Chris Froome (Team Sky) has yet to finalise his Grand Tour plans for 2018 but the British rider’s main focus will remain on the Tour de France as he seeks to add a fifth title to his ever-growing palmares.
At the route presentation at the Palais des Congres in Paris on Tuesday, Froome watched on as Christian Prudhomme and the ASO lined up to throw everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, at the Tour’s defending champion. Romain Bardet, one of Froome’s select GC rivals, looked stunned as Prudhomme unleashed an almost shock-and-awe barrage of stages that included cobbles, coastal roads, gravel sectors, three mountain-top finishes, blockbuster stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees, and two time trials. ASO left very little in their arsenal.
Perhaps the greatest concern for Froome and the rest of the GC contenders will be the opening nine days of competition. The Vendée Grand Depart will ensure that the opening weekend of the race will be a fraught affair, with no individual time trial to settle the nerves or the standings. The 35km team time trial on stage 3 offers Froome to chance to open the throttle and put the likes of Bardet, Pinot and Uran on the back foot before two ascents of the Mur de Bretagne on stage 6 rattle the peloton. However, it’s stage 9 to Roubaix, with its 21.7 kilometres of pavé, that will keep riders awake for the next few months.
“It’s tough and I wouldn’t expect anything else from the Tour de France organisers, especially the first eight or nine days,” Froome told Cyclingnews after an impromptu photoshoot to show off his 2017 Velo d’Or.
“It’s going to be very dangerous in the north-west of France, before we hit any of the big mountains. The wind could be a massive factor up there and with the GC being so close, we could see the race torn to pieces up there.
“There’s the inclusion of quite a substantial cobble stage and we could see a lot happening. Then there’s the stage with a gravel section and there’s a lot to get ready for in that sense."
As well as analysing the route with backroom staff, Froome and Sky must consider their team options carefully. Grand Tour rosters dip to eight riders in 2018 – one fewer than at present – and, considering the number of different battlegrounds next year’s Tour encapsulates, rider selection will be crucial.
In recent years Team Sky have shaped a crack climbing unit around Froome for the Tour. A similar move in 2018 could leave their leader exposed and vulnerable in the first week.
“It’s definitely going to be a big consideration coming into the race, to have a team to keep me safe up north,” he acknowledged.
“Having said that, we don’t want to compromise the team for the Alps and the Pyrenees. I can imagine that in terms of selection it would be guys who can be very versatile.”
Luckily for Froome, versatility is something that Team Sky have banked on – literally given their financial dominance in the market. Although they have lost Mikel Landa to Movistar and Mikel Neive to Orica, Dave Brailsford’s bullion still enables a team that could potentially include Geraint Thomas, Woet Poels, Gianni Moscon, Michal Kwiatkowski, Diego Rosa, Sergio Henao and Ian Stannard as Froome’s back-up. That’s without even considering Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Christian Knees and the raft of new talent they’ve picked up for next season.
Whether the 2018 Tour suits Froome more than Bardet, or vice versa, is almost immaterial; it perfectly suits Team Sky’s abundance of talent.
“That I think would be the obvious choice,” Froome added as he talked about the versatility of his teammates, “especially with the team time trial playing such an important part. There are not many individual time trial kilometres, so the racing is going to be done elsewhere in the race.”
As for the rest of the 2018 campaign, Froome kept his cards close to his chest. The Giro d’Italia organisers have virtually dared him to ride, with Mauro Vegni declaring that Froome ‘has to win the Giro to write history by winning all three Grand Tours in a row'.
Froome and the rest of us wait with bated breath to see Vegni’s 2018 chapter and Froome is in no rush to decide on his plans but has confirmed that any additional goals will run subservient to his Tour ambitions.
“We have to wait and see. I’m not writing it off but I’m fully conscious that my biggest goal for next year will most likely be going for a fifth Tour title," he said.
“It’s never been done before…” he said when it was pointed out that if he won the Giro then he would hold titles for all three Grand Tours at the same time. “That would be incredible but I’m not going to commit to anything just yet.”