When you're a three-time Tour de France champion your every pedal stroke falls under the microscope and Chris Froome is no different. The gaze under the lens only intensifies when, as Froome has done, you slim down your race programme to just a few select events before July's main event.
In March the Team Sky leader embarked upon the Volta a Catalunya and looked in fine fettle and lay in second place until a number of teams ambushed Froome and his team on the road to Reus. The wounds were severe with Froome - and his entire team - almost missing the time cut. It led to more questions over the British team's ability to read a race and sense when they were vulnerable.
In the weeks since that heavy defeat, Froome and his entourage have had time to stew at their Tenerife camp, pick apart where things went so horribly wrong, and then set about restoring some form of stage racing authority. Tuesday sees Froome turn a pedal in anger for the first time since Catalunya, with a short 4.8km prologue at the Tour de Romandie. The race has been a happy hunting ground in the past, with two wins – although one was shrouded in controversy at the time – in the last four seasons.
"Every build up to the Tour is different, every Tour of Romandie is different. This year's Tour of Romandie isn't quite as mountainous as in previous editions. Maybe we'll find a different kind of winner to this year's edition," Froome told a small gathering of press on the eve of the race.
The Team Sky leader was quick to quell the mounting questions over his recent dry spell – he's not won a race since the final time trial at the Vuelta a Espana – pointing to the fact that his slower build up is down to shifting his form towards a more concerted Tour-Vuelta challenge this year.
"I think, personally, that I don't need the reassurance quite like I did in the past. I have the reassurance of three Tour wins to tell me that I can do it again. It means that I don't have the pressure to go out there early season and perform at that level.
"Everything is about being focused on being ready for the Tour. I'm here to race to the best of my ability. I've a good team around me and it should be a good week of racing ahead."
The more immediate aim for Froome will be to wash away the damage inflicted at Catalunya. That he was in good enough form on that day to Reus is not in doubt, but he and Sky will be desperate to provide evidence that they will not be caught out tactically.
"That day in Catalunya where I lost that second place on GC that was tactical and not due to form or condition," he said. "It was a 2-kilometre descent and then there was split that opened up. We tried to close it for 50 kilometres with five guys and that was the end of our race, basically. The day before had been the big mountain stage that Alejandro Valverde had won and I think on that day I was happy with the sensations. The race was a big lesson for me.
"On that day in particular, I think we made a bit of mistake. We were a little off guard and we didn't envisage that scenario. We thought about getting someone in the break and we were going on the attack. Once we hit the little climb before the descent the guys were a little on the limit. Myself too, I was out of position, out of the top 30 riders, and that was too far back. Riding GC you have to be up there all the time. It was a reminder for me that that's something I have to stay on top of in the next few months."
That mission starts at the Tour de Romandie and with the Tour de France looming on the horizon there can be little room for further mistakes.
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