Giro d'Italia

Froome’s Giro just got that much harder

Chris Froome's Giro starts with a pre-stage crash, a time loss to GC archrival Tom Dumoulin, and more questions about Salbutamol.

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JERUSALEM (VN) — A pre-stage crash, a surprising time loss to GC archrival Tom Dumoulin, and yet more questions about Salbutamol: It was just another day in Chris Froome’s world.

Any hopes that things would calm down after months of controversy were dashed Friday when Froome crashed in warm-up hours ahead of a short but challenging 9.7km time trial in the twisting streets of Jerusalem.

The Sky captain debuts at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with raspberries on his right elbow, hip, and knee, and stopped the clock 37 seconds slower than defending Giro champ Dumoulin. It was almost adding insult to injury in what’s been a traumatic few months. Or, for Froome detractors, perhaps it was a touch of karmic payback.

For Froome, it was just another speed bump on what’s been a rocky road to this Giro.

“I am not relying on TTs to win this Giro,” Froome said. “Tom did a great ride today and to win like he did today was impressive, so chapeau to him. He is the world time trial champion, so I am not too surprised by that.”

Froome’s Giro d’Italia bid was almost over before it started. His front wheel slipped on a right-hander and he fell hard on his right side. Luckily there was no serious injury, but Froome wasn’t taking risks on a twisting, technical course.

“I am glad I was not more seriously injured,” he said. “I just lost the front wheel on a corner. A crash is always going to hurt, and it’s not an ideal way to start a race with a crash.”

Ceding 37 seconds to a direct GC rival on the level of Dumoulin is rather unprecedented for Froome since his rise in the ranks. Froome often takes important gains on his GC rivals in time trials, but Dumoulin is emerging as a different kind of threat for Froome.

It’s usually Froome doing the drubbing against this clock. On Friday, it was his turn to take a few shots.

Dumoulin came away all smiles in the Giro’s first day. He ended the 2017 Giro wearing the pink jersey and he opens the 2018 edition winning it back on the first day.

And that time on Froome? A very nice bonus, Dumoulin said.

“I didn’t expect to take so much time on Froome and the other GC riders,” Dumoulin said. “It’s a course that suited me really well. It’s a good start for me.”

After crashing during warm-up Chris Froome had a lackluster performance in the time trail losing 37 seconds to race leader Tom Dumoulin. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Even without the crash, Froome’s team has been downplaying the importance of time trials in this Giro. Sky’s mantra in the lead-up to this Giro is that the pink jersey will be won in the mountains.

“It’s never nice to lose that amount of time on Tom Dumoulin,” said Sky sport director Nicolas Portal “The mountains are quite hard in this Giro. The rest of the race will be interesting. I was not expecting Froome to win today. I was expecting him to be closer. Winning against a pure specialist like Tom Dumoulin is not easy. If Dumoulin is going to be his top opponent, Chris knows he needs to beat him on the climbs.”

Portal remembered that Froome crashed in training in their first Tour together with the Frenchman working as his sport director ahead of the time trial at the 2013 Tour on Corsica.

“Before a time trial on day one, it’s not easy to manage, but Chris is a tough guy,” Portal said. “Of course, it affected him a little bit. I would not say he was going to win the stage anyway.”

And then there was that pesky Salbutamol case. As much as Froome and Sky want to focus on racing, the unresolved case continues to hang over them like a dark cloud.

Questions about Froome’s case have dominated much of the conversation during the Giro buildup. So much so that other concerns about safety and other political doubts about bringing the Giro to Israel have taken a backseat to the Salbutamol case.

A journalist coyly queried if it was a “relief” to start the Giro, Froome replied, “I haven’t been off the bike. I’ve been racing all season.”

Portal insists Froome is not distracted by media obsession with the Salbutamol case and said the team is firmly centered on the Giro challenge.

“It was not going to rattle him too much,” Portal said. “The situation is what it is. We cannot change it. Chris is really a hard, hard man. His mental strength is just incredible. Now we are here to race, and we are focused on that. I think we are all now ready. We do not think about it. We just go now full-gas.”

Froome has been fighting a multi-front war ever since his Salbutamol case was leaked last winter. The Giro, already considered one of cycling’s most brutal events in any conditions, could turn into Froome’s most difficult test of his career.

Friday’s topsy-turvy debut could just be a hint of what lies in store over the next three weeks.