After eight months on the sidelines, Chris Froome is back.
Though the multiple grand tour winner wasn’t contesting the sprint and has no aspirations to win the red jersey for GC, he thinks he’s already a winner.
“To be in a bike race, racing at the [WorldTour] level, that’s a huge victory in and of itself,” Froome told reporters after the stage, with a touch of emotion in his voice. “It felt good to have a race number on and have the elbows out again, fighting for position in the bunch. It feels good to be a bike racer again.”
With Froome planning on challenging for a fifth yellow jersey at the Tour de France in summer, he has four months to get back to winning shape. But he’s under no illusions that race-winning form won’t come for a while yet, and has no GC ambitions in the UAE, saying “It’s still a way to go until I’m back to where I left off, but the first feelings are really good.”
Though Froome is the biggest name on the start sheet for his Ineos team, he will be the one getting the bottles for team leaders Eddie Dunbar and Andrey Amador, both of whom recently transferred to the squad.
“I know what condition I’m in. I know I’m not in winning condition, but I should be in a good enough condition to get through the race and do what I can for the team,” Froome said. “Like I said, first race after eight months, I can’t set my expectations too high, but just being here already is a big victory for me.”
“It almost felt like being a neo-pro again, coming to my first race again. It was only eight months out, but it felt like longer.”
The flat stage starting and finishing in Dubai via a trip loop through the desert offered Froome a slow-stress occasion to re-acclimate to the shoulders and elbows of the peloton, with wide roads and not a bump in sight. As the breakaway rolled off the front and the sprinters team’s took control, Froome span his legs in the pack and was able to soak up the warmth of his racer colleagues.
“[There were] so many riders coming up to me and saying it was good to have me back, and to see that it was possible to come back after such a big crash,” he said.
The peloton was glad to have Froome back, and Froome more than reciprocates the sentiment.
“It’s nothing to write home about but it’s a big victory for me already just being on the start line and having got through the day in the bunch with no issues,” he said. “It was two, three months ago I could barely walk. I was walking with a big limp. “
Froome took his first step toward the Tour Sunday. It may have been small, but at least it’s a step.