Froome’s form questioned ahead of big 2018 season

Chris Froome (Sky) was unable to stay with the front riders on Saturday's summit finish at Tirreno-Adriatico.

FILOTTRANO, Italy (VN) — The sight of four-time Tour de France victor Chris Froome losing ground on a summit finish, Saturday in Tirreno-Adriatico, raises concern given the big 2018 season ahead.

Froome had Vasil Kiryienka, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Geraint Thomas ushering him towards the summit of Sassotetto at 1,375 meters in central Italy’s snow-covered mountains, but could never profit from their work.

With 3.5 kilometers to go to the finish of the 11.75-kilometer climb, Froome began to drift towards the back end of the leaders’ group and at 2.5 kilometers to go, he was on his own. It was nothing abnormal for cycling – Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) fell behind too – but this is the cyclist who dominated the Tour in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

“Yeah, it’s doesn’t happen often,” sports director Nicolas Portal said, “but when it does people see it because it’s Chris Froome.”

At the 2017 Tour de Romandie, Froome drifted in 1:15 behind stage winner Simon Yates and Richie Porte in second, but in that case, he was still two months away from the Tour.

For 2018, Froome for the first time is taking aim at both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. The Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, covering similar roads he will face in the Italian grand tour, leaves Froome less than two months to get ready. The Giro d’Italia starts May 4 in Israel.

“It’s still early days, but we knew that that could happen,” Portal continued. “Last year in Romandie, everyone made a big noise. In the Dauphiné too, because we didn’t win Dauphiné, they said we are not Sky and are not as good as before.

“But Chris won four Tours de France, did so many podiums on the grand tours. He’s got his shape, he just needs to manage it because this year it’s a pretty big one with the Giro and Tour. And it’s not bad when you see all the top guys are there, and he is just dropped at 2 or 2.5km to go.”

The 32-year-old Brit, however, not only has the Giro/Tour on his mind, but an ongoing fight to save his reputation. He tested for twice the allowed amount of the asthma drug salbutamol in the Vuelta a España last year. He is dealing with the anti-doping authorities, and faces a hearing and possible suspension.

At the same time, cycling’s super team is under fire for its use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) with Bradley Wiggins prior to winning the 2012 Tour. The UK Anti-Doping body investigated the team and a Parliament committee issued its report Monday, saying Sky “crossed the ethical line” using medical certificates or other practices.

“That’s part of something I’ve been dealing with over my whole career as a pro cyclist,” Froome said Tuesday of being possibly distracted. “I’ve come up against adversity and I’ve learned how to compartmentalize things.”

Froome lost 1:04 Saturday on his rivals, which included those he will face in the Giro, like Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates).

“It’s tough racing but that’s what I needed at that this point in the season,” Froome explained. “I feel all right in this first big test. I’m not up there, but I know that there’s work to do before the Giro and I’m content more or less with my condition. It’s OK, we are in March.”