Chris Froome's current focus is most certainly on the Vuelta a España, where he has become a domestique deluxe for teammate and race leader Richard Carapaz, but the four-time Tour de France winner has also welcomed what he has described as a more balanced Tour route for 2021.
The race route for next year’s Tour de France was revealed in Paris on Sunday evening, with race organiser ASO serving up a course that includes three summit finishes, two ascents of Mont Ventoux in a single stage, and two individual time trials that add up to 58 kilometres.
"I was quite pleased to see the route that came out," Froome told Cyclingnews after a session on the indoor trainer during a rainy rest day at the Vuelta a España.
"Every year I look at the parcours and try to see if it’s well balanced between climbs and time trials, and I do think that in previous years the scales have very much been tipped towards the pure climbers and the only time trials that we’ve had have been pretty weighted towards the climbers as well.
"I think that the 2021 route has three summit finishes, the two ascents of Mont Ventoux, but then around 58km of time trialing. I think that’s a lot more balanced than in the last few years. There’s still a big emphasis on the mountains, because of the severity of some of the climbs and the one that stands out for me, having looked at the route a bit, is the Col de Portet, which is almost 10 per cent for about 15 kilometres. That will definitely sort out the peloton. But I’ve faced less favorable routes in the past and I’m excited about what I’ve seen," he said.
Froome is still searching for his best form after a tough period over the last 18 months. He suffered a career-threatening crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné last year and spent several months recovering from severe injuries that included a fractured hip, elbow, femur, sternum, and vertebrae. He returned to racing in the spring of this year but his comeback was disrupted by the COVID-19 lockdown, and when racing resumed in August the British rider was still short of his best form.
He was left out of Ineos Grenadiers' Tour de France team but has used the Vuelta a España to increase his racing days and top up the competitive miles that turbo training and gym work could never provide. Although he is off the pace in the GC battle in the Vuelta, the 35-year-old is using the Spanish race to build up the necessary miles before launching himself back into possible stage racing contention next season.
"The preparation for the Tour de France really starts now because with the Vuelta this late the condition will carry on and become the foundations for next year," Froome told Cyclingnews.
When it comes to next year’s Tour de France, the former winner will line up in a new kit and a new team after switching to Israel Start-Up Nation for the next few years of his career. The Israeli team have signed several high-profile riders to bolster their stage racing corp for next year, with Patrick Bevin, Michael Woods, and Daryl Impey all recruited to help Froome and Dan Martin, who is already part of the set-up.
"It’s going to be a completely different structure, and no disrespect at all to the current team at Israel Start-Up Nation, but it almost feels like we have a blank piece of paper to build a Grand Tour programme from scratch," Froome said. "I think that Dan Martin has a fantastic ride in the Vuelta and I think that he’ll carry a lot of momentum in terms of GC ambitions into next season."
Vuelta a España's final week
As for the final week of this year's Vuelta a España, the race is tightly balanced, with Carapaz holding a slender 10-second lead over Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and the top four riders separated by just 35 seconds. On stage 12 to the top of the Angliru, the Ineos team were left with just Carapaz and Froome before the latter put in his most convincing performance of the race so far with a strong showing on the penultimate climb.
Carapaz would eventually distance Roglič on the final ascent and take the race lead ahead of Tuesday’s all-important individual time trial. If Carapaz is to mount a final push for the red jersey in the last week, then it’s likely that he will need Froome by his side and the two-time winner of the race is relishing the chance to help the rider from Ecuador.
"I’m actually really enjoying this Vuelta a España. It’s a completely different race for me compared to any other Grand Tour that I’ve done in terms of my own expectations and GC. That’s quite nice because I’m going into stages, doing my job, and then sitting up when my work is done," he said.
"I’ve progressively been trying to build as the race has gone on and I’ve been feeling that over the last few days I’ve been able to contribute more than at the beginning of the race. I think that’s a great sign as my legs are slowly returning step by step. I’ve still got a lot a long way to get back to the level I was at previously ,but it’s one step at a time and I’m really happy with the progress that I’ve made so far.
"Throughout this season what I’ve felt has been missing is that top-end racing. Obviously, I spent the best part of six months off last year with the injury and then the additional time off with the COVID situation I really felt that’s what was missing. So coming into this I knew that if I could just get the majority of this race in my legs then I should start to feel more like myself. That’s exactly what I’ve found and that’s really positive for me."
This is Froome’s final outing for Ineos Grenadiers and the organization that he joined in 2010. With a week left of the Grand Tour, there’s little space for sentiment or nostalgia – that can come later in the off-season – but Froome is prepared to step up and continue to support Carapaz for the remaining stages.
"Obviously in a racing sense, it’s been fantastic with the team. We have Richie Carapaz in the red jersey, and even though we’re two riders down, it’s been good fun racing and we’ve been looking to try and take the race on and be proactive. Yesterday I just figured that if I was in Carapaz’s position and I had just one teammate, then the job I’d ask him to do would be to get me over the penultimate climb and through that tricky and dangerous descent," Froome said.
"On the final climb of the Angliru it’s pretty much every rider for himself so I just tried to get him there safely. For the time trial, it’s highly likely that I’ll be saving my legs for the coming days so I can help Richie. If he can’t hold the lead in the time trial then I’ll be there to help make the race as hard as possible. I’ll pick my moments and also try and get as much high-end intensity as possible and hopefully getting a Grand Tour in my legs is critical for building into next season."
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