LONDON (AFP) — Chris Froome will focus on becoming only the fifth rider to win five Tour de France crowns this year and forgo defending his Giro d’Italia title Team Sky announced on Tuesday. Instead, his young teammate Egan Bernal will challenge for the maglia rosa in May.
The 33-year-old Kenyan-born Brit will aim for the yellow jersey, which his Team Sky teammate Geraint Thomas won in 2018. Thomas will also target the sport’s showpiece event.
If successful Froome would join Spaniard Miguel Indurain, French duo Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault — whose overall victory in 1985 is the last time a Frenchman won — and Belgium’s Eddy Merckx as five-time winners.
American Lance Armstrong finished first seven times, but was stripped of his victories for doping.
The highly-regarded Bernal, 21, will lead Team Sky’s challenge for the Giro. Froome and Thomas hope to deliver a fairytale end to British media company Sky’s nine-year backing. In December, the sponsor confirmed that it would end support after the 2019 season. The team has won six Tours de France since it began racing in 2010.
Froome, who in 2017 achieved the Tour and Vuelta double, said age had been a factor in what had been a “difficult decision.”
“I’ve got some amazing memories from last year, but I think, with the Tour de France as my main objective, it’s probably better that I skip the Giro d’Italia in 2019,” the 33-year-old said in a team statement.
“I’m getting to the point in my career now where I’m starting to think about what kind of legacy I want to leave behind and if I am able to win the Tour de France for a fifth time and join that very elite group of bike riders — only four other people have ever done that — it would just be incredible.”
Thomas, 32, said he might have focused on the Giro/Vuelta double had he not been defending his Tour crown.
“Having won the Tour, I’ll have the number one on my back and it would be sad not to go back and not to go back at 100 percent as well,” said Thomas.
The Colombian Bernal, who showed his promise last year in winning the Tour of California and his home tour, said Italy was like a second home to him.
“I lived in Italy for three years, so I have a lot of friends there and I really like the Italian fans.
“I know the roads, I really like the Giro, and I want to do a good race there.”
Bernal will begin his 2019 campaign by defending his Tour Colombia title which gets underway in Medellin on February 12 and ends in nearby Alto de las Palmas on February 17. Froome will be riding alongside Bernal.
“It will be the first race with Froomey there so we want to do it well!” the Colombian said.
The Giro — the first of the year’s three grand tours — runs from May 11 to June 2, and the Tour from July 6-28.