Giro d'Italia

Froome still plotting for Tour victory despite rocky Giro start

Chris Froome found himself down 1:10 entering Friday's stage 7 at the Italian grand tour.

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With everyone focusing on Chris Froome’s uneven start to the Giro d’Italia and obsessing about his ongoing Salbutamol case, the bigger picture seems to be getting lost.

Froome isn’t racing to win the Giro. The Team Sky captain is racing to win the Giro and the Tour de France. He’s been saying that all along.

Just read what Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said the other day:

“[The Giro] is earlier in the season and that’s a lot of difference,” Portal told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown. “You need to prepare yourself earlier yet still go full-gas for the Tour to win for a fifth time. The preparation is different.” [related title=”More Giro d’Italia news” align=”left” tag=”Giro-d’Italia”]

That’s a high-risk bet for Froome and Team Sky as his unresolved Salbutamol case continues to hang over him with the possibility of a ban and disqualification.

Many are looking at the Giro through the lens that he will likely get banned or otherwise be prevented from racing the Tour in July.

Froome, however, continues to express optimism that not only will he race the Tour but he will also be cleared in his Salbutamol case.

“I’m absolutely confident of where I am on this,” Froome told BBC last week before the Giro start. “I have done nothing wrong and I will demonstrate that.”

Froome might be slow out of the gate in the first week at the Giro because the finish line is in Paris in late July, not Rome at the end of May.

Froome started Friday’s seventh stage eighth overall at 1:10 behind new leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). A crash just hours before the opening time trial in Jerusalem and an off day on the explosive finale in stage 4 sees Froome on the back foot in the opening week of the 2018 Giro.

Many perceive Froome’s early struggles to be symptoms of a variety of woes. Go into any chat room and take your pick: Froome is suffering from the accumulated stress of his case. Or he’s under more scrutiny and can no longer cut perceived corners. Some even suggest it’s a karmic payback.

Team Sky, however, said it’s trying to manage Froome’s Giro performance with the assumption that he will race to win the Tour for a record-tying fifth time in July.

The team would have preferred that Froome didn’t cede so much time in Jerusalem or Caltagirone, but it’s certainly not throwing in the towel yet. According to Sky, Froome is nowhere near his physical peak.

“The bigger challenge is to get Chris in good shape, but not too early and not too strong, because we have a big challenge to win again in July,” Portal said. “We don’t want to have Chris yet at 100 percent. We will see him in the next two or three weeks, some guys will really emerge, and we hope it’s Chris.”

A skeptic might suggest that Sky is just making excuses for Froome’s far-from-ideal Giro start, but Portal’s comments fit in perfectly with the narrative that Froome has been saying all along. The goal for 2018 is the Giro-Tour double and that hasn’t changed, even with the weight of the Salbutamol case weighing over the team.

Managing back-to-back grand tours is difficult under any circumstances. Froome squeaked out modern cycling’s first Tour-Vuelta double in September by taking a narrow margin of victory at the Tour and then hanging on in Spain.

Froome is backing it up with the Giro-Tour double in 2018. That would mean four grand tours in a row trying to stay at winning-level form. That’s unprecedented in modern cycling, but that is exactly the challenge Team Sky is taking on.

Of course, the 2017 Vuelta victory has since been shrouded in controversy following Froome’s adverse analytical finding for high levels of Salbutamol. If Froome’s legal team is unsuccessful in convincing a UCI anti-doping panel that Froome did not break WADA rules, Froome could lose not only the Vuelta but also be banned for up to two years.

No one knows when the case will be resolved because there is no designated time frame in UCI rules concerning these types of cases. Many are assuming that a ruling will happen sometime between the end of the Giro and the start of the Tour (and that’s not considering the possibility of appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport). It’s also possible it won’t be wrapped up by early July. Under that scenario, Froome would be free to race the Tour just as rules allowed him to race the Giro.

It’s hard to speculate on what’s happening behind closed doors with the ongoing review. Froome’s legal team has given nothing away and Froome himself has not revealed any significant details, other than hinting that his side has a strong case. Despite Froome’s insistence that he wants a speedy resolution, many are exasperated the case remains unresolved nearly eight months after the AAF in late September.

“It’s not something I can give a running commentary on,” Froome said on the eve of the Giro. “I’m confident that when we get to the end of the case, people will see it from my point of view.”

Whether or not anyone will believe him is another question.

Froome is the master at compartmentalizing, and from what we’ve seen all season, Froome is assuming he will win his case. And he’s training and racing as if he will be at the start line for the Tour in July.

“My objective is to build through this race and be at my best in the third week,” Froome said. “And I’m still on track for that.”

To understand Froome’s performance so far in this Giro, you have to look at it from the context that he’s targeting the Giro-Tour double. His ultimate finish line is in Paris, not Rome. Whether he gets there remains to be seen.