Chris Froome (Team Sky) has described his Giro d'Italia stage victory on Monte Zoncolan as a moment he will treasure for the rest of his life, convinced that any possible verdict from his pending salbutamol case would not result in him losing his Giro results.
Despite losing time in the overall classification on Sunday’s stage to Sappada, virtually ending his hopes of overall success and a place on the podium in Rome, Froome was still savouring his solo win on the Zoncolan as he sat down for his rest day press conference in Trento on Monday.
It appears to have balanced out a so-far troubled and injury-hit race following his crash ahead of the opening time trial in Jerusalem.
"I’m pretty tired to be honest. It’s been a tough race so far," Froome said before training on the 34.2km time trial course between Trento and Rovereto that he will race on Tuesday. "I gave myself an early birthday present the day before but I paid for the price for it yesterday. I think it’s quite clear; the Zoncolan was definitely going to be the most iconic climb of this year’s Giro d’Italia. I think it’s normal. I went super deep on the Zoncolan.
"It was such an amazing experience and one I don’t regret for one second. I don’t regret putting everything on the line. It was an incredible experience with the atmosphere on the climb and the thousands of people up there. To come back eight years later and to have won the stage, it’s going to be a moment I treasure for the rest of my life."
There has been much debate about whether Froome might lose any of his results as he races sub-judice while his lawyers fight his salbutamol case. He has been defiant and is convinced he will be cleared of any wrongdoing, while Team Sky believe the WADA code and UCI rules mean any eventual suspension will only begin when a sentence is reached.
Giro d’Italia race director Mauro Vegni has promised to never remove Froome’s results from the corsa rosa record books, and even if the UCI have denied such an agreement, Froome is convinced his Zoncolan victory will stand the test of time, the UCI Anti-Doping Tribunal and even the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"Yep, I’ve got no doubt," he said succinctly, happy for other questions in his 10-minute press conference to return to the racing itself.
Despite being in the unusual position of having to pull back time on his rivals, Froome remains upbeat, as if he is somehow enjoying the challenge and unpredictability he faces on the roads of Italy. He will continue to fight for his best possible overall result.
"I’m still going to focus on the GC for sure. I’m not going to give up," he said.
"It has been more difficult given the start I had in Jerusalem. I didn’t expect not to be feeling 100 per cent for the first half of the race. I’m still not quite myself. I’m still battling the after affects. But I’m giving everything I’ve got and taking it one day at a time."
He has been able to see the beauty and poetry of the Giro d’Italia despite his own suffering and preference for more controlled racing.
"It’s been a brutal race but it’s also been a beautiful race. This is bike racing at his best; it’s what people want to see. It’s real edge of the seat stuff," he suggested. "It’s a race that is like a combination of Classics, on different terrain every day. The race can explode for no apparent reason. That’s the nature of the Giro d’Italia. In the Tour it feels as if there’s a way the race progresses, a certain rhythm to the race. At the Giro anything can happen.
"It’s a lot more unpredictable. I don’t know if I like 'unpredictable' but it's great for the fans to watch and I get that."
In praise of Simon Yates
Despite often struggling to hold the wheels on the mountain finishes, Froome has been able to watch and admire Simon Yates' dominant performance. There is only admiration for his fellow Briton.
"Simon has ridden an incredible race so far. I can only say chapeau to him. He hasn’t shown one moment of weakness so far. I’m not in the pink but it’s pretty cool to see another Brit wearing pink," Froome said.
"He hasn’t shown one moment of weakness so far and he seems to be getting stronger. I genuinely thought yesterday he might be paying a little bit for the effort on the Zoncolan but he only seems stronger. I can only say congrats to Simon. I know that nothing comes easy in professional cycling like that. It might look easy but I’m sure he’s suffered a lot to get to where he is now."
Froome has often overcome illness in the third week of a Grand Tour and dug deep to secure victory. He dismissed concerns that Yates could struggle in the final mountain stages.
"I don’t see that weakness as it stands right now. He’s done consecutive hard days back-to-back, so I don’t see him having a hard time but time will tell," he said.
Froome studied the time trial course before riding the Tour of Alps in April. He rode it again with his teammates before lunch on the rest day and will get to see it on Tuesday morning when the 34.2km flat course is closed to traffic. He hinted his crash injuries could hamper his performance but promised to give his best in the hope of gaining time on at least some of his rivals who are also fighting for places in the top 10 in the general classification.
He could arguably move back up to fifth thanks to the time trial, with the hope that he could defend or improve even further in the final mountain stages on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"If I gain anything on Tom Dumoulin I’ll be extremely happy. He’s the world champion and so I don’t expect to gain anything on him," Froome said when asked specifically about the Dutchman. "Lets see. I’ll give it everything and take it from there."