Chris Froome’s Tour de France form is still unknown but the four-time winner believes that for the first time since his 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné crash he is finally racing without being held back by illness or injury.
The Israel-Premier Tech leader made his 2022 debut at Coppi e Bartali in March and will head to the Tour of the Alps later this month with the Tour de Romandie potentially on his program.
In an exclusive interview with VeloNews, Froome also discussed the potential of racing both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España this year, while he also confirmed that he will take part in “The Migration” – an off-road event taking place in the Kruger National Park in South Africa in September.
The multi-day event will bring participants face to face with the local wildlife in an incredible backdrop, and most importantly raise funds for the conservation and anti-poaching programs.
Speaking from his family home in Monaco, the 36-year-old admitted that for the first time since his horrific crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné he was injury and illness free.
The British rider spent most of 2019 and 2020 battling back from the serious injuries he sustained, and last year was hit by a parasitic infection, and another heavy crash at the Tour de France. He was forced to delay his start to the 2022 season due to a knee injury, but after a block of training and racing he thinks that he can build up for the rest of the season without any hurdles.
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“Obviously I was a bit delayed with the start to the season due to the setbacks that I had in December and January but I’ve now had solid two and a half months to set up a good base,” Froome told VeloNews.
“Now, after Coppi e Bartali it’s time for me to introduce more intensity and more race-specific work on the bike. That’ll take me towards my next goal, which will probably be the Tour of the Alps in a couple of weeks time.”
“I’ve no issues now. No niggles, no pains, and nothing holding me back. I’ve got the green light so I just need to get the work in. I’m on that path now and that’s what I’m used to doing. The training, the sacrifice, that’s the part of the sport that I enjoy. I’m just going to get stuck into it. This is the first time since the big crash that everything is at 100 percent. There’s no reason why I should be held back. It’s purely about getting the racing and the training in and trying to get back up to speed again.”
The Tour of Alps will test Froome’s improving form but the rest of his road calendar has yet to be decided.
Much will depend on how his body responds to his next race and whether the rider and his coaching team believe that another block of training or a trip to the Tour of Romandie is the ideal test.
“Potentially Romandie,” Froome said of his schedule. “I don’t know my program yet and we’re taking it race by race at the moment. So much depends on where I get to in the next month or so and if it all goes to plan.”
Mixing it up with Migration MTB: ‘I’ve never done anything like this before’
One event that Froome has definitely set his sights on is The Migration.
Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen and 1995 Springbok Rugby World Cup-winning captain, Francois Pienaar are also taking part, and while the event is not a race, it will certainly mix together testing terrain over 300km and the experience of seeing South Africa’s big five.
“I definitely won’t be looking at my number numbers while I’m there, I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for any wildlife in the bushes. Kevin Pietersen is coming along but he might need an electric bike to keep up,” Froome joked.
There is a more serious side to the event, with The Migration partnering with the Legacy Experience Foundation. This organization provides funds for anti-wildlife crimes initiatives, education for local communities around the wildlife, ranger programs, and conservation work that helps to protect endangered rhinos.
“But there’s a big drive around the event to help raise awareness around the conservation initiative. That’s a big deal for me,” Froome said.
“The organizers explained to me that the big beneficiaries around the ride would be the legacy foundation which helps with education for the local communities and helps fund the anti-wildlife crimes initiatives in the area. That helps fight poaching. In the last two years, the tourism has been nailed by the pandemic and the anti-doping units have been the first to have their budgets cut. Poaching is at a real high now so wildlife teams need all the help they can get. Now is the perfect time to get out there and experience the journey that this adventure has to offer.
“They’ve never allowed this before in Kruger National park. They’ve never allowed mountain bikes through there before. The organizers have managed to get special permission so it could be a one-off. I’ve been to the Kruger National park as a kid but I never dreamed of riding through there before.”
Participants will ride in two-person teams but Froome will ride as a solo athlete and jump between groups during the six days of riding.
“I’m not going as a team. I’ll float from peloton to peloton and ride with different groups each day. Factor released a new mountain bike this week too, which I’m looking forward to riding. It’s more like a journey than a race.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before. Obviously, I had the privilege as a kid growing up to go into these parks and get up close to these animals. It’s a life-changing experience. When you get up close to an animal like a rhino and go out with one of the vets, like we’ll do on the trip, you get to see how incredible they are. It’s honestly life-changing when you can see these animals that are facing extinction and be part of the process that’s trying to save them, it’s a powerful thing.”
Tour de France: ‘It’s a blank piece of paper’
The Tour de France still remains Froome’s major objective for the season.
The four-time winner hasn’t featured at the pointy end of a grand tour since winning the Giro d’Italia and finishing third in the 2018 Tour de France, and the plan at Israel-Premier Tech has been to try and dissipate pressure and expectations on their leader. It’s unclear if the team will head to the Tour de France with GC ambitions or if stage wins will be the target.
Froome is onboard with the ‘wait and see’ approach as he tests his body during the next few months.
“At the moment it’s a blank piece of paper. So much will depend on what happens in the next couple of months. I think that it won’t help to put expectations out there right now when I don’t know where I’m going to get to in the next couple of months. It really could go either way. I’d love to be back to my old self but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. I’ve now got the green light to do that work. I’m optimistic and hope that I get there.”