Chris Froome (Sky) is finding new motivation from the setbacks he suffered during 2014 as he prepares for a run at a second yellow jersey this season.
Last July, instead of repeating as Tour de France champion, he crashed out within the first week. And when he bounced back for the Vuelta a España, he ran headlong into a stubborn and ultimately stronger Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Froome, now training in South Africa before a return to Europe next week, only looks at taking the positive out of last year’s bumpy ride instead of dwelling on the negative.
“What happened last year, with the setbacks, means that I am coming into this season even more eager to be in the best possible place,” Froome said at a recent media day with Sky. “To be at the start line, and be ready to go for the Tour.”
Froome will debut his season at the Ruta del Sol (February 18-22) against Contador and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), two riders he will face in his return to the Tour in July. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) makes his season debut this week at the Dubai Tour.
Cycling’s “Fab Four” might not line up in the same race all together until Tirreno-Adriatico in March — assuming all avoid crashes and illnesses to get there — so it will be an interesting test of legs and ambition, at least for three of the Tour favorites, at the Ruta del Sol later this month in southern Spain.
For Froome, the approach to the Tour will be similar as the past few seasons, but he hopes to avoid the crashes that seemed to mar his 2014 campaign.
When asked how things went off the rails last season, Froome just shrugged: “I crashed, I fell off my bike. That’s just part of the sport. You cannot control things like that all the time.”
Froome already had a few rough patches before crashing in stage 4 of the Tour, which left him with a broken wrist and hand. He bravely fought on the next day, which just happened to be the stage over the cobblestones in stage 5. He crashed out, however, before hitting the punishing pavé.
Again, Froome said that was just an instance of bad luck.
“We got over to France, and it was a touch of wheels, that’s when I broke my hand and wrist,” Froome said. “I crashed two more times the next day. I couldn’t control my bike with a broken wrist and hand. That’s cycling.”
Rather than throw in the towel on the season, Froome refitted his schedule and after he confirmed he could race without pain, decided to start the Vuelta. The Spanish race represented a major stepping-stone in his career, when he finished second in 2011 to Juanjo Cobo, a result that confirmed Froome’s grand tour racing credentials.
The 2014 Vuelta was very different, but equally important. Froome bravely fought to second overall behind a superior Contador, but it was the way he did it that revealed a lot about Froome’s character.
“I knew that I wasn’t 100 percent for the Vuelta, but I said I would give 100 percent of what I have,” Froome explained. “There was a point, after the time trial, I was really on my knees. I was really struggling to stay with the lead guys [stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga], I was yo-yoing off the back, but I said to myself, ‘I am not getting on the team bus for the next 10 days, having just lost 10 minutes, to just finish the Vuelta.’ I wanted to at least have that battle for the leader’s jersey, as much as for my motivation, as for my team’s.”
Froome’s never-say-die attitude carried over the entire team, and helped to not only bond them for the remainder of the Vuelta, but moving forward into 2015.
Sky’s team principal Dave Brailsford said the Vuelta performance will pay off as the team takes aim at winning its third yellow jersey in four years.
“They have massive respect for [Froome]. When he’s hanging on by his fingernails, like at the Vuelta, that goes a long way,” Brailsford said. “When the lads watch someone suffer like that, who never gives up, what that does is build huge respect for him and belief in the team. … And he always buys the coffee on training rides.”
Froome returns the favor, not only with small details as presents and buying the coffee for teammates, but delivering on the hard work from the entire organization.
The 2014 Vuelta was critical for Froome, not only to keep fighting to the end, but to cement his position as the leader of the team. With Bradley Wiggins retiring from road racing after this year’s Paris-Roubaix, Froome will be at the top of the Sky pyramid.
“That Vuelta gave me a lot of motivation, to get stuck in, to keep pushing, to not lose time. You cannot put a number of watts on the team morale and atmosphere inside the team bus,” Froome said. “You cannot measure it. And it’s extremely important, when you’re living in each other’s pockets for three weeks.”
Froome is hoping those hard-earned lessons from 2014 help him on the road toward winning a second yellow jersey. He’s certainly hoping for smooth sailing this season, but he also learned first-hand last year that nothing can be taken for granted in professional cycling.