Chris Froome has admitted he still has "a long way to go" before he’s back to his best but is giving himself time, speaking of racing until he is 40 and reiterating his determination to win a record-equalling Tour de France title.
The 35-year-old is making his season debut at the UAE Tour in the colours of his new team, Israel Start-Up Nation, and it’s been a tough reintroduction. He placed 84th on the opening stage, finishing in the main peloton more than eight minutes down on the front group, and 83rd in the stage 2 time trial.
On the morning of stage 3 to the mountain finish of Jebel Hafeet, Froome preached patience, highlighting that his recovery process after his career-threatening 2019 crash is still incomplete, despite him racing 44 days and finishing the Vuelta a España last year.
"I’ve definitely found it hard coming back to racing after winter," Froome said on Tuesday morning.
"I spent a lot of time focusing on the off-bike aspect, completing my rehab, but I’ve obviously got a long way to go still in terms of race condition and getting ready for the season."
Like Froome, Israel Start-Up Nation’s nominated pre-race leader, Ben Hermans, was also caught out in the crosswinds, limiting them to hunting stage wins in what’s left of the race, starting with the stage 3 summit finish at Jebel Hafeet.
"The first day of racing has shaken up this UAE Tour, with a very select group going clear with such big time gap," Froome said.
"A few teams missed out, and we were unfortunately one of those teams not represented up front. Now we’ve got to continue to race as best we can and look for stage wins with Andre Greipel, and use the climbing days for races coming up."
Froome also gave a lengthy interview to the Guardian newspaper from the UAE, in which he offered an update on his physical condition.
He explained that the winter gym work had rebalanced the power ratio between his left leg and right leg, where he suffered a femur fracture when crashing into a wall at high speed during a time trial warm-up at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
"I am in no real pain now. I get a little discomfort when I sleep on my right side and some burning from where I had a plate inserted but it doesn’t affect me on the bike. All the gym and rehab work is translating to power on the bike," he said.
Despite approaching his 36th birthday in May, Froome insisted there was plenty of life left in his career, referencing the American Football star Tom Brady, who won a seventh Super Bowl at the age of 43.
"We’re learning more and more about our bodies and I certainly believe it’s more to do with mindset in your late 30s," he said, giving himself a good few years to target that fifth Tour de France title.
"It is going to be a huge ask but, with four titles, I’ve come so close to the record of five. There’s nothing holding me back any more so I’d love to give it my best shot and win a fifth. A lot of it is mind over matter so I hope the body will follow."
Froome was also asked by the Guardian about the anti-doping charges faced by former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, and about doping in cycling more widely.
Froome claimed he hadn’t been following Freeman’s long-running medical tribunal, and that he didn’t know enough about the case to comment on the recent news of Freeman being charged by UKAD of possessing a banned substance and tampering with an investigation.
“I don’t know enough about the specifics of the case to comment. Are these questions in connection to Team Sky or British Cycling? I don’t know the answer so I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment on his case specifically. I don’t know the particulars,” Froome said.
As for the wider health of professional cycling, Froome said: “I feel the sport has continued to lead the way in policing anti-doping. Lots of sports are implementing similar measures.
"Many people don’t understand the intricacies and how tight the policing is now in cycling. We needed to get credibility back and I feel we’ve turned the corner in that respect."
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