Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) believes that, unless Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) crashes, the battle for the Tour de France is over and the Slovenian will defend the title that he won in 2020.
Pogačar currently leads the race by over five minutes from Rigoberto Urán (EF-Nippo) and has won two stages during the opening two weeks.
He has looked unbeatable and, but for a slight wobble on the second ascent of Mont Ventoux, has been able to match whatever his rivals have thrown at him.
Even with a full week of racing to come, and two massive summit finishes in the Pyrenees, four-time Tour de France winner Froome believes the young UAE Team Emirates rider has the buffer he needs to ride into Paris this Sunday wearing yellow.
"If Pogačar can stay on the bike then it’s over," Froome said at the start of stage 16 on Tuesday.
"He’s showed such class and maturity in the position that he’s in. With a time trial coming, he’s got this in the bag unless something catastrophic happens to him."
When asked if there was potential for Pogačar’s rivals to gang up and mount a huge offensive early in one of the mountain stages in a bid to try and isolate the yellow jersey, Froome quickly dismissed the scenario.
"No, no, he can follow. He’s more than capable of following," he said.
Froome comes into stage 16 in 131st place overall, and almost three hours off the race lead. He crashed in the opening stage and lost considerable time, as well as sustaining minor injuries.
His focus on the race as been to act as Israel Start-Up Nation’s road captain and to support Michael Woods and Dan Martin as the pair hunt stage wins. The Canadian is also in the running for the king of the mountains competition.
Froome’s efforts have also been to focus on his own recovery – both from the career-threatening crash he sustained in the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné but also the one he was part of in the opening week of this year’s Tour.
"I’m doing well and I’m surviving. I’ve been soaking up the race and enjoying the atmosphere, and hopefully counting down the days until getting to Paris," he said.
"I certainly feel like I’m coming around after that accident at the beginning of the race. That took a big knock out of me and it took quite a while for me to gather myself but as the days go on I’ve started to feel better.
"Certainly in the bunch, when it comes to the accelerations, I’m feeling that they’re not quite as difficult as they were a couple of weeks ago when I started off in Brest. I’m quite enjoying being here."
Froome was also asked if he could be part of a breakaway in the mountains during the final week of the Tour.
"Potentially, potentially. I think that the biggest focus for us, Israel Start-Up Nation, is to get Mike Woods in the breakaways and looking for the king of the mountains points, and the hunt for a stage win, but certainly if the chance is there and I can try and sneak into a break to try and help them out, then I’ll definitely do that."
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