Froome's high-speed crash could be career-ending; what does it mean for Ineos at the Tour?
Chris Froome's time at the top of cycling may be over after his horrific crash at the Dauphine. What does the future hold for Froome's career and how will Team Ineos adapt to the loss of the four-time Champion at the 2019 Tour de France?
A fractured right femur. A broken hip. A fractured elbow. Fractured ribs.
Chris Froome’s list of injuries after his crash at the Criterium Dauphine is eye-watering.
The four-time Tour de France Champion was travelling in excess of 50 kilometres-an-hour during a recon ride when wind caught the wheel of his time trial bike and sent him tumbling down to the ground and into a wall at high speeds.
The hope is that Froome makes a speedy recovery to full health, and thankfully he did not sustain any serious head injuries – which is always the big fear in such a high-speed crash.
In the short term Froome will certainly miss the rest of the 2019 season as he recovers, but there now must also be concerns that this is effectively the end of his extraordinary career.
Injuries of this severity take a long time to come back from, particularly a broken femur, and it would be a big surprise if Froome is back at full capabilities to train before the start of 2020. At the age of 34 there have already been signs that Froome’s powers are on the wane, but take away a year of his career, and possibly a winter training block, and it’s going to take a very impressive recovery for Froome to be back in peak form by next year’s Tour.
You wouldn’t want to bet against Froome doing exactly that, such is his track-record for defying the critics and displaying an innate hunger to compete, but there will be doubts that he can ever return to even close to the form that saw him hold all three Grand Tour crowns at the same time.
Even the usually robotic Dave Brailsford looked shaken as he revealed the extent of Froome’s injury to reporters at the Dauphine, but the Team Ineos director will no doubt soon turn his laser-focus to his team’s plans for the Tour de France and what Froome’s absence means.
All indications were that Ineos were backing Froome as their main General Classification hope over Geraint Thomas, with the lure of a fifth title for Froome trumping the Welshman’s title defence. But Thomas, who is favourite to win the Tour with the British bookmakers, will now surely return to top billing at Ineos.
Egan Bernal’s injury that ruled him out of the Giro d’Italia gives the youngster the chance to ride the Tour, and he will now likely take on the role as back-up GC option. Many expected the 22-year-old to make a strong challenge to win the Giro, and in last year’s Tour de France he certainly showed his capabilities to climb with the very best in the world. Limiting his losses in the time trials will be key to the Colombian’s chances, although he will benefit from there being just one individual TT in the Tour, and that one also being lumpy enough to play to his strengths.
Even without Froome, Ineos will start the Tour with a roster capable of continuing their tactic of shutting down attacks in the mountains, but the Briton’s absence does increase the chances of disruption in those key stages.
And Mitchelton-Scott, who are so-far tight-lipped on the exact nature of their start list, could also challenge. Adam Yates has looked in extremely strong form in 2019 and will hope to push for at least a podium place in Paris, while Mitchelton-Scott’s relatively poor showing at the Giro means that they could be tempted to draft in some of their other big climbers to assist Yates in his bid.
Looking further ahead, the potential absence of Froome from Ineos’ future Grand Tour plans increases the likelihood of them signing Giro winner Richard Carapaz to further strengthen their squad for 2020.
But for Froome the focus will now shift, first to recovering and then to see if a return to the top level is possible. If possible he will no doubt do all in his power to be back and ready for next year’s Tour de France as he looks to join the illustrious list of five-time winners, while the 2020 Olympic Road Race will also be a fillip for Froome during his recovery. The Tokyo parcours strongly favours climbers, and if his recovery schedule allows, Froome could opt to target an Olympic gold medal – with the race coming a little under a fortnight after the finish of the 2020 Tour de France.
Can Froome return at a high enough level to challenge for those targets? Perhaps. Whether he should put himself on such an intense comeback trail at the age of 34 is something only he can answer. For now we can all just hope that he makes a full and speedy recovery.
-- by Tom Bennett