While this week's UAE Tour has seen the 2020 Tour de France champion – UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogačar – take control of the race with a series of impressive performances, Chris Froome, the man with the most Tour wins in the peloton, is just starting his career at new team Israel Start-Up Nation.
The Briton, who is chasing a record-equalling fifth Tour victory with the Israeli squad, is still working his way back to his past form 20 months after a near career-ending crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
After an off-season of training and further rehabilitation, including a spell spent at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Center in California, the 35-year-old has eased himself into life at his new team this week, playing a helper role to team leader Ben Hermans while building form for future races.
On Thursday's stage 5 to the summit finish of Jebel Jais, Froome finished 1:42 down on stage winner Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), crossing the line shortly after Davide Formolo of UAE Team Emirates. Speaking after the finish, he was positive about how the race is going so far.
"That went alright today," Froome said. "I mean we did what we could to try and light the race up a little bit by putting guys in the breakaway. Obviously, Omer [Goldstein] and Alex [Dowsett] got up there which was good and definitely saw a bit more action in the race than we did in previous stages."
Earlier in the week, Froome said that his racing condition has a long way to go to reach his peak, adding that he had spent a lot of time off the bike during the off-season working on rebalancing the power in his legs, having broken his right leg in that Dauphiné crash.
On the stage 3 summit finish to Jebel Hafeet, cameras lingered on Froome as he dropped away from the peloton, eventually finishing five minutes down on stage winner Pogačar. In that context, his result on Jebel Jais can be seen as a small step forward.
"In the final I tried to hang on in the bunch for a long as possible, use it as preparation for upcoming races and to test myself a little bit as well as positioning Ben Hermans [who finished ninth on the stage] for the final," Froome said.
"All in all, it was a pretty good day for us. For me personally, I feel better and better as the race goes on. I think I definitely need more of these race stages, but step by step things are hopefully coming together for me."
Froome's final two days at the UAE Tour will be an easier affair than the two summit finishes, being pan-flat stages to Palm Jumeirah and Abu Dhabi. After Saturday's closer, Froome's next taste of action comes at the Volta a Catalunya, which kicks off on March 22.
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