Chris Froome’s exclusion from the Ineos Tour de France team felt like a possibility from the moment he signed a contract with Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021, and that hypothesis hardened gradually into fact after he resumed his season in early August.
Froome’s struggles at the Route d’Occitanie and the Tour de l’Ain were offset by a couple of encouraging cameos in the service of Egan Bernal and mitigated by the fact that he had raced just once – at the UAE Tour in February – since his horrific crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June 2019.
The shortened 2020 Dauphiné, however, served as a most exacting dress rehearsal for the rescheduled Tour and it was apparent that Froome was well short of the condition that had carried him to four overall victories in Paris.
Like 2018 winner Geraint Thomas, Froome was omitted from the Ineos Tour selection announced on Wednesday morning and the Briton will instead focus on preparing for the Vuelta a España, scheduled for October 20-November 8.
In the hasty reshuffling of the Ineos deck, Richard Carapaz – long slated to defend his title at the Giro d'Italia – has been drafted into the Tour team.
"It's definitely a readjustment for me – moving the goalposts from the Tour de France to the Vuelta a España – but I think, given where I've come from through the last year, I've had an incredible recovery from the big crash I had last year, and I'm in a very fortunate position to be back racing now already,” Froome said in a video published by Team Ineos.
“But I'm not confident that I can really fulfil the necessary job that would be needed from me at this year's Tour de France, and I think it's a lot more realistic targeting the Vuelta a España, and it gives me a chance to really get stuck in to something that's deliverable, really.”
Froome sustained serious injury, including a fractured femur, when he crashed while reconnoitring a time trial route at the 2019 Dauphiné. By late summer, he was publishing videos demonstrating the advanced nature of his rehabilitation and he began the 2020 season with the avowed aim of winning a fifth Tour de France.
In April, Ineos manager Dave Brailsford suggested that the hiatus from racing and the postponement of the Tour due to the coronavirus pandemic would help Froome to complete his rehabilitation ahead of the Grand Départ. In the video published on Wednesday, Froome suggested that the race had come around too soon.
"I think, at the end of the day, people have to remember I'm coming back from a horrendous crash last year where I fractured a lot of bones in my body,” he said. “The recovery is complete – I don't have any pain, I don't have any lingering issues – but certainly that was a big knock to me, and I think I'm still coming back to that full level of fitness at the moment.”
It is unclear what Froome’s race programme will be ahead of the Vuelta, which is currently scheduled to get underway in Irun on October 20. The event has been reduced to 18 stages after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the planned start in the Netherlands.
“There are some pretty crucial steps in terms of my progression to be able to win a race again, and hopefully that will come together for the Vuelta a España,” Froome said. “It's great for me to now have that clarity – to know that that will be my big goal for the season, and I really do just wish the team all the very best of luck for the month ahead The racing's going to be brutal, but I have every faith in Egan and the team around him that they can deliver the result.”
In the absence of Froome and Thomas, Richard Carapaz and Pavel Sivakov will play pivotal roles in support of the defending champion Bernal.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Dylan van Baarle, Luke Rowe, Jonathan Castroviejo and Andrey Amador complete the eight-man roster.
With three exciting targets in 2020 – let’s hear from @Eganbernal @GeraintThomas86 and @chrisfroome 📽️ pic.twitter.com/8KSMHlpXyiAugust 19, 2020
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