Much like the 2020 season, Chris Froome's 2021 has seen him trying to regain the kind of physical form that won him four Tour de France titles before his career-threatening crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné.
In his first season with Israel Start-Up Nation, the Briton made his return to the Tour, finishing 133rd after crashing hard on stage 1 and then fighting on to Paris in pain. It seemed he was unable to progress beyond just riding in the peloton and working for teammates.
However, Froome believes he has seen real signs of progression in the second half of a 2021 season that concluded with the Italian autumn Classics, where he played a notable role in teammate Michael Woods' ninth-place finish at Milano-Torino.
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the Israel Start-Up Nation training camp in Tel Aviv, Froome spoke of the progress he has made on the bike in recent months, adding that his main aim for the upcoming 2022 season – his 16th as a pro – is to continue that progression on the way back to a "competitive" level.
"I've definitely seen some big progressions in the second half of the season after the Tour. I've certainly felt better in the end-of-season races than I did earlier on," Froome said.
"I think a lot of that was dealing with a bit of health issues I've been having throughout the Tour, and gut issues. But yeah, I've certainly been feeling a lot better towards the end of the year and hopefully I'll be able to build on that going into the new season now.
"The biggest aim for me right now is just to try to get back to a physical level where I can feel competitive again because obviously I haven't been there this year. I've been able to do jobs for the team, but I haven't been up where I wanted to be. So, I'm going to keep working for that and hope that I can get back into the game."
Froome competed for 68 race days in 2021 between the UAE Tour in February and October's Coppa Agostoni, while off the bike he has made the news for investing in a number of bike brands including Israel Start-Up Nation's bike sponsor Factor and cycling computer company Hammerhead.
At 36 years of age, his move into the world of investment certainly comes with an eye on his post-racing career, but he said that, with several years left of his current contract, he isn't thinking about the time when he'll hang up his wheels just yet.
"I've still got a few more years of racing to come," Froome said.
"But I still see myself involved in the sport in one way or another. I mean I love my tech, I love my equipment. Certainly, I'd love to stay involved and keep working with the companies who I feel a connection with."
After 11 years spent within the Team Sky/Ineos Grenadiers setup, moving to Israel Start-Up Nation, who have only just finished their second year in the WorldTour, was always going to be a big switch for Froome.
"It's two very different teams," he pointed out.
"We've got a good group of guys here and I really enjoy working with the riders. Even the whole Israeli project, I guess – it is an Israeli team – one of their biggest visions and goals is to help inspire a younger generation coming up.
"That is very similar to how things were at Sky – the same goal over in Britain to inspire the next generation. It's quite a lot of fun to be doing that again here in Israel. Obviously, it’s a completely different scale but we're starting to see the fruits of that coming through already with the number of young Israelis.
"That definitely wouldn't have been the case if it wasn't for the team so it's nice to see the kind of impact the team is having over here in Israel."
Froome added that the squads have different levels of experience, both on the riding side and behind the scenes. As an experienced seven-time Grand Tour winner, his move to Israel Start-Up Nation means a major part of what he brings to the team is know-how.
"It's completely different here compared to Ineos," he said.
"Different cycle of where the team is, obviously. Israel Start-Up Nation haven't been WorldTour for too long and they were Pro Continental beforehand, but they've stepped up now.
"Part of bringing me on board was really to give as much feedback and experience that I've had over the years - obviously more specifically at the Grand Tours. I've been sharing that with the team and hopefully moving the team towards being more competitive in Grand Tours. It's been good fun for me being part of that process and being able to give that feedback."
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