Although barely three months have passed since Chris Froome won the Tour de France title, the British rider is already turning his thoughts to the defence of his title in 2014. Even before next week’s official presentation of the route of the 101st Tour, he has been following reports about next year’s parcours.
“I’m hearing the rumours about the route and starting to piece together how I think I’m going to tackle it,” he said. Those rumours include reports of a stage over the cobbles in northern France, which, he says, “do ring alarm bells for me”.
Speaking to Procycling in an exclusive interview at Team Sky’s base in Monaco on Tuesday, the Tour champion says he is hoping for “a pretty well-balanced Tour. I think as a winner of the Tour de France you should be rounded as a rider. You should be able to climb exceptionally and time trial very well. That’s what makes the Tour a well-balanced race, whereas if you look at something like the Vuelta where you’ve got 12 hilltop finishes, that is going to suit a pure climber who is not so strong on the flat and in the wind.”
Given the chance to put in a personal wishlist to Tour director Christian Prudhomme, Froome says he would like a race “with longer and flatter time trials. They would be more in my favour, the kinds of tests where pure climbers like Joaquim Rodríguez and Nairo Quintana would lose minutes.”
The Sky team leader adds: “If there are more mountains in it, that’s not a bad thing for me, as I think I’ve proved myself on the climbs. But having more time trials does suit me, including team time trials as I think I’ve got one of the strongest teams for that discipline.”
Mention of stories reporting that Prudhomme has been checking over potential cobbled sections for next year’s race bring a wry smile from the 2013 Tour winner. “Cobbles have been mentioned and that does ring alarm bells for me. I know they will be ringing for others as well. The little climbers will hate the cobbles,” Froome acknowledges.
“The thing that worries me about cobbles isn’t necessarily the riding over the cobbles bit. I’ve done Paris-Roubaix before, I know what that’s like – it’s tough. I admit I probably wouldn’t be at the very front of a cobbled stage with guys like [Fabian] Cancellara and [Thor] Hushovd. I accept I wouldn’t be able to follow them, but there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to stay with Contador, Quintana, Rodríguez and Nibali on cobbles like that.
“What worries me about cobbles are the crashes, the mechanical problems. A mechanical problem in the wrong moment of the race when things are kicking off could lead to you losing the Tour. I’m not a big fan of that. Someone shouldn’t lose the Tour due to a mechanical fault. It happens, but we’re not in the Eugène Christophe era any more. I think it’s extremely unfortunate if that happens. It’s the unknown factor that worries me about cobbles, not necessarily being dropped.”
Multiple Tour titles?
Such was the Briton’s dominance of this year’s Tour that it has been widely suggested Froome will go on to claim a series of victories, but he is far from convinced this will happen. “Winning multiple Tours is far easier said than done,” he says. The key, Froome points out, is maintaining his motivation and physical fitness, then focusing one year at a time.
“I can’t put a number on how many Tours I could win – saying I could win five, six, seven is pointless. I can only take one Tour at a time, but as long as I’m hungry for it I’m going to go for it,” declares Froome. “My goal is to be the best cyclist that I can be and to do that I’ve got to go back and target the Tour. It’s the biggest goal cyclists have.”
When it comes to likely rivals for next year’s title, Froome picks out the riders who pushed him hardest this year, with the addition of one extra name. “The rider who will come into the frame is Vincenzo Nibali. He’s talking about doing the Tour next year and he would naturally be a big rival. Otherwise, I think it will be the same guys as this year.”
Of the riders he beat this year, Froome says: “It’s amazing to see what Quintana’s done at such a young age and he’s only going to be get better and wiser as time goes on, but I’m not sure if he’ll do the Giro or the Tour next year. Rodríguez is someone who is always up there, Valverde will probably be back with a vengeance and, of course, there’s Contador. I think he feels like he’s got a lot to prove after this year. I will have my work cut out for me, that’s for sure.”
Question marks over Bradley Wiggins
And then there’s the question of his own team. Could it feature 2012 Tour champion Bradley Wiggins? Although the press has made much of the reported difficulties in the relationship between the Tour’s last two winners, Froome says the pair could compete in the same Sky line-up at the Tour next year if they have what team boss Dave Brailsford has called “goal harmony”.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t ride together,” says Froome. “I personally don’t know what Brad’s plans are for the future. I’ve heard he’s looking at going back to track cycling, but I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to ride something like the Tour together or any race. We’re professionals.”
Discovering that his inquisitor rides on the Yorkshire roads that will feature on the opening day of next year’s race, Froome is eager to get back to the issue that is currently at the centre of his focus – next year’s Tour route. “What are the roads like up there?” he asks. “Are they narrow and twisting? What about the hills? I’m keen to talk to [Sky team-mates] Josh Edmondson and Ben Swift about those stages as they know those roads so well.”
All will be revealed next Wednesday in the Palais des Congrés in Paris, where Froome will be among the most eagle-eyed of observers as Christian Prudhomme unveils the twists and turns of the 2014 Tour de France.