Twelve months ago Chris Froome (Team Ineos) had just pulled off a miraculous comeback to win the 2018 Giro d'Italia. However, the effort of racing three weeks in Italy eventually took its toll and when the Tour de France came around he was unable to add to his four titles, eventually finishing third in Paris.
This year the Tour de France favourite is in a different space - both physically and mentally - as he prepares for July at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Fresher legs and no undue pressure from the salbutamol case that dogged him in the build-up to last year's Tour, the 34-year-old lined up at the start of stage 1 in Aurillac ready to race.
"I'm definitely a lot fresher at this point in the season than I was at this point last season having done the Giro. At that point I was also on the back of three Grand Tours," he told reporters in Aurillac.
"I feel fresh, I feel motivated and I'm looking forward to racing. I feel a huge difference both mentally and physically. I feel like a different person. I guess the motivation is a bit different. I'm trying to fight for a fifth title."
Froome is a three-time Critérium du Dauphiné winner but success in this race is not necessarily a prerequisite for winning the Tour. In 2017, he was below his best and finished fourth overall in the Dauphiné before sealing a Tour win a few weeks later. He finds himself in a similar position this time around, without a victory at this point in the campaign, but with the Tour de France the only race that truly matters.
That said, a good performance would certainly be a boost for his morale. The Tour de France's defending champion, and Froome's teammate, Geraint Thomas finished strongly at the Tour de Romandie in late April and will be racing the Tour de Suisse later this month. If Froome can win a fourth Dauphiné he will do his leadership credentials for the Tour no harm whatsoever.
"I'd like to be up there with the main guys but obviously it's been a while since I've raced. I don't know what to expect but I'd hope to be up there at the front this week," he said.
In recent months Froome's form has at least been moving in the right direction. He was 11th at the Tour of the Alps and followed that with 13th at the Tour de Yorkshire. Neither of those races will count when the Grand Depart arrives in a matter of weeks but Froome and his backroom team will be looking for progression at the Dauphiné.
At the finish town in Jussac, Froome went through his customary routine of spending time on the team bus before venturing out to warm-down on the rollers. After which he gave his stage assessment to Cyclingnews. Having made the first group on the opening test it was a successful day for the British rider. He was quick to follow when Julian Alaphilippe launched an attack late on and eventually came over the line in 33rd place at the same time as stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen.
"There's not much to report," he told Cyclingnews as we stopped outside the team bus with his warm-down duties complete.
"It's just about staying out of trouble today and staying up front. It was quite a grippy day and Bora did well to control it. Congratulations to Eddy, that was an impressive win and from our side it was good to get the day done, not to lose any time and not to have any issues out on the road.
"I was just trying to hold the wheels and stay up front. I feel all right."
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