Chris Froome is two days into his new adventure at Israel Start-Up Nation. After racing every season since 2010 in the Sky and then Ineos Grenadiers jerseys, Froome is donning new colors as he makes his 2021 season debut at the UAE Tour this week.
Whether Froome’s move to the freshly minted WorldTour team will pay dividends at the Tour de France later this season remains to be seen.
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For Ineos Grenadiers team boss Dave Brailsford, there’s no looking back with acrimony at Froome’s high-profile departure.
“It is a bit [strange],” Brailsford said to be entering the 2021 season without Froome. “There are no hard feelings. It’s a different approach, and I wish him all the very best.”
Brailsford prefers to remain diplomatic in his public comments about Froome’s exit from Ineos Grenadiers, by far the biggest move in the 2020-21 transfer market.
A few hints have come out over the past several months about why and how Froome’s exit came about. Reports and sources reveal there were general disagreements about leadership, the size and length of a possible contract, and what role there would be for Froome in a remade Ineos Grenadiers team.
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When it was leaked last spring that Froome was considering a move, Israel Start-Up Nation boss Sylvan Adams picked up the phone. That opened up intense but quick negotiations from both sides. Froome was excited by the open-ended challenge of joining the relatively inexperienced team, while Adams had the money and the project to support Froome in his quest for a fifth Tour title.
Sources say Ineos Grenadiers made no effort to try to stop Froome from leaving.
Even before Froome’s career-threatening crash in 2019, Brailsford had already begun preparing for the post-Froome era in 2018. By 2020, only a handful of riders remained from the heyday of the “Fortress Froome” years following several top recruitments of young, ambitious riders. With Froome overlooked for the 2020 Tour, it was obvious that Ineos Grenadiers had firmly turned the page on the Froome Era.
Now that several months have passed since the deal was completed, Brailsford hinted that he and Froome have mended any fences or possible fallout from the high-stakes departure.
“We stay in touch,” Brailsford said in a media call. “I want him to succeed, and I hope he is successful. We’ve agreed to stay in touch, and we have a great relationship.”
The pressure is on both Froome and Brailsford to prove that both can succeed without the other.
With Froome, Brailsford enjoyed a stellar grand tour run that included four editions of the Tour de France, two titles at the Vuelta a España, and one Giro d’Italia. Since Froome’s last grand tour victory in 2018 with the Giro, Ineos Grenadiers has gone on to win two editions of the Tour — in 2018 with Geraint Thomas and 2019 with Egan Bernal — as well as the 2020 Giro with Tao Geoghegan Hart. Another major grand tour success will confirm that Ineos Grenadiers has put the Froome era firmly in its rear-view mirror.
Froome, at 34, has more pressure to prove he can win without the backing of cycling’s richest team. At Israel Start-Up Nation, he will see solid support from experienced veterans like Dan Martin, Daryl Impey, and Michael Woods.
Every racer who’s won four yellow jerseys went on to win a record-tying fifth. Froome certainly is motivated to join that elite club, and prove to Brailsford and other doubters that he is not washed up.
So far, Froome has not publicly revealed many details about his departure from Ineos Grenadiers, preferring to put a positive spin on his move to Israel Start-Up Nation as a new challenge that is giving him additional motivation.
From Brailsford’s part, Froome’s move is simply part of the evolution of the peloton.
“It is a bit strange, but life moves on,” Brailsford said. “And sometimes with change, great things can happen, and it can be the spark to something totally new.”
Froome is certainly hoping so, and Brailsford is hoping it won’t be at his expense.