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No return date yet for Froome

The four-time Tour winner heads to a training camp in Spain's Canary islands in what will be an important step in his return to racing

While speculation continues to swirl around Chris Froome and his racing future, the four-time Tour de France winner has not yet set a firm date for a return to racing.

A training camp this month on Spain’s Gran Canaria should reveal Froome’s progress and racing capacity following his lengthy recovery from career-threatening injuries that has sidelined him since June.

Right now, Froome is not indicating when and where he will race for the first time in 2020.

With big question marks about Froome’s condition and his racing future, many are starting to wonder out loud if Froome will ever be the same racer he was.

A report in the latest issue of BiciSport in Italy seemed to raise the alarm bells that all is not as well as suggested, with one Ineos sport director quoted as saying Froome may never return to the racer he is.

Even Froome has admitted he has a hard row to hoe, but following a flurry of web reports over the weekend echoing the negative take, Froome reminded everyone he believes he’s still on track with a tersely worded message on social media.

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Ineos principal David Brailsford took to La Gazzetta dello Sport to express his support for his four-time Tour de France champion.

“No one should under-estimate Froome,” Brailsford said. “He is putting all the courage and determination into training that led him to win seven grand tours to be ready in time for the start of the 2020 Tour. He and Ineos will really do everything they can to get him to his best by the start in Nice.”

That pair of public push-backs reveal how sensitive the team is surrounding any speculation about Froome’s sporting future.

From what Froome and Ineos have suggested, everyone inside Ineos seems cautiously optimistic Froome can revive his racing career. He is still undergoing physical therapy — the real reason insiders cited on why he departed a December camp that raised eyebrows — as he recovers from harrowing injuries suffered in his high-impact crash during recon at the Critérium du Dauphiné last summer.

Though he has not raced since June, he has returned to training, but so far, Ineos is keeping riding details closely under wraps.

Froome, who typically is quite active on Strava and often shares ride data, has not posted any training rides since he was roaring up climbs on Tenerife in May.

Froome, who turns 35 in May, has repeatedly stated that his central ambition driving his comeback is to return to the Tour and race for a record-tying fifth yellow jersey. Teammate and defending champion Egan Bernal has already confirmed he will target the Tour, with 2018 winner and 2019 runner-up Geraint Thomas also expected to race in July.

Froome and Ineos certainly won’t want to race him before he’s ready, but if he wants to try to have a legitimate shot at winning the Tour, he’ll need to put in some significant race days before the mountainous Tour debuts in Nice in June.

Every year since 2011, Froome has made his season debut during February, so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself next month. Races such as the Volta ao Algarve or the UAE Tour, both in late February, could provide Froome with a relatively smooth runway back into the peloton, though neither race is particularly easy. If he’s not ready until March, even more challenging races such as Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya are waiting on the WorldTour calendar.

There is some speculation that Froome could race the Giro d’Italia in May. If he would race in Italy, the 2018 winner would likely be there to regain grand tour fitness and post some hard racing numbers, leaving the GC battle up to defending champion and new Ineos teammate Richard Carapaz and others.

Every season, Froome has followed a familiar blueprint back to the Tour. This year, nothing is routine as Froome faces the toughest physical challenge of his career.

All eyes will be on Froome and his first race back.