Froome will take a step down to act as “road captain” for Israel Start-Up Nation at this year’s Tour, the first time he has started the race without GC ambitions since 2013.
Michael Woods – the man that has stepped into Froome’s GC shoes for this year’s Tour – is adamant that the seven-time grand tour winner could still have a huge part to play in ISN’s ambitions this summer.
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“Froome is an invaluable asset, even when he’s not on his best form,” Woods told VeloNews.
As unintentional as it was, the use of the word “asset” could prove telling.
Froome will be 37 by the time Tour rolls out of Copenhagen in 2022, at which point his yellow jersey hopes may be definitively done. But with an open-ended contract with Israel Start-Up Nation and suggestions that he may want to continue with the team beyond retirement, Froome is set to add value to the big-budget squad of Sylvan Adams some time yet.
A road captaincy role at this year’s Tour could prove Froome’s first step toward life out of the saddle with Adams and Co.
A road captain is a rider that calls the shots and relays information between riders and staffers mid-race. They also typically serve as a rallying focal point for teammates, on and off the bike.
Although Froome’s tactical savvy and racecraft will prove a boon in the team bus, it may prove less help for Woods and teammate Dan Martin in the heat of the action in France.
Finishing 10-20 minutes down on any stage that points uphill, as Froome has been doing this season, may see him too far from the action to help coordinate team efforts.
The majority of the team leadership Froome provides this year will be from far back in the bunch or in pre-stage bus meetings.
Providing value behind the scenes rather than in the saddle
Froome’s ability to add to the team’s racing efforts at this year’s Tour will be limited. But his presence will guarantee Adams kudos elsewhere.
The 36-year-old forms a part of a Tour eight centered around Woods and Martin on the road, but built on potential good-news stories off the tarmac.
Team talisman and Israeli champion Omer Goldstein will make his Tour debut after riding through the squad’s development program to hit the WorldTour. Canadian veteran Guillaume Boivin also earns his first start in France.
Both selections tick a lot of boxes for Israeli-Canadian team benefactor Adams and his project to send an Israeli WorldTour team to Tour glory.
Aging sprinter André Greipel also got a surprise call-up for what will be his 11th Tour. “The Gorilla” has returned to winning ways this season, but he will likely be far down the pecking order for the fast finishes in France.
Greipel and Froome’s selections could prove a win-win strategy for ISN.
If either plays a part in the race, the headline will be worth its weight in gold. If they don’t deliver, there’s still a story to be told. Froome’s resilience and tenacity in coming back from such a life-changing injury is as deserving of a headline as is the harsh critique of his form.
Although Woods has high chances of winning stages and a top-10 finish, Israel Start-Up Nation’s 2021 Tour will be as much about establishing itself at the top end of the bunch and delivering a return on Adams’ big-budget investment – whether that be through good vibes or good results.
Having Froome on board will keep the team at the center, and his presence at the Tour ensures that the team doesn’t make an embarrassing admission that “Project Froome” failed.
The potential tokenism in Froome’s selection also hints at his longer-term contribution to Israel Start-Up Nation.
Froome has an open contract and has clearly stated that he would be interested in a role beyond retirement with Adams and Co. Whether that position be a spot in the sport director’s seat or somewhere further behind the scenes, a road captaincy role marks the first shuffle from the saddle toward the backroom.
As a genuine fan of the sport, Froome has been quietly sowing the seeds for a future in cycling in the past year, both with ISN and independently.
An investment in American cycling tech brand Hammerhead, affiliations with BKool and Quadlock, and the development of his own YouTube channel suggest Froome clearly isn’t done with cycling just yet.
“Sylvan, Chris, me, we’re in this for the long term so we just want this to grow and get better,” Woods said.
Froome sees a longer-term future in cycling with Israel Start-Up Nation, and Adams sees an experienced head and media magnet via the rider’s grand tour legend.
Froome won’t take his fifth yellow jersey this year and maybe never will. But Adams still has a lot to gain from him at the 2021 Tour and for years to come.