Before stage 3 of the Ruta del Sol, Chris Froome (Team Sky) was again met by questions from journalists about starting his season while his anti-doping adverse analytical finding is still pending. This time, he rejected claims that he was relieved to be racing rather than facing intense media scrutiny about his case.
"It's great to be racing, not about tension or relief or anything like that," Froome said. "It's the start of my season."
When asked by one journalist if the "whole pantomime" of media interest about his urine turning up with twice the allowed level of salbutamol in his Vuelta a España sample "seemed a bit ridiculous," Froome answered: "It's definitely been hyped up in the media. Anyone can see that. It shows, it shows here at the race."
However, he rejected the idea that he was racing to get away from the pressure. "I wouldn't say that. I'm here racing," he insisted.
After placing 7th on stage 2 to the Alto de las Allanadas, Froome recognises that repeating his 2015 victory in the Ruta del Sol will be "difficult". Instead, Froome said, Sky will do "everything we can" to keep teammate Wout Poels in the overall lead.
Froome is currently lying nearly 30 seconds down on Poels, in 7th place on GC. Apart from keeping Poels in the top spot overall, the Briton's focus seems to be almost fully on making a flat-out effort in the stage 5 final time trial.
Speaking as he warmed down after a fast stage 3 of the Ruta del Sol, run off at an average speed of 43.157kph, Froome said the overall "will be difficult for me. [Regaining] 30 seconds in such a short time trial and such a short uphill finish tomorrow (Saturday) - I don't see it happening at the moment with the strong field that's here.
"But I mean, it's very much in Wout's sights at the moment and we'll keep working at that."
Froome said the last part of the course on stage 3 to Herrera had been dangerous and that in a tumultuous finale building up to a bunch sprint, he had lost track of his teammates.
"In the last 10 kilometres, I didn't know who was where, it was quite difficult to stay together as a team, coming into that run-in it was a very sketchy finish," he said.
Taking the whole race into perspective, Froome said that a heavy travel schedule could have been to blame for his below expectations performance on Thursday on the Alto de Allanadas, where he had effectively won the Ruta del Sol in 2015. But he insisted things were going well.
"I obviously did a really big workload over the last few weeks, coming into this race, I probably haven't freshened up as much as I should have, particularly with the travel coming over here from South Africa.
"But I'm really happy about where I am at the moment, given where I was yesterday [stage 2] I was there or thereabouts. Obviously, I've still got work to do, but for a second day's racing I'm pretty happy with how it's all going."
Froome said he would not be changing his race schedule as a result of his difficulties on the stage 2 climb, with Tirreno-Adriatico remaining next on the agenda in his build-up to the Giro d'Italia.
As for stage 4's exceptionally technical finish on Saturday, Froome smiled when it was put to him that it could be good practice for the tricky Giro d'Italia finales in May. "I'm here to just see what I've got. Wout's in great shape, and we'll try and do everything to keep him up there."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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