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Tour de France

‘Project Froome’ falls short of Tour de France as Chris Froome overlooked for GC role

Four-time Tour de France winner still holding out hope for a fifth yellow jersey, but it won't be in 2021.

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Chris Froome still believes he can win another Tour de France.

And the 36-year-old may very well defy the odds and join cycling’s most exclusive “five-win” club.

But it won’t be in 2021.

Israel Start-Up Nation made official Monday what everyone already knew: Froome will not be in condition to challenge for the yellow jersey when the 108th Tour begins June 26 in Brest.

The Israeli-backed team confirmed Michael Woods, who joined the WorldTour in 2016, as the team’s main GC leader.

Also read:

That decision marks a coming of age for Woods, and the brutal admission that “Project Froome” fell short of its goal of placing Froome in position to challenge for what could be a fifth yellow jersey this summer.

Froome sputtered and stalled all spring, and finally admitted the obvious last month after another less-than-impressive performance at the Tour de Romandie. In a video message,  Froome said his comeback is taking longer than expected and threw water on any yellow jersey aspirations in 2021.

There won’t be a fifth yellow jersey for Froome, at least not this year.

Froome is still expected to race the Tour later this month, but it will be under very different conditions than when he raced to third overall in 2018 just weeks after winning the Giro d’Italia in his final Tour appearance.

Sport director Rik Verbrugghe, speaking to a Belgian daily last week, hinted that Froome will race the Tour despite the absence of a contractual guarantee that he will start, but with an eye on honing his form for a return to full flight in time for the Vuelta a España in August.

As of Monday, Woods is the only Israel Start-Up Nation rider confirmed for the Tour. Expectations are that Dan Martin, Alex Dowsett, and André Greipel will all start.

The team will rally around Woods, who is hot off fifth overall, and the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour de Suisse.

‘Project Froome’ still a work in progress

Woods’ official designation as GC leader is just rewards for the former middle-distance runner. Woods joined the WorldTour in 2016, right at the peak of Froome’s powers.

Froome won the third of his four Tours in 2016, and flash forward five years, it’s Woods who will ride as the protected leader.

Froome is expected to play a helper role and share his racing acumen with his Canadian teammate.

https://twitter.com/chrisfroome/status/1403762174997172225

Monday’s announcement puts a temporary end to “Froome watch,” when all eyes were on the four-time winner and his progress. All spring, Froome and the team held out hope that he could deliver an encouraging performance.

In the five stage races that he started, he finished all five but never came close to riding into the top-20, let alone within podium range. His lone bright spot was riding into the day’s main breakaway during a stage at the Tour of the Alps, only to see the move reeled in by the favorites.

Also read: Chris Froome in race against time ahead of Tour

Froome continues to train and work on his rehab and insists he is getting close to regaining full strength in his injured hip and leg. Froome also seemed to be packing extra weight that he typically did not bring when he hit his season’s top goals before his crash.

Every rider who won four yellow jerseys won a fifth

Some believe Froome will never win another Tour again.

At 36, Froome’s last Tour victory came in 2017. A victory next year would make him the oldest winner of a yellow jersey, breaking the mark held by Firmin Lambot, who won at 36 years, 4 months in 1922.

Others close to Froome say he’s committed to keep fighting. With the backing of team owner Sylvan Adams, Froome can continue on his quest as long as he brings the drive and ambition.

Something in Froome’s favor: no rider has won a fourth yellow jersey without winning a fifth.

Also read: Chris Froome to criticism: ‘I’m not just going to hang it up’

In earlier interviews, Froome said he could see himself racing for another three or four seasons. That would at least give him another shot at upping his game and making one more run for yellow.

With a generation of younger riders coming up, the odds are getting longer by the month for “Project Froome.”

Whether or not Froome continues holding out hope for the future, Monday’s announcement confirms there won’t be a Hollywood ending for Froome in this year’s Tour.