Instead of racing to win the yellow jersey in the Tour’s first major test against the clock, a banged up and bruised Froome was racing to limit the losses.
“I know I’m nowhere near the pace on today’s course,” Froome said. “It was just about getting through today staying ahead of the time cut.”
This version of Froome in 2021, compounded by his high-impact crash in stage 1, is unlike anyone’s seen in a decade. He started Wednesday’s time trial at nearly 30 minutes off the lead, and finished well down in the bunch in the discipline that he used to rule.
“I didn’t go full-gas,” Froome said Wednesday. “I’m here to help my teammates win a stage in the mountains. I’m just happy I’m still in the race and will help out anyway I can.”
From King of the Tour to making the time cut
Froome’s gone from King of the Tour, to a rider fighting to finish a stage or to help a teammate win.
The contrast Wednesday could not be starker.
Now 36, Froome ruled the Tour and the yellow jersey with cool and deadly efficiency for nearly a decade. Tucked inside “Fortress Froome,” he was all but untouchable as he reeled off four yellow jerseys in five years.
The polite yet ruthless rider seemed destined to join the elite “five-win club.” Then there was a devastating crash in June 2019, and Froome’s been battling headwinds ever since.
Even before the Tour started Saturday, Froome and team officials doused any speculation that he might mount sort of dark-horse, outsider challenge for the top-10.
Froome underwhelmed throughout the first half of 2021, and no one was under any sort of assumptions that he would a miracle, late-hour return to the top.
A crash in stage 1, when he hit the deck heavily in the second major pileup in the crash-riddled stage, only put an emphatic exclamation point to any speculation of what some were wondering might be the greatest bluff in sport’s history.
“Day one, I got big bruising on the chest and on my hip, but each day is getting better,” Froome said at the line Wednesday. “But I don’t think I’m the only one in the peloton with aches and pains.”
It’s still jarring to see Froome, who once dominated the time trials, simply riding to make the time cut.
Chris Froome still draws a crowd
On Wednesday, a handful of journalists gathered at the finish line to gauge his progress. After all, he remains the most successful grand tour racer active in the peloton.
Like it’s been since his comeback, the talk is about process and a goal line that remains somewhere at an undefined point in the future.
“Today was quite nice just to be on my own and really feel the body and especially after a few stressful stages, it was nice just to open up a little bit, push a little bit,” he said. “Suddenly feeling day by day, things are improving.”
On Saturday, it looked like Froome’s hope of a comeback, no matter how elusive, might have ended permanently.
Froome went down at an estimated speed of 70kph in the second major crash in stage 1, and sat there on the ground for a long time before remounting the bike.
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) June 30, 2021
Froome ended up in the hospital again, but stubbornly stayed in the race. Wednesday was one more stage in the history books, one day closer to his elusive goal.
“Just looking around the peloton, I can never remember seeing so many injured riders. It’s pretty scary, actually,” said Froome, his face hidden behind an aero helmet. “Yeah, things are improving. It’s starting to feel like that side that I crashed on on the first day is starting to work again now, and certainly I’m heading in the right direction.”
Despite the setbacks, both immediate and existential, Froome will not give up.
Whether that’s delusional optimism, or if it results in some sort of Cavendish-like redemption in the future remains to be seen.
No one can question Froome’s primal determination. It’s what drove him to four yellow jerseys.
Perhaps if very few are, he is still holding out hope for one more.