For the fourth year running, Chris Froome has won his first race of the season after the Team Sky rider rode to the stage and overall double at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in what is "one of the most eventful seasons" of his career. The defending Tour de France champion is aiming for a third French grand tour title in July and a time trial road race Olympic Gold medal in Rio the following month and laid down a marker with his general classification triumph.
Froome started the final stage of the five-day race, 13 seconds behind teammate Peter Kennaugh, who had moved into the yellow jersey following his stage 1 victory. On the start line of the 121.8km stage, Froome explained the "priority is obviously to look after the jersey first but another stage win for the team would be fantastic." In the end, Sky hit both its targets.
The queen stage of Australia's oldest stage race saw the peloton ascend the three-kilometre Mornington Peninsula climb three times. Team Sky came to the front of the peloton for the first ascent, upping the tempo to cause the first serious selections in the race before Froome skipped away to collect king of the mountain points on the finish line. On the second pass through the finish line, where 24 more king of the mountain points were waiting, Froome again went for the maximum on offer.
It was Froome first over the mountain for the third time as well after he attacked at the base of the climb to distance Joe Cooper (AvantiIsohey), who had jumped away with him following the second ascent. With race leader and teammate Peter Kennaugh sitting in the first group on the road, Froome was riding not only to the stage win but also the overall victory with his winning margin a comfortable 17 seconds over Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEdge).
“I’ve worked really hard this winter so I am really grateful to be going well," said Froome of his first win since July's Tour de France. "I am seeing the results of some hard training this winter but this season is lining up to be one of the most eventful seasons of my career so far, give that it’s an Olympic career, given that I am going on to target a third Tour title. There’s a lot to race for this year and I think coming here and walking away with overall victory is an amazing way to start off the season."
The victory confirms the early season narrative of Froome's last four seasons, having won a stage and overall of the Tour of Oman (2013/14), Ruta de Sol (2015) and now the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. However, the 11th overall win of Froome's career is his first as a father following the birth of his son Kellan in December last year.
“Really special feeling," he said. "I got to admit going up that last climb there was a thought that it's probably three in the morning back home but chances are, my wife’s probably awake with my little boy watching or somehow keeping up to date. That was a pretty special feeling and definitely edged me to keep pushing on."
That last climb wasn't "on the same scale as Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux or something like that" but as the first serious climb of the season, it still "hurt".
“It’s never easy, even a day like today. It’s never easy to win a bike race even if you are against people you don’t really know, a bike race is a bike race. You have to turn yourself insight out for the result," he added of his effort to claim the win.
Froome previously rode the race in 2008 with Barloworld. As defending champion a third appearance in 2017 was jokingly confirmed as he said, "I guess I have to come back then".
"I think it’s a great race to come out to and I am surprised that more WorldTour teams aren’t doing the same. I imagine they probably will in the future," he added.
“It’s definitely been worthwhile. I spent a bit of time over in Adelaide before coming over here. I did a good block of training there. We’ve been doing quite a bit of training after the stages here also just to get the miles in so it’s definitely been worthwhile in terms of the form and moving us forward and preparing us for the European season to come."
Froome proceeded to ride 75km back to the team hotel in Melbourne following the conclusion of his official duties as race winner. While his next race is to be confirmed, Froome's quest to join Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond as three-time winner of La Grande Boucle started in earnest on Arthurs Seat with his rivals sure to taken notice of his early-season form.
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