Chris Froome (Team Sky) returned to racing at the Tour de Romandie after what he described as a 'bumpy ride' in the early part of the season due to his back problems and chest infection that forced him to miss Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Froome was the last rider to start as the 2013 winner and finished 13th, nine seconds slower than stage winner and overall rival Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) but was two seconds faster than Tour de France rival Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
The Kenyan-born Briton dominated the Tour of Romandie last year on the way to winning the Tour de France but remained up beat about his form, his training and his chances of a second Tour de France victory despite his early season set backs.
"It's definitely been a bumpy ride in the sense I've had the back issues and I've had the chest infection this week. But if I look back to last year, I did have a chest infection around about the same time. It's never a smooth progression up to the Tour, so it's inevitable there are going to be some different hurdles in the way," Froome told Sky Sports in a video interview.
Speaking to L'Equipe, Froome revealed he needed to take antibiotics to fight his chest infection but said he is now pain free thanks to lots of physio work and exercises for his back.
"I'm very happy because I don't have any more pain and I can't remember when it last hurt," the French newspaper quoted him as saying.
"When it returns, I always feel a bit unbalanced, with a little weakness on the left side, but it does not bother me. I did a lot of gym work during training in Tenerife with forty-five minutes spent with the physio every morning," Froome said.
Training on Mount Teide
Like many of his Tour de France rivals, Froome has recently spent a big block of time in Tenerife, laying down the foundations for July. He revealed that Team Sky struggled to secure rooms in the Hotel Parador at altitude on Mount Teide for the first part of the camp but then found himself in a room next to Tour de France rival Vincenzo Nibali.
Froome said his training 'numbers' indicated he was on form.
"One thing I was happy with was how the training went up in Tenerife," he explained.
"Being able to compare the numbers from this time last year to now; all the signs are pointing to that they're the same or even a little better than last year. That's a really good sign. I'm really happy with how things are going. They've not necessarily shown in results but I think I'm in a good place now, with the Tour just over two months away."
Froome and Team Sky has become aware that rival teams have imitated their intense training camps.
"We definitely got the idea that other teams have been looking at what we've done and structuring their programmes around the same way we done things in past," he said.
"It's a wake up call to say you can’t drop the ball for a second because all these other teams are waiting to pick it up if you do."
An essential building block for the Tour
With overall victory perhaps out of his reach this season, Froome described the Tour de Romandie as 'useful gauge' of his own form and that of his Tour de France rivals.
"The Tour of Romandie is race is really essential as a building block towards the Tour," he said.
"The result here is important but it's not everything. It's a useful gauge but it's not necessarily that whoever wins Romandie will win the Tour. It's just a good Alpine race to get a little taste of what is coming up."
"We haven't seen too much of Vincenzo Nibali this year. He's here this week and was in the room next me in Tenerife and so I imagine he's done a big block of training and should be ready for this. It'll be interesting to see where he's at with his preparation but I imagine he's one of the big contenders."