Chris Froome has accepted he faces a long fight back to full fitness but insists he is up for the fight, despite struggling to make an impression in recent races.
Froome has always set a fifth Tour de France victory as a motivation goal for his return from his terrible 2019 Dauphiné crash injuries. The goal remains for the 35-year-old, but the consequences of his injuries and even extra muscle from his many hours of rehabilitation work are slowing his progress.
“The fall taught me a lot. I am now much more grateful for the moments when I was injury-free and didn’t have to deal with such hurdles. The events gave me new perspectives on life,” Froome told Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung during this week’s Tour de Romandie.
"I still feel the hunger to race and do everything I can to get back to my best," he insisted.
“It's a long process. “It's taking longer than I expected. But I don't want to miss the chance. In a few years I want to look back and be able to tell myelf that I've tried everything.”
Froome is completing a block of racing at the Tour de Romandie that started with the Volta a Catalunya and passed via the Tour of the Alps. He raced the UAE Tour in February and also completed an altitude camp on Mount Teide with several of his new Israel Start-Up Nation teammates.
He has worked hard but so far the results have been modest. He went in the early break on the penultimate stage of the Tour of the Alps but often struggled on hilly stages and finished several minutes down on the overall contenders he once regularly defeated. Froome has not won a race since sealing overall victory at the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
Froome spent the winter in California, working in the Red Bull rehabilitation centre doing hours and hours of special gym work. That has corrected much of a 20 percent imbalance in his legs and core, but it has left him with extra muscle that hinders his performance. His legs are lean but has developed upper body muscles mass.
“I’m carrying two to three extra kilos of weight around with me," he explained.
Froome is pragmatic rather than down beaten or angry about his slow recovery, with others more impatient than he appears.
“I know about my injuries and don’t expect miracles,” he said.
“I won't wake up one day and suddenly win again, because I started at the bottom and I’m working my way up again."
Froome left Ineos Grenadiers for a reportedly highly five million Euro per year in a five-year deal at Israel Start-Up Nation that will see him finish his career with the team.
It is unclear if Froome will race for the full five seasons but the team are, at least for now, also patient about his return to full fitness.
“He's a bit behind schedule, but we knew this could happen. The most important thing is that we continue to work as we do and that we, as a team, continue to believe in Chris. We hope it will be there again by the summer,” directeur sportif Rik Verbrugghe told Het Nieuwsblad, accepting that a fifth Tour de France may no longer be possible, especially against the new generation of Tadej Pogacar, Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel.
“I’m convinced that he will be very close to his best level. If not this season, then the next, after he has been able to work purposefully for another winter. But whether that will be enough to cope with the emerging youth, I don't know,” Verbrugghe conceded.
“I even wonder whether the best Chris Froome could win in the Tour against those guys.
“Every athlete needs a goal and for Chris that is a fifth Tour victory. If he didn't strive for that, we could already write him off now. It is that motivation that can bring him back to his old level. For athletes like Chris Froome, the track record is much more of a motivation than that money is.”
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