FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Chris Froome lines up Sunday in the unfamiliar scenario of not being the favorite to win.
Throughout his dream-like 2013 season, the 28-year-old has emerged as the king of the stage race, winning five out of six multi-day races he started between the start of February and his dominant Tour de France victory in July.
His track record in one-day races is not as illustrious, however, with 36th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in his lone classics appearance this spring.
Yet the climb-heavy Tuscan course opens up an intriguing possibility for Froome to become the first rider since Greg LeMond in 1989 to win the world title and the yellow jersey in the same season.
“I’d love to at least put my blind in, and have a go at it,” Froome told VeloNews. “It is a gamble.”
Sunday’s elite men’s road race has been the central late-season focus for Froome, but it’s hard to gauge his form coming into the weekend.
The Kenya-born Briton did not race the elite men’s time trial Wednesday, but he did help push a Bradley Wiggins-less Sky to third in the team time trial on Sunday. Some observers noted that Froome was struggling to take some of his pulls in the rotations.
Froome is clearly not going to be the same rider he was in the first half of the season. After hitting nearly two weeks on the post-Tour criterium circuit, he pulled out of the final day of USA Pro Challenge in August, and earlier this month he rode to 41st and 28th at the Grand Prix Cyclistes Québec and Montréal, respectively.
Those are hardly encouraging results, especially compared to riders who are flying coming out of the Vuelta a España, such as defending champion Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), or Alejandro Valverde (Spain).
Froome admits he’s not a top-shelf favorite for victory on Sunday.
“That’s quite open to a lot of different kinds of riders who can win it,” Froome said. “It could be a Gilbert, it could be a [Slovakia’s Peter] Sagan. …There’s a lot of scenarios that could play out on that course.”
Froome will lead a mixed, eight-man Great Britain squad that includes such disparate characters as 2012 Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish, and Welsh outsider Geraint Thomas.
Wiggins, who rode to silver in the elite men’s time trial Wednesday, said Froome would be the captain Sunday. Wiggins played a huge role in helping set up the mass sprint for Cavendish in Copenhagen two years ago.
“Chris is the captain, and we’ll all have a role to play,” Wiggins said earlier this week. “I rode the worlds last year and was just making up the numbers, didn’t finish, so no, it’s nice to be in this form, and be able to do a job, and assist like I did two years ago when Cav won. Chris definitely has a good chance. He’s the Tour winner.”
Despite his modesty toward Sunday, Froome liked what he saw of the worlds course during a route inspection in August. On paper, the 272-kilometer course is well suited for him. With almost 10,000 feet of climbing over 10 laps on the finish circuit, Froome should be able to follow the attacks if he’s anywhere close to the form he carried into July. The question is if he will have the legs to follow the race-making accelerations that will inevitably come in the closing laps.
“The worlds course this year is a beautiful circuit which opens the race to many possible outcomes,” Froome said. “It could be one for the top climbers, puncheurs, or breakaway specialists. It’s hard to imagine what scenario to expect on the day.”
It is indeed difficult to read how the race will unfold. One certainty is that Froome will be in for the fight. Fiercely competitive, he knows he will have a chance to make history, providing him an important extra incentive in the trenches.
Only four riders have won the Tour and the worlds in the same year. Frenchman Georges Spreicher was the first in 1933. Louison Bobet was the second, more than two decades later, in 1954. Eddy Merckx achieved the double in 1971, with LeMond in 1989.
Only two have achieved the even more elusive “triple crown” of winning the Giro d’Italia, the Tour, and worlds all in one season, with Merckx in 1974, and Stephen Roche in 1987.
Froome would be the first to achieve the Tour/worlds double since the event was moved from August to September.
“Winning the yellow and rainbow jerseys would be an incredible double,” Froome said during the Tour. “It’s going to be a really good race either way. If it all goes well, I’ll carry on the form and do [Giro di] Lombardia, [Tour of] Beijing, and [Tour of] Japan.”
At 16:1 on Bet365.com on Friday morning, Froome is a long shot to start those final races in the rainbow jersey, but the man who rode from Kenya to the Champs Élysées never let that stop him.