Chris Froome could have lived with Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar in his prime, says Ineos Grenadiers' Luke Rowe.
Rowe had a front-row seat for Froome's Tour de France domination, acting as a domestique as Froome racked up his four yellow jerseys between 2013 and 2017.
With Froome, 37, approaching the twilight of his career and still recovering from a serious crash in 2019, the days of his leadership of the peloton seem to be over with his hotseat taken over firstly by Pogacar - champion in 2020 and 2021 - and now Vingegaard, who took the 2022 Tour title.
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But in a fight between all of them in peak condition, Rowe thinks it would have been an even contest.
Rowe told VeloNews: “The level is higher [now than during Froome's glory era]. I’m not a big numbers man but if you look at the numbers they are going faster now than they were then but the sport is evolving.
“They’re getting faster and faster with all this equipment, all this training and all this jazz. He [Froome] won and in those years at the Tour he was riding relatively within himself to be honest.
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“We were conservative. This dull, robotic style that was written about, looking back was dull and robotic. But I still stand by the fact that it was the most efficient way to defend the jersey. Any team would have done the same if they had the same strength as we did then.
"I think he could live with these boys, Froome in his prime."
Fast forward to the current roster of Ineos riders - with Froome departed to Israel-Premier Tech - and Rowe is clear that there is one rider who will be able to challenge Vingegaard and Pogacar in future editions of the race.
Rowe said: “If I’m optimistic, the only guy on our ranks at the moment who can compete with those guys, if he’s at his best, is Egan [Bernal], who obviously remains a big question mark at the moment [following a serious accident earlier this year].
“He’s on his bike and he’s training. At the start of the year he was going to be our go-to man and we could have challenged them. Could we have beaten them? I don’t know.
“These guys are flying. Geraint [Thomas] was third and I think it’s no shame in saying that he was the third best rider in the race.
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"So how many years, I don’t know, but the only guy is Egan if he can get to his best.”
Rowe revealed the speed of racing at this year's Tour had been unlike anything he had experienced before.
“The most physically demanding Tour I’ve ever done," he said.
“You normally get a day or two when a break is allowed to get 20 minutes and you can just cruise in or a sprint day when two guys go in the break and it’s relatively controlled until the finale but we’ve not had a day like that.
"It’s been 20 days where we’ve kicked the s*** out of each other since kilometre zero. It really has been.
"And even when a break goes a team will come and ride. The gaps in the GC were big and that leaves 15 teams saying that we can only go for stages now.
“The way it was raced was pretty incredible. It was like a series of one-day races.
"It was the hardest Tour that I’ve ever done.”
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