On Team Sky’s second Tour de France rest day press conference in Sisteron, Chris Froome refused to let the ‘sideshow’ of doping innuendo and suspicion distract him from his position of strength as the maillot jaune. The 2013 champion currently holds over a three minute advantage on second placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Attacking the questioning of France Television’s post-stage show Stade 2, team principal Dave Brailsford and head of performance Tim Kerrison released Froome’s data from stage 10 to counter the allegations surrounding Froome’s performance.
“All that has been going on in the sidelines and it really has been more like a sideshow than anything else,” Froome told reporters. “My focus has been on the race and I think the racing has shown that. Nothing is going to throw me off in that regard.”
Froome added that questions on doping at this year’s race appear to focus on Sky while his rivals escape similar levels of scrutiny.
“Obviously we seem to cop a lot of speculation and a lot of doubts around our performances. Why are those same level of doubts not being cast upon similar performances from other GC contenders - why is it only us?”
Refusing to be further embroiled in doping discussions, Froome reiterated that arriving in Paris with yellow remains his sole objective and ambition.
“This is the dream position to be four racing stages away from the Champs-Élysées with a decent advantage over most of my rivals. I am in yellow, I have a fantastic team around me. Nothing is going to distract from that.”
On Friday, Froome was hit by a cup of urine thrown at him by a spectator on the side of the road with post-race comments from himself and his team claiming that “irresponsible” reporting of certain journalists had contributed to the actions of the spectator.
The incident was compounded by insinuations from Laurent Jalabert and Cedric Vasseur on French television regarding Froome, with race director Christian Prudhomme condemning the “stigmatisation around the yellow jersey”.
“I think we are in a great place. Of course the few unfortunate incidents out on the road were a bit of a dampener on things but since the messages from Christian Prudhomme, other riders and people showing their support, there really has been a change in the support out on the road and it feels as if certainly the vast majority of the people out there are just there to support the race and all the riders,” Froome added.
Focused on the Alps
Wednesday’s opening stage in the Alps replicates stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné that was won by Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) with the summit finish on Pra Loup.
With Quintana now Froome’s closet challenger at 3:10, the 30-year-old explained that he expects attacks on his yellow jersey to begin not on the 6.2km climb but on the fast descent off the Col de Allos where Bardet made his stage-winning move in June.
“We had a good taste of what could happen in the Dauphiné with Bardet going over the top there taking a minute on the descent and riding his way to the stage victory on that day,” Froome said. “I think we can expect people to really take the race on. Yesterday [stage 16] we saw riders taking advantage of that descent.”
“[Vincenzo] Nibali, maybe the guys from Movistar could be looking at that descent, maybe Alberto Contador. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s taken the race up on the descent. I think as a team we have to expect everything on that stage and be ready for it. We saw on the climbs that Quintana’s shown he has the legs to attack. The other guys who probably aren’t feeling quite as confident on the climbs will be trying elsewhere."
When asked which of the four stages to come in the Alps posed the most specific danger to his hold of the yellow jersey, Froome explained, “each stage has its particular challenges to overcome.”
“Tomorrow we have the descent off Allos and the final ascent to Pra Loup. The Lacets [de Montvernier] stage, everyone’s seen that climb. It’s probably the most picturesque climb on this year’s Tour with so many switches in such a short distance. Then we have La Toussuire which can be extremely selective.
When the Tour visited Alpe d’Huez in 2013, Froome conceded 1:06 to Quintana and a repeat performance could prove to be fatal in his quest for a second Tour.
“Hopefully it’s going to go better than last time I rode up Alpe d’Huez,” Froome said, explaining that the fatigue levels of Grand Tour racing are not at the same level of his 2013 success.
“If I compare to how I was two years ago on the second rest day, I feel as if I am in a much stronger position,” he said of his current condition. “Two years ago I felt like I was hanging on coming into the final week whereas right now I feel happy with where I am at. I am not fading if you like.”