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Vuelta a Espana

Chris Froome: Relegation battle won’t impact Israel-Premier Tech tactics at Vuelta a España

Froome says the first week of the Vuelta will be about survival before he targets stages later in the race.

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The deadline to avoid relegation from the WorldTour is looming, but Chris Froome says that it’s not playing on his mind ahead of the Vuelta a España, despite Israel-Premier Tech on the cusp of dropping out of cycling’s top tier.

Israel-Premier Tech is one of several teams fighting to avoid being sent packing from the WorldTour. It is currently sat in 20th place in the rankings with any WorldTour team outside the top-18 set for demotion.

Just over 700 points separate the squad from the hallowed ground of the top-18. Froome is conscious of the position the team is in but says that it won’t race purely for the points.

“I think that everyone is aware of it, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily really going to change the race,” Froome said. “From our point of view, we still want to win races and that hasn’t changed. If you win races then the points will come naturally. Certainly, our focus here is very much around trying to support Mike [Woods] as best we can to do a good general classification and stay awake for opportunities as well.

“[Relegation is] not a thought I’ve entertained too much. I think we can cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, we’re just focusing on trying to get the most out of the races while we’ve still got them.”

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This year’s Vuelta a España will be Froome’s first appearance in two years after using the race as his grand tour return in 2020 following his almost career-ending crash the previous season.

Though Froome will not be looking to return to the GC podium, he has a good record at the Spanish grand tour with four visits to the final podium, including two overall wins.

“The Vuelta is really a special race for me, the Vuelta is a race where back in 2011 I really had my breakthrough as a grand tour contender. It’s a special race for me, I feel as if I’ve got a close connection with the fans in Spain,” Froome said.

“I love what the Vuelta tests in people, if you look at the GC battle of the Vuelta it’s brutal. There are many more uphill finishes, there are many more mountain stages than other grand tours. It’s really mano a mano between the GC contenders.

“It’s a race that I’ve always enjoyed. It’s a race in the peak of the summer so you’re dealing with hot conditions, which has always suited me well. Even though I’m not here racing for victory like I have been previously I’m still really looking forward to this year’s Vuelta. I’m happy to be here.”

Since his 2019 crash, Froome had been struggling to find competitive race form that would allow him to contest for a major result of any kind. However, he appeared to have turned a corner this summer with some aggressive performances during the Tour de France.

His best ride came on stage 12 when he made it into the breakaway and rode to third place on Alpe d’Huez behind Tom Pidcock and Louis Meintjes. Froome had hoped to keep building on that into the end of the summer, but he caught COVID-19 with just days to go in the Tour and had to hold back on his training while he recovered.

“I felt as though I was coming into really good shape in the second and third week, so it was unfortunate to leave before the end of the race and not make it to Paris,” Froome said. “Unfortunately, it did affect me pretty heavily. I was symptomatic probably for about 10 days and even after starting training again, I was still struggling to get the hard training done. I had to follow the advice of the medical team, which was to not try to push it. I think a lot of people with Covid made the mistake to try and start training again too early so it really did disrupt my preparation for the Vuelta.

“I was really hoping to finish the Tour and build on that condition almost immediately afterward to get to the Vuelta, but unfortunately, with COVID, I wasn’t able to do a lot of that work. Having said that, I have had a good hard 10 days of training now so coming into this Vuelta I’m a little bit unsure of where I’m at but I’m hoping just to survive the first week as best I can and look to build into the race, and hopefully, I’ll be more at the pointy end once we really get into the heart of the Vuelta in the second and third week.”

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