Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Chris Froome was back in the spotlight Thursday, if only for a few hours.
Froome didn’t win, but simply being back in the fray sent a ripple through the peloton.
“I think this was the first time I have been in a breakaway since the Giro d’Italia of 2018,” Froome said. “I really enjoyed being up there today, testing the legs a bit, especially as the break went away on a quite hard section after a bunch of attacks.”
The stage opened with a flurry of attacks, with Froome and other Israel Start-Up Nation teammates covering the moves. Something finally stuck with about 40km into the stage, and it was off to the races.
It wasn’t the same Froome who blazed to searing victories at the Tour de France a half-decade ago, but it was the strongest signal yet that he might be digging himself out of the hole from his horrific crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
The Israel Start-Up Nation captain was part of a nine-rider group that opened up a gap north of two minutes in the mountainous stage.
Pressure from the GC teams saw the Froome adventure snuffed out ahead of a decisive late climb with under 20km to go. He later crossed the line more than 14 minutes behind stage-winner Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), with Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) finishing third to tighten his grip on GC with one stage left to go.
Israel Start-Up Nation’s Dan Martin stayed close to the favorites over the final searing climb, but tumbled on a left-hander on the descent, losing more than two minutes. The Irishman, slated to race the Giro d’Italia next month, bounced from fourth to 14th overall.
Km 46 (Passo Castrin climb)
— Tour of The Alps (@Tourof_TheAlps) April 22, 2021
The five-stage, climb-riddled Tour of the Alps is an important test for Froome.
Though he’s been posting good numbers so far in training, he’s been unable to show it off during a race.
Froome has struggled so far in his return from a career-threatening injury in June 2019, but his presence in the break in the mountainous stage was a good sign that things are at least heading in the right direction ahead of the Tour de France start in late June.
Also read: GC stars testing legs at Tour of the Alps
“It was a shame that we never got much of a gap,” Froome said. “It was still a good experience to be up there again.”
Questions have swirled around Froome following a string of less-than-stellar performances across races so far in 2021. Insiders at Israel Start-Up Nation say Froome is on track to be on form to challenge for what would be a record-tying fifth yellow jersey this summer.
“I can feel that the condition is slowly improving and I’m pretty happy with how the legs are feeling,” Froome said.
The Tour of the Alps concludes Friday. Froome will take a short break, and return for the Dauphiné before what he hopes will be his first Tour de France start since 2018.
Thursday’s romp across the Alps might not have delivered much, but it served as an important sign that maybe the worst is behind.