Road

Froome move a ‘step back’ but understandable, say Ineos teammates

Thomas, Rowe understand Froome's move to a team set to be built around him as future staffers relish impact he may have at Israeli outfit.

Chris Froome‘s blockbuster move from grand tour fortress Team Ineos to the newest WorldTour team on the block is one that will have the cycling world talking for years to come.

Current and future teammates and staffers have already chimed in this week, and while some opinions and takes may differ, there is one thing they all agree on – the 35-year-old’s grit and utter focus on success could inspire Israel Start-Up Nation to higher things.

Two of Froome’s oldest teammates, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas, spoke of their long-time friend and team talisman on the Watts Occurring podcast Friday, suggesting that moving to such a newly-established team may present teething problems for Froome, who has ridden with Sky / Ineos since 2010.

“It will be weird for him I think,” said Thomas who has ridden with Froome since Sky’s inception 10 years ago. “Suddenly in a different environment … it’ll be some change, that.”

“It’s a massive change, isn’t it,” Rowe added. “There are a lot of things here that we have so dialed that, to be honest, he’ll be taking a step back on a lot of things going to that team. But then you know, new team, you see a lot of riders step up because they’re in a new environment with a new challenge.”

Since Rowe joined Froome and Thomas at the team in 2012, Sky / Ineos has evolved into the dominant force on the grand tour scene, improving and optimizing every smallest detail to ensure success. While the team’s efforts centered around Froome through the middle of the last decade as he took four Tours de France in five years, the rise of Thomas and Colombian superstar Egan Bernal gave rise to the tensions that have plagued the team in recent months.

Froome, Thomas and Rowe have ridden together since 2012. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Rowe sympathized with Froome’s situation, and considered his move an understandable and perhaps inevitable one.

“It’s a massive move for him, but speaking openly, in this team there’s a number of leaders here… and you’re all forever in a position where you have to fight for your leadership,” Rowe said. “There, he’s going to go and be top dog, no discussion.”

Thomas didn’t add to Rowe’s comments on fighting for leadership, instead dryly joking about financial incentives.

Having only graduated to the WorldTour in 2020, Israel Start-Up Nation and wealthy co-owner Sylvan Adams is looking to step up in 2021. The addition of Froome to the roster will give the team the focal point it has so far lacked, and Adams is busy pinning down his current talents while hunting the signature of further firepower to support Froome in his quest for a fifth grand tour.

The question marks over leadership that hung over Ineos in past months will be a distant memory as Israel Start-Up Nation prepares to cluster around its new talisman.

“We’re not always talking about Froome. Everybody has a ‘wow feeling,’ of course,” said team sports director Dirk Demol while at a training camp this week. “There’ll be a real major champion here soon.”

Demol and fellow director Eric Van Lancker spoke with Het Nieuwslad from a trip reconning the northern cobbles with their classics team. The pair are relishing the prospect not only of Froome’s ability to win races in its own right, but the impact his grit and charisma could have on the whole squad.

“He will lift the team to a greater level,” said Lancker. “On the surface of course, but I think that others will perform better because of his presence, too.”

Demol, who has sat in the director’s chair at Discovery Channel, Quick-Step, Astana and RadioShack, understands how success can breed success.

“That’s what leaders of that caliber do,” Demol said. “I’ve worked with Armstrong, Contador, and Cancellara. Men like that give everyone a ‘boost’ by their performance but also by their attitude. That will be no different with Froome.”

Sylvan Adams hasn’t been shy in stating his motives behind the Froome deal, saying that “we are committed to building a supportive grand tour team around Chris … as we compete to be the best, and achieve our principal goal: winning the Tour de France.”

Froome stands to make history if he takes a record-equalling fifth Tour de France. Whether that fifth yellow jersey comes with Ineos or Israel Start-Up Nation is another matter however, with Rowe casting a shadow of doubt over Froome’s schedule for the rest of his time with Ineos.

“He’s still ambitious, and wants to go out with a bang, be that Tour, Vuelta, whatever,” Rowe said. “He’s hungry as ever.”

Whichever grand tours Froome races this year, and whatever he achieves with Israel Start-Up Nation in the future, pro cycling has its water-cooler conversation set for years to come.