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Froome and Van Baarle return home early from South Africa to avoid coronavirus shutdown

Dylan Van Baarle and Chris Froome during their South African training camp
Dylan Van Baarle and Chris Froome during their South African training camp (Image credit: Twitter/Chris Froome)

Chris Froome and Dylan van Baarle have returned from a South African training camp a week earlier than planned to avoid a possible travel shutdown and ensure they are with their families during the peak of the pandemic in Europe.

Froome has been in South Africa since riding the UAE Tour and the two Team Ineos riders posted a series of photos of training rides until recently, but van Baarle revealed to Ad.nl that they made a sudden decision to return home last Wednesday.

"Chris and I would have preferred to stay but we decided to wait and see what happens next in a familiar environment," the Dutchman said, with both now apparently back home in Monaco.

"There were infections in South Africa but not as many as in Europe. Traveling home was perhaps a greater risk. It was difficult to make the right decision because if we stayed and the situation exploded there and they shut everything down, then you've got a problem.''

Van Baarle, like every professional rider, doesn't know when he will race again. He was a leader of Team Ineos Classics squad and would usually head to Belgium this week as the major cobbled Classics near. However, races have been cancelled for the weeks ahead, with the Giro d'Italia postponed and even the Tour de France at risk.

Riders are trying to hold onto their form by riding indoors if they are under lockdown or out on the road if they are fortunate enough to live in Belgium and a few other countries. Some teams have told their riders to ease back on training and take a kind of winter break, with the hoping of building up to a new, condensed and more intense racing season in the second half of 2020. 

"On Tuesday, I didn't even know I was leaving South Africa. How I should approach the coming period?" Van Baarle asked.

"I haven't really discussed this with my trainer yet. I'll continue training to keep my level of fitness but this is new for everyone. It's a pity that races won't take place in the coming months but I cannot lie awake and think about that, there are more important things going on at the moment. It's just cycling and now public health takes precedent."

Froome and Van Baarle were staying at altitude at the Crystal Springs Mountain Lodges, northeast of Johannesburg, not far from the Kruger National Park. Van Baarle revealed how Froome acted as an experienced guide in the South African bush after growing up in Kenya and South Africa.

"We were in the jungle. Monkeys came looking for food in the morning and even tried to open the door. That's different from home," Van Baarle joked.

"In the evening, everything passed by the house: Zebras, baboons and other monkeys. Chris knew all the animals."

Froome's form improves

Froome and Van Baarle appeared to clock several hundred kilometres in training, including some gravel rides and even a personal Strade Bianche race, which Froome apparently won. 

Van Baarle was impressed with how strong Froome was in training despite the terrible injuries he suffered in a crash at last year's Criterium du Dauphine. Froome suffered a fractured hip, elbow, femur, sternum and vertebrae in a warm-up crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné. 

He underwent surgery in November to remove a plate and again in December after an infection. That slowed his return but the Four-time Tour de France winner has always set riding this year's Tour de France as a major recover goal.

"That he didn't drop me is certainly a good sign for me," Van Baarle said, giving an indication of Froome's form.

"It is difficult to say how good he really is because we are not on our usual schedules. Chris is not yet at his usual best but this camp has made him better. It will take until the Tour to fully understand [how good he is - ed.] but things are looking good."