Chris Froome (Ineos) may be building his condition back from “below zero,” but he’s aiming high for 2020.
The four-time Tour de France winner is still not fully recovered from the crash in June that left him with a fractured thigh, elbow, and vertebrae, but being fit in time for a shot at a rec0rd-equalling fifth yellow jersey and start at the Olympics is a “driving force” keeping him motivated.
“The accident has certainly changed me, given me a new start,” said Froome, Saturday. “It’s like starting from zero again, below zero if you like, that’s what it feels like.”
Having undergone a long road getting back on track after sustaining a shopping list of serious injuries during a crash while reconning a stage at the Criterium du Dauphine, Froome is back riding his bike again.
He spoke to reporters in Saitama, Japan, the day before taking part in an exhibition team time trial with Team Ineos. However, his recovery is far from complete, and he has opted out of racing the criterium that marks the event’s main feature.
“I’ve got to get the legs back to 50-50 [instead of 65-35 strength balance],” he said. “I’ve still got more surgery to remove a big metal plate and about six screws. It’s quite tender, the muscle and soft tissue that’s being impacted by this metal plate on my hip.”
Froome currently holds four Tour titles, just one behind the record of five held by Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain. Getting back into shape to have another shot at the race that he came to dominate through the middle of the decade is a big motivator in his recovery.
“The Tour de France is the driving force, the big prize for me is to try and get back to the Tour de France,” Froome said Saturday. “It’s still too early to say if it’s doable. I’m going to do everything I can to get back to where I left off.”
If Froome is passed fit to race a “more punchy, much more explosive” Tour de France than that “seen for decades,” he could well be contending for the spot of team leader with 2019 champion Egan Bernal. Both Froome and team boss Dave Brailsford made little comment about any potential leadership battle, though Froome acknowledged his 22-year-old teammate was “no slouch.”
Brailsford, who has masterminded the Sky / Ineos team that has won seven Tours de France, said he’ll be aiming for strength in depth in the team to help master the tricky, unconventional 2020 Tour route.
“Certainly there’ll be strength in depth, with four Grand Tour winners on the books,” he said, referring to Froome, Bernal, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas, and 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz, who joins the team from Movistar. “If you look at that course on paper we’ll need very versatile riders to be in that selection of eight. Guys who can do everything.”
While in Japan, Froome and his Ineos teammates took the opportunity to recon the course for the 2020 Olympic games, which is held just six days after the final stage of the Tour. Froome was taken up Mount Fuji in a car before tackling the final part of the route on a bike.
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) October 25, 2019
“I’ve never won a one-day race,” Froome said. “But the Olympic route we saw yesterday is fantastic. I can’t wait to get stuck into it, to analyze it and figure out what it’s going to take to win a race like that.”
Froome still has a way to go until he’s back to previous fitness and in a position to give the Tour and Olympics serious thought. But that, for him, is part of the challenge.
“This could be perceived as an incredibly difficult and negative situation,” he said. “But I’ve tried to turn that around to try and achieve something unprecedented.”