Chris Froome will make his season debut at next week’s UAE Tour perhaps lacking in race fitness but convinced he has completed his rehabilitation and regained equal leg strength after several months of extra gym work in California.
Froome has spent the winter near Los Angeles, mixing his road training with special workouts at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Center.
He suffered a double femur fracture, multiple other fractures and a collapsed lung when a gust of wind blew him into a wall during a reconnaissance ride of the time trial stage of the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné. He recovered to return to racing at last year’s UAE Tour and used the following COVID-19 lockdown to work further in the gym. However, he was not selected for the Ineos Grenadiers' Tour de France squad and ended his time at the British team with a modest 98th place at the Vuelta a España.
Isokinetic tests confirmed a 20 per cent deficiency in his right quad muscle, while a scan revealed that a surgical screw was piercing through a bone and potentially grating on his quad while riding.
Joining Israel Start-Up Nation has given Froome extra motivation to get back to his best and he swapped a quiet winter in France or Africa for several months in California, even eschewing Israel Start-Up Nation’s first training camp in Spain to work in the Bull Athlete Performance Center.
Froome recently sparked debate by questioning the merits of disc brakes as he showed off his new Factor race bike, arguing the "the technology is not quite where it needs to be" despite preparing to use them during the 2021 season.
“Cameron Wurf, an ex-teammate of mine and good friend over at Ineos, introduced me to Per [Lundstam, Director of Athlete Performance for Red Bull] over here in Santa Monica. He put us in touch first and discussed the possibility of coming over here to LA to basically continue my rehab,” Froome explained on the Red Bull website.
“I’ve probably been doing four two-hour sessions most weeks at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Center in Santa Monica but we’ve been whittling that down to two sessions a week as the riding has been picking up.”
Froome added specific single-leg strength training to his usual core work.
“We felt that balance has been achieved and I’m doing enough to stay on top of things while shifting focus back to the bike again,” Froome explained in his final days in California.
“I can finally say that I’m confident the rehab process is behind me now. It’s always going to be a weakness I’m going to have to work on until the end of my career. But in terms of the figures I’m seeing on the bike, I’ve got to the same if not even better left-right balance than I was prior to the crash. That’s extremely encouraging.
“I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me in terms of focusing on race fitness but as a starting point this has put me in really good stead.”
More than just team leader, aiming for a fifth Tour de France
Froome will reportedly remain one of the highest earners in the professional peloton despite his age, with his new three-year salary estimated to be close to €4 million per season. His arrival has elevated Israel Start-Up Nation and Froome is far more than a simple team leader.
He finds the challenge refreshing.
“It was a big change for me – going to a smaller set-up, a team that’s not lined with superstars, but it’s refreshing. No disrespect at all to ISN but it feels like we’re starting almost with a blank piece of paper when it comes to the Grand Tours, which is pretty exciting to be part of,” Froome suggested.
“I think at my age it’s quite a refreshing approach to be on the forefront of helping the team build a new group and a new campaign. I’m not just part of the same old thing that has been going for year after year.”
Froome will be 36 on May 20 but believes age is little more than a number, with experience replacing any lost physiological strength. He is still thinking of joining the select club of five-Tour de France winners.
“Being so close to the record, I can’t say I’m stopping at four and not at least give it my best shot to try and get number five,” Froome said.
“I also think there are also a lot of preconceived notions, certainly in sport, that once you hit your 30s, you’re on a downward spiral.
“Everything has changed in the last few years and there’s a lot more data available. We know a lot more about our bodies and how to look after ourselves beyond the ages that were previously given as a career-ending point for athletes in sport.
“More and more now, we’re seeing cases where athletes are going longer due to better nutrition, better training, and looking after themselves properly. I’d also like to be on the forefront of that and proving it can be done into your late 30s.”
Israel Start-Up Nation General Manager Kjell Carlström has suggested Froome could ride the Giro d’Italia to build his fitness for the Tour de France. The Kenyan-born Briton also has his eye on the Tokyo Olympic Games after winning two bronze medals in the time trial in London and Rio.
“In the last two years since I’ve been away from the Tour de France, the sport has changed significantly. There are a lot of really strong young riders coming through and a lot of talent coming into the WorldTour. It’s going to be a very different race but I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the challenges of 2021.
“I’d love to get to the Olympics as well, but that obviously depends on selection and how that goes.”
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