Chris Froome has acknowledged that his ambition of winning a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title will not be fulfilled this year, admitting that he's far from the form needed to compete for the yellow jersey.
Froome, who is still making his way back from a career-threatening crash two years ago, is currently racing the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he hoped to see signs of progress after an anonymous start to the season.
However, he lost time on the undulating stage 2 and then finished 94th in Wednesday's stage 4 time trial, 2:12 down on the winner, Alexey Lutsenko.
"No, no, no, no, no. I'm not talking about winning the Tour de France in a few weeks' time, that's for sure," Froome said at the start of stage 5 on Thursday.
"I'm very much focused on just returning back to my former level and taking one step at a time. I don't go from this level to winning the Tour de France in a few weeks."
This is the first time Froome has openly written off his chances of being competitive at this year’s Tour de France. Until now, he has played down his results with his new team Israel Start-Up Nation – 47th at UAE Tour, 81st at Volta a Catalunya, 93rd at Tour of the Alps, and 96th at Tour de Romandie – insisting he was still correcting muscle imbalances and that form would come from a string of training camps.
After three weeks spent at altitude in Tenerife, he had high hopes that he’d see progress in a race situation at the Dauphiné, saying the climbs would be a chance to measure himself. Despite already being well out of the GC picture, and despite dismissing the idea he can be competitive at the Tour, Froome nevertheless refused to see it as a setback, and focused instead on the progress he has made.
"I know where I've come from. I know that a year ago I was on a bike racing before I could even walk properly again. So just to be here in the Dauphiné, walking properly and having no issues and being in the race is great progress already.
"I’m looking at those measurements myself. I know other people don’t see those measurements, because they don’t see everything else behind the scenes."
While Froome admits he won’t be racing for the yellow jersey when the Tour begins on July 26, there are doubts whether he’ll be on the start line at all. Earlier this week, Israel Start-Up Nation director Rik Verbrugghe told Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure that the four-time winner was not guaranteed a spot in the team’s eight-man line-up.
"He is a huge champion for whom I have a lot of respect, but his participation in the Tour de France is by no means self-evident," Verbrugge said.
"I expect there will be some clarity during this Dauphiné. He has made constant progress since the start of the season, but we would have liked his progress to be more exponential."
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