Chris Froome celebrated Team Sky’s victory at the Tour of the Alps on the team bus parked near the finish in Bolzano, letting out a loud cheer as he greeted his teammates. He seemed as happy as if he had won himself, clearly lifted by riding with the team’s next generation of stage racers and enjoying his last race in Team Sky’s colours before the metamorphosis to Team Ineos next Wednesday.
Froome switched to a super-domestique role in the five-day Austrian-Italian Euroregion race, leading the chase of the attacks in key moments of the race. During the final stage to Bolzano, he helped bring Fausto Masnada’s attack under control, to ensure Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart finished first and second on the final podium. Froome finished out of the spotlight at 11th overall, but he was happy to have gotten his form and his season back on track after a difficult two months.
"It’s quite emotional in some ways. We couldn’t have asked for more," Froome said after returning to the podium area to collect the team prize with Sivakov and Geoghegan Hart.
"To end on a note like that, especially with our young guys getting ready for the Giro d’Italia, it’s great to seem then in such brilliant shape. I think Pavel and Tao have shown a lot of class this week. Even though this is not a WorldTour race, it’s a very intense race and a very high level. They’ve shown their true colours this week, and they're definitely ready for the Giro d’Italia."
Froome started the week playing down his form but was smiling on Friday afternoon. He was not able to compete for overall victory against long-time rival Vincenzo Nibali and other riders on form for the Giro d’Italia, but he seemed to enjoy chasing down the Italian on the climbs.
Season back on track
Froome trained at altitude before his season debut at the Colombia 2.1 race in early February, but a crash took him out of overall contention. He surprisingly decided to skip the UAE Tour, saying he needed to "recover fully from Colombia", only revealing on the eve of the Tour of the Alps that he had not been well. He then crashed at the Vuelta a Catalunya and added the Tour of the Alps to his calendar and confirmed he would also ride the Tour de Yorkshire.
"After a difficult Catalunya, I’m feeling more like myself now. I think for the end of April, I’m where I need to be for the Tour de France," Froome said.
"Nibali is going well and is definitely going to be one of the contenders for the Giro title. It’s great that our young guys could keep up and even go better than him. It was a pleasure to be there this week and guide them in the moments I could, give them some help here and there."
Froome brushed off a suggestion that 21-year-old Sivakov and 24-year-old Geoghegan Hart make him feel old. He turns 34 on May 20 but has been inspired by Team Sky’s next generation.
"I was motivated to do that job today and bring that gap down and make sure we kept the lead as if it was on my shoulders or on Pavel’s shoulders," he said.
"I think it creates positive momentum. It motivates me to want to be there with them longer and to get myself to a winning shape. I think now we're getting into the business side of the season for me. It’s great to build on this momentum, keep my head down and so keep working for the Tour de France."
Froome will probably train hard at another altitude camp on Mount Teide in late May before riding the Criterium du Dauphine in June before the Tour de France.
Looking back at a decade at Team Sky
His racing career in Team Sky’s colours is over, but Froome is expected to show off the new Team Ineos colours at an official presentation on May 1 before the Tour de Yorkshire. Everyone at Team Sky has been tight-lipped about the Team Ineos presentation, and Ineos’ environmental track record as one of the giants in the petrochemical industry; with fracking protestors threatening to make their voices heard during the team’s debut.
Froome admitted it will mark the start of a new chapter for the British WorldTour team, but he said little else.
"You’ll know more about that next week," he said adeptly.
Froome’s career was transformed during his years at Team Sky. He emerged from the role of a mountain domestique to become a Grand Tour team leader during the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. He then went on to win the Tour de France four times, the 2017 Vuelta a Espana and the 2018 Giro d’Italia, plus numerous other stage races. He has recently extended his contract to stay with Dave Brailsford until the end of 2020.
"I think it’s been an amazing partnership with Sky," Froome said. "We’ve done everything we can this week to go out on the best note possible in stage races. The guys have done a fantastic job already by winning three stages and the overall."
He recalled the creation of the team in the winter of 2009.
"From the first meeting all together as a team in a meeting in Britain, there was a feeling that it was something big and so different to what I was used to. I can remember the excitement in the group and the anticipation for what was to come.
"I think Sky has a special place in the history of the sport, given the victories Sky had as a sponsor over the last 10 years. There’s definitely an era there.”