The Tour de France may begin in Utrecht on July 4 but Chris Froome is hoping the race for the maillot jaune will only start in earnest when the peloton finally reaches the Pyrenees on stage 10 after one of the most demanding first weeks in recent years.
Twelve months ago, Froome’s yellow jersey defence came to a premature halt when he crashed out of the Tour just before the first cobbled section on stage five. The pavé makes a return this year, but the Team Sky leader warned that the entire opening act, as the race sweeps across Belgium and northern France in the first week, is replete with potential pitfalls.
"That first week really is going to be crucial – the first nine days, actually, until we get up into the mountains on stage 10," Froome said on Wednesday. "In my mind, it’s almost as if each one of those nine stages is like a Classics race in its own right. You’ve almost got to do nine one-day classics before then starting the GC race up in the mountains. And before you get through those nine Classics, you’re not even entered for the GC race in that regard."
Froome was speaking in a conference call during which he revealed reporters that he had missed an out-of-competition doping control earlier this season while staying at a hotel in Italy. Subsequent to the call, he told reporters present in Monaco that he had previously missed one other such control in his career, five years previously.
Team Sky’s Tour de France selection will not be announced until Monday June 29 despite the mistaken pubblication of an 11-rider long list earlier this week. Froome did not divulge any names ahead of the formal communique but he did suggest that the nine-rider squad was likely to include a solid representation from the team’s Classics unit. Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas appear certainties for the final nine, while Luke Rowe is possibly in line for a Tour debut.
"It’s going to be a huge part of the Tour but I think we’ve potentially got a very strong Classics influence in our Tour de France squad," Froome said. "The team performed really well in the Classics this year and hopefully some of them could be part of the final nine selected to get me through those first nine days.
"Obviously the team is still to be selected and that’s not going to be an easy job for Dave B [Brailsford]. There’s such a strong pool of riders to choose from in that regard."
It remains to be seen whether Richie Porte will be part of the Tour de France team after he was forced out of the Giro d’Italia through injury, though it is already certain that the much-discussed motorhome that he slept in during the race will not be in use in July, or indeed for the foreseeable future.
Last Friday, the UCI announced that it had amended article 2.2.010 of its regulation, which now rules that "riders must stay in the hotels provided by the organiser throughout the entire duration of the race."
"It’s unfortunate that they’ve taken that decision," said Froome. "You get into some of those race hotels and one night you’re on a hard bed and one night you’re on a soft bed and you wake up with a sore back. Some of the rooms are without air conditioning. And as you know in mid-July in France, you’re going to be sweating for ten hours if that’s the case."
"At least with a camper van or motorhome, you look at controlling some of those factors, which inevitably would lead to riders being able to perform better, consistently, and therefore putting on a better performance and display for the fans. Hopefully that’s something that the UCI will reconsider in the future and who’s to say that in five to ten years’ time all teams won’t be doing that."
Froome described his approach to the 2015 Tour as "a lot more relaxed" than last year, when he lined up as defending champion. He cited his recent victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné as a particular boost to morale, though he added that Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who placed 10th, has enjoyed a more gentle build-up, while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) have followed different routes altogether.
"Everyone has had different race programs, everyone’s had different build-ups," Froome said. "Obviously, Vincenzo is coming in as defending champion from last year and has taken a very similar approach to last year, where he’s not necessarily been showing all his cards at this stage, but I’ve no doubt he’ll be there to fight for the title come the Tour de France.
"I think at this point, I respect all my rivals but I don’t fear anyone at this point."
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