Israel Start-Up Nation co-owner Sylvan Adams has reiterated that Chris Froome is the team's Grand Tour leader and that the squad have no plan B for next season as they maintain their unwavering support in the four-time Tour de France winner.
Froome heads to the Tour de France later this week as the team's road captain but Michael Woods will lead the squad's challenge for the overall classification because Froome has not recovered from the career-threatening crash and the resulting injuries he sustained he sustained at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
Froome has struggled for results this year after a move from Ineos Grenadiers and, while he has brought valuable experience to the team, Adams has acknowledged that the rider's comeback has taken longer than everyone at the team – including Froome – expected.
"We all hoped, Chris included, that he would be further along, but his injuries were very severe," Adams told Cyclingnews from his home on the east coast of North America.
"He is on the road back and he’s making improvements. It won’t happen for him in this year's Tour but we'll see later in the year. Maybe he'll be fit enough to be our team leader for the Vuelta and by next year we expect him to be fighting again at the Tour de France."
Froome was signed on a contract that stretched to five years and Adams hinted that, after the team strengthened heavily in the last transfer window, they would not go back to the market in an attempt to sign another Grand Tour contender.
"I think it’s premature to talk about return on investment. We're all-in, Chris is working and, honestly, I’ve never seen anyone with such a work ethic," Adams said.
"There's nothing he refuses to do. When his coach throws at him crazy workouts and regimes since he started with us, the guy has an amazing work ethic. I would never underestimate the heart of a champion and he’s a real champion. You don’t win four Tours, or seven Grand Tours, just on talent."
Adams also rebuffed the idea that Froome, even not at his best, was a good marketing tool for the Israeli team, with Adams keen to use the platform created by his WorldTour project as a way in which to boost cycling in Israel and transform it from a fringe sport to a mainstream form of entertainment. According to Adams, the signing of Froome was, and continues to be, based around sporting merits.
"When we signed Chris, the idea was that he would come back and be our leader in the Grand Tours and that's what we declared. Sure, it's taking a little longer but he's not just a figurehead. Sure, he provides mentorship and all the other stuff but he needs to return to form. We’re hoping and I’m expecting – Chris is too – that he returns to being the old Chris and that he's fighting for wins. He's not a figurehead or a franchise banner for us; he's a winner and a champion.
"Last year, we had to up our game and we brought in some veteran talent to help us along to race at this level. I'm pleased with the guys we've brought in. We've had some wins, we held the leader's jersey at the Giro for the first time ever, and we've taken three stage wins in the last two Grand Tours. We've made good progress but we want to get better. So for next year one of the things that will make us better is the completion of Chris' comeback. Chris not being our GC leader makes us a little bit weaker than we are meant to be. Woods is solid but a fully recovered Chris would have made us stronger. We hope that this is part of our plan for next year and even the second half of this year.
"For me I'm all in on plan A. We don't have a plan B. We believe in Chris, I believe in Chris, and we're putting all of our efforts into him. He's determined to come back and win Tour number five. Chris is a legend of our sport and is the greatest Grand Tour rider of his generation. The kids will look up to him and having that on the team is special. He brings a lot and he'll bring a lot more when he's fighting for victories again in Grand Tours."
'Froome's experience can help Woods'
Froome's role as road captain in this year’s race also stems from the fact that Daryl Impey is out with a long-term injury. That freed up a position within the roster and, although there is valuable Tour experience with Woods, Dan Martin, and Andre Greipel in the eight-rider selection, the hope is that Froome is strong enough to help Woods in the mountains while also in a position to dictate tactics on the flat.
"We expected Impey to have the role that Chris has but unfortunately he’s injured and won’t be able to participate. Chris was down to be our leader but his comeback continues to be slower than we had all anticipated or hoped for. He’s still working very hard to come back but he'll be our road captain. With all that experience he'll help Woods, who is really excited to be the leader," Adams said.
A few months ago, Woods had his eyes set on competing for stage wins, with the Olympic Games road race the main target of his summer. However, he has been one of the team's most consistent riders this year, with fifth in both the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie.
He has two wins to his name this season, and while the Tour route certainly doesn't lend itself to his specific characteristics, with over 50km of time trialing, the Canadian remains the team's best hope of a GC result given Froome's form and Martin's exploits in the Giro d'Italia in May.
"We're going in working for Woods," Adams said. "The team is focused on that and he will be our Tour de France leader. We're hoping to get a high position on GC and our secondary aim is to grab a stage, or two, or possibly three.
"If we can put Woods in a top-five… and the reason I’m not saying higher than that is that there are two time trials in the race. He’s one of the best, if not the best climbers in the world at the moment, the problem is that the higher he is on GC, the less opportunity he'll have to go off on his own.
"He'll have a chance to shine in the mountains and hopefully, that will mitigate the losses in the time trials. He knows that the team is fully behind him and he's in the best shape of his life so let's see what he can do."