The will-he, won’t-he Chris Froome debate has changed with some finality in the past week. Earlier this season, we were asking ‘will he be competitive at the Tour de France?’, but after his disappointing display in the first few stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the question has become ‘will he even be at the start of the 2021 Tour?’
Two years after the horror crash that almost ended his career, the seven-time Grand Tour winner was already levelling expectation before the start of the Dauphiné, saying he was focussed on simply being “more competitive” rather than putting all his eggs in the GC basket. It became painfully apparent that his eggs were in short supply as early as stage 2 where he lost 3:25 and was passed by yellow jersey-wearer Brent Van Moer who had been dropped a few kilometres earlier. He was the second-slowest Israel Start-Up Nation finisher in the stage 4 time trial, and going into the high mountains of stages 7 and 8, he found himself well over 10 minutes down on GC.
The one positive sign came on Friday’s stage 6 during which he was able to stay with the peloton over the 2nd category Col de Porte and keep up on the descent, only running out of legs 7.5km from the finish.
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“I’m not talking about winning the Tour de France in a few weeks’ time, that’s for sure,” Froome said the morning after losing 2:12 in the 16.4km time trial. “I’m very much focussed on just returning back to my former level and taking one step at a time.”
Naturally, racing the Tour de France is Froome’s main goal for 2021, but he’s by no means guaranteed a ticket to ride.
“He is a huge champion for whom I have a lot of respect, but his participation in the Tour de France is by no means self-evident,” Israel Start-Up Nation team director Rik Verbrugghe told Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure. “I expect there will be some clarity during this Dauphiné. He has made constant progress since the start of the season, but we would have liked his progress to be more exponential.”
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Though enough of an improvement in form prior to the Tour is now more than doubtful, it would still be good to see Chris Froome at the biggest race on the calendar. He could lead a stage-hunting Israel Start-Up Nation lineup as the ‘winningest’ road captain or super-domestique in the peloton. There are few cyclists currently racing who know how to race the Tour de France better than Chris Froome.
As Sir Bradley Wiggins pointed out in his podcast, Froome is still coming back from a crash that put him in intensive care and affected basic physical function for several months. In short, the man deserves respect, not to mention a little leeway. This writer would be quite happy to watch him dangling off the back of the peloton for the first week or so of the Tour de France, deliberately losing time, and then see him get into a couple of breakaways. Just let the man have fun racing his bike. Hashtag Free Froome.
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