BERGERAC, France (VN) — A tactical blunder likely cost Chris Froome the Vuelta a España victory last year.
With a similar ambush-friendly stage Friday in the Pyrénées, Tour de France leader Froome said Team Sky won’t make the same mistake twice.
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“I think we have a very different team here in the Tour de France,” Froome said. “I find it very hard to see that scenario happening again.”
Last year’s shootout in the Pyrénées from Sabiñanigo to Formigal — quickly dubbed “Froomigal” — was one of the highlights of the 2016 season.
It all went down on what looked like a relatively routine stage. It came a day after Froome kept archrival Nairo Quintana on a short leash at 54 seconds in the Vuelta’s “queen stage.” With a long time trial at the end of the race, all Froome had to do was mark Quintana. He was going to win his first Vuelta. Right? Wrong.
The next day’s 118.5km stage featured two moderate climbs before a first-category grinder to the Formigal summit. No one expected anything to happen until the final climb.
Alberto Contador attacked from the gun, and blew up the race. Quintana and others followed. Froome was left isolated without teammates. With the right numbers up the road, Froome was caught out without any teammates to help chase. He ended the day still in second, but the gap grew to 3:37.
Froome later won the 37km time trial at Calpe, taking 2:16 back on Quintana. It wasn’t enough. Quintana beat Froome by 1:23 to win the Vuelta.
That lesson still hurts. Froome has finished second three times at the Spanish tour, yet never won.
“On Friday, that will be on the forefront of my mind,” Froome said. “I can’t see it happening again. Then again, this is the Tour de France, and anything can happen. So we’ve gotta be ready for it.”
Froome is in a very different scenario here at the Tour than he was last year at the Vuelta.
First off, he’s fresher now in July than he was in the Spanish tour in September. The Vuelta came at the end of a long season that included his third yellow jersey and a bronze medal in the time trial at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Second, Froome has his A-team to protect his flanks at the Tour. Last year’s Vuelta squad was filled out with riders who did not help Froome win the 2016 Tour. Even with the loss of Geraint Thomas on Sunday to injury, “Fortress Froome” looks very much up to the task of protecting his yellow jersey.
Third, Froome is already in yellow, and will be vigilant to aggression from all sides.
And finally, Froome will have his radar up. He said he will be chasing down anyone who lifts a finger. And that includes Contador.
“[Contador] is not someone who I would not have to react straight away, but we’ve seen his style of racing,” Froome said. “He’s never shy to attack from far out, and I think that a stage like we have on Friday, the 100km stage, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attacking on the first climb of the day.”
Froome won’t want to see history repeat itself, at least not the Froomigal ending.
“At this point, we’re not going to allow anyone to come back on GC,” Froome said. “We will be ready for that.”