PAU, France (VN) — Chris Froome felt like he was on his limit midway through his march toward the 2013 Tour de France title. Two years on, Sky’s British leader is “fresher and more prepared” for the French grand tour.
Sky planned his season that way. In November, team principal David Brailsford sat down with Froome and his trainer to work out a plan so that he would come into the Tour de France “al dente,” or just on the verge of his optimal levels.
Training camps and fewer race days went into the mix. When he was not at altitude on the Spanish island of Tenerife, he went to races, but not as many as in 2013. He competed in four stage races and won two, the Ruta del Sol and the Critérium du Dauphiné. He went four for five in 2013, winning the Tour of Oman, the Critérium International, the Tour de Romandie, and the Dauphiné.
When Froome steps out the door of Sky’s hotel in Pau Tuesday morning, where the Tour stopped for its first of two rest days Monday, he said he will be fresher than he was two years ago. If true, it will make a significant difference with seven high-mountain stages on the menu before the race comes to a stop in Paris on July 26.
“I’m in a different position, I came into the race extremely ready two years ago, winning almost every race up until the Tour,” Froome said at a press conference.
“I felt like I was almost hanging on after the halfway mark. This year, I feel much fresher and more mentally prepared.”
American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) sits only 12 seconds behind Froome in the overall with 12 days left to race. However, one of Froome’s most feared rivals is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard of team Tinkoff-Saxo won seven grand tours in his career and stated over the winter that his goal is to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this season.
The fatigue of doing one grand tour before the Tour could cost Contador, who already trails Froome by 1:03.
“I’m wondering how much the Giro took out of him,” Froome said.
“I really don’t think it is the best preparation for the Tour. I am not going to say it is impossible, but the best way to get ready for the Tour de France, in my opinion, wouldn’t include doing the Giro d’Italia. We will see how he goes, but I do have a small suspicion that the Giro has taken an edge off him.”
When Froome starts stage 10 on Tuesday, which includes the first high-mountain summit finish in the 2015 Tour on the Col de la Pierre, he will do so in the yellow jersey. He must only defend, even if he did not rule out attacking to gain more time.
His rivals are in a tougher spot, he explained. Van Garderen appears strong. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will certainly try to take time in the mountains. Italian 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), however, lost time almost daily in the first week of racing and seems unable to reclaim his losses.
“Certainly, it’s important for morale and the team [to have the lead and gain time],” Froome said.
“If you are losing time almost on a daily basis, it has to be quite of a negative and the morale won’t be quite as good.”