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After losing 11 minutes in Tuesday’s opener, Froome crossed the line more than 18 minutes off the pace in the second stage featuring another first-category summit.
Rather than be dismayed, Froome is looking at the bright side of this Vuelta.
The seven-time grand tour champion is thrilled to be back in grand tour racing for the first time since his horrific crash in 2018, and he’s the first to admit he still has a long way to go before he’s battling for the podium again.
“It’s unrealistic for me to expect to come back to grand tour racing after two years off, and with that injury I had, to come straight back to the top level,” Froome said Wednesday. “This is a process I have to go through now, and hopefully I can get as much intensity as possible in the legs over the next few weeks.”
Froome enters his final race in an Ineos Grenadiers jersey in dramatically different circumstances. The team was largely built around his legs since his breakout 2011 season and subsequently won seven grand tour titles, with four yellow jerseys, one Giro d’Italia, and two editions of the Vuelta.
At the 2014 Vuelta, Froome was in his full splendor when he raced up the same final climb featured in Wednesday’s Cat. 1 Alto de Aralar. That year, Fabio Aru won the stage at the top of the climb, and Froome finished six seconds back en route to finishing second overall to Alberto Contador.
On Wednesday, Froome lost contact on the Aralar climb, and with the finish line Wednesday coming after the descent this year, he rode in with a group more than 18 minutes back, crossing the line rather anonymously in 108th.
This time, it’s Richard Carapaz who is carrying team colors, and Froome — 85th overall at 29:53 — will be playing a bit role.
“In the end, it was a very nervous stage, we had some crosswinds, but thanks to the team, we got through the day without any setbacks,” said Carapaz, third overall. “I’m pretty happy with how I am riding because these stages are already decisive, and the Vuelta is only beginning. We’re going day-to-day, and I know I’ll have the support from the team in the key moments.”
Froome’s return from his 2019 crash has gone better than some expected, at least in the sense that he can continue his racing career because some were worried he might be finished. Yet following a string of moderate results this summer, questions remain whether or not he’ll return to the top of the peloton again.
Ever optimistic, 35-year-old remains confident he will, and said finishing this Vuelta is very important for his coming season.
“I’m quite happy with how the legs are feeling, and fully conscious that this is a process that I am going to have to go through the next few weeks to try to get back to that top level again,” Froome said. “Getting that racing in the legs here at the Vuelta will be important for me for next year as well.”
After two searing stages, Thursday’s 166km third stage from Lodosa and La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa isn’t quite as sharp in the final climb (6.5km at 6.7 percent). Froome should be closer to his familiar spot near the front of the action.