Positive headlines have been few and far between for Team Sky in recent weeks but news that multiple Tour de France winner Chris Froome can see himself finishing his career with the squad will temporarily lift the mood around the team.
The British WorldTour team has faced a series of damaging questions surrounding their policy over TUE use and Bradley Wiggins' UCI-approved application of a powerful corticoid on the eve of three major races between 2011 and 2013. It has led to a UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) investigation into 'an allegation of wrongdoing' involving Team Sky and British Cycling, with questions even surrounding the future of team manager Dave Brailsford.
In a recent interview with Cyclingnews, Froome stood by his manager and at the Saitama Criterium in Japan last week he went on to praise the team's structure and staff, adding that it was hard to envisage himself at a rival team.
"It's a good fit. It's a British team and I love the way in which the team works, the support structure, and the work ethic. There's a real buzz around the group that's on the road, from the carers to the mechanics, coaches and directors. It's just such a dynamic group," he told Cyclingnews.
"Also between the rides now we've got such a close-knit group and I'd find it hard to imagine being on another team. Having said that I'll have to see where I am in two years time but I've done seven years with the team now and I hope to continue."
As for the ongoing UKAD investigation, Froome referred back to his previous interview, before adding: "I don't think that there's more for me to add. I've spoken a lot about it. It wasn't really discussed at the recent team camp and obviously it's an ongoing investigation. I think everyone on the team is just looking ahead and planning and whatever is found in the investigation puts to rest any uncertainty there."
Froome's 2017 plans will see him prepare for a fourth Tour de France challenge. Early indications were that he could race the Giro d'Italia next season but those plans look 'unlikely' now, in his words. A Tour de France and Vuelta a España challenge appear more likely, as well as the British rider opening his racing campaign in Australia, just as he did this year.
The Tour Down Under has not yet been ruled out but Froome is more likely to open his season at the Herald Sun Tour – a race he won this year – while the WorldTour-level Cadel Evans race is also an option.
Chris Froome's potential 2017 race programme
January 29 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Australia)
February 1-5 Jayco Herald Sun Tour (Australia)
March 20-28 Volta a Catalunya (Spain)
April 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Belgium)
April 28-30 Tour de Yorkshire (Great Britain)
May 14-20 Tour of California (USA)
June 4-10 Critérium du Dauphiné (France)
July 1-23 Tour de France (France)
August 19-September 10 Vuelta a España (Spain)
The Tour of California and the Tour de Yorkshire are also events Froome would like to race in the future but assuming the Tour de France remains his principle focus, then a traditional route to July with either Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice, and then the Tour of Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné in June should form the backbone of his season.
"I don't know which events I'll be doing yet but I think it was a good start for me this year to be down there in Australia," he said. "I got some good training in and some long miles on the bike. Potentially there might be another altitude camp in South Africa and no doubt we'll have the Tenerife camps but as for the race schedule I'm not sure what changes there are.
"Maybe I'll go down there again and maybe do the Cadel Evans race. Doing the Sun Tour worked well last year. Making the race there and riding back from the stages, that ended up being a really good block."
After successfully retaining his Tour de France crown – a feat no rider has achieved since the 1990s – Froome knows that he will be an even bigger target next season. Standing still means going backwards in sport, so Froome, and his coach Tim Kerrison, will spend the coming weeks analysing this season before finalising the coming campaign.
"There are small changes that we can make in terms of training and the small tweaks that Tim is always looking at in order to improve," said Froome. "In terms of the programme I'd love to do California one year. I don't know if next year I'll get the chance but that's always a race I'd like to do. Yorkshire, potentially but I don't know what that conflicts with. I'll have to look at that with the team."
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