed. It’s a step-by-step process.
“The first step is learning to walk again, then it was getting onto a bike and riding a bike again. Then it’s maybe trying to get back to being in a racing peloton.
“Now it’s trying to take that next step to become more competitive at this level and that’s where I’m at currently.
“I’m not going to set myself a limit, and say ‘that’s my level, that’s where I’m, going to get to’.
“I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can, keep moving things in the right redirection.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the support of my team. Israel-Premier Tech have been extremely patient with me, supportive of everything, so I’m very fortunate to be in this position.”