Organisers ASO may have billed the Saitama Criterium as the “22nd stage of the Tour de France” but every day will soon start to feel like the eve of next year’s Tour for reigning champion Chris Froome (Sky).
Indeed, two days and almost 10,000 kilometres on from the 2014 Tour presentation in Paris, Froome was again quizzed on the parcours, and he gave short thrift to the notion that something of an “anti-Froome” route has been devised.
In 2013, Froome was able to use the Mont-Saint-Michel time trial in week two to hammer home the gains he had already made in the Pyrenees. Next year, the Tour’s lone time trial appears on the penultimate stage, from Bergerac to Périgueux, and the race has its lowest total of kilometres against the clock since 1934, but Froome is adamant that the eventual winner will still have to be an adept time triallist.
“We saw what the time gaps were like with a time trial of just over 30km in this year’s Tour, in the first flat time trial. You can only imagine what the time gaps are going to be like in the 50km time trial and the pure climbers are going to have to battle with that,” Froome told reporters in Saitama on Friday evening.
Last week, Froome spoke to Cyclingnews of his apprehension at riding on the cobbles at the Tour, but he is aware too that the men who stood alongside him on the podium in Paris last July – Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez – will hardly relish the cut and thrust of the pavé.
“The cobblestones are also an area where pure climbers could struggle and there are a lot of stages in between – the lumpy stages in the UK, for example – where fighting for position on the flat and in crosswinds are all going to come into play. So I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a race for the pure climbers,” said Froome, who, of course, in any case claimed two summit finishes at the 2013 Tour, at Ax 3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux.
Rather than an anti-Froome route, then, the 2014 Tour is one that perhaps one that seeks to limit a dominant team’s ability to control the race, with a number of punchy stages in the opening ten days and a brace of short mountain stages at the end of the race’s sojourn in the Pyrenees.
While Froome himself was largely invulnerable last July, his Sky team was put under considerable pressure by a welter of early attacks on stage 9 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, for instance, and there are a number of days that encourage such aggression on next year’s parcours.
“Personally I prefer longer [mountain stages] but shorter ones are maybe a bit more explosive and exciting, and you can’t give the breakaway as much time. It might promote a little bit more aggressive racing,” Froome said.
On Saturday, Froome dons the maillot jaune once again for the inaugural Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France, a new venture established by Tour organisers ASO to promote the race in the growing cycling market of Japan.
“There are a lot of supporters of the Tour here. Not just people who watch it, but proper fans of the sport who really know all the ins and outs and intricacies of the racing,” said Froome.
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