Following his 93rd place in the Critérium du Dauphiné's stage 4 Firminy-Roche la Molière time trial, Chris Froome reiterated what he's been saying all week that his main goal during this race will be assessing how competitive he is in the three mountain stages that conclude the eight-day event.
However, after the stage 4's 16.4km individual time trial where he was almost two minutes behind former teammate Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and writing off his chance of winning a fifth Tour de France this season, Thomas himself came out in support.
Froome is, of course, attempting to rediscover his best form after a career-threatening crash in the 2019 edition of the Dauphiné. Speaking a few minutes before the start of stage 5, which he went on to win, Thomas offered Froome some words of some support.
"I feel a bit sorry for him really, it's a hard situation that he's in. Maybe he didn't help himself by talking up the Tour from last year, and when you hear him say that then you can easily forget about the injuries that he's had," said the Welshman.
"I think it's phenomenal that he's got back so quickly and that he's actually racing again because the injuries he had were insane really. Whatever level he gets back to, I think it's positive that he's able to race a bike again and walk for a start. As for all of the expectations around that, there's nothing he can do to change public perception."
Froome is still aiming for the mountain stages, saying he hasn't trained much for time trials. "I'm looking for a lot more at the mountain stages coming and hopefully using them more as a physical gauge, or barometer if you like, as to where I'm really at," Froome said.
As he continues his two-year battle to get back to peak racing form and, at the same time, has to deal with criticism in some quarters about his inability to contend in races where he was once dominant, Froome highlighted the struggles of other riders coming back from long-term injury.
"Not many people are speaking about Fabio Jakobsen, he's finding it hard. A guy like Remco Evenopoel, even a 21-year-old, came back into the Giro d'Italia and found it tough after a period away from racing.
"I had the period away for injury plus the period of Covid, so it's a lot to come back from. I think people do expect miracles, people expect it just to change overnight, but I'm still fighting. I haven't lost hope. I'm still working hard, and hopefully we'll see the results of that."
When it was put to him that it must be hard to be struggling having won so much before his crash, Froome responded: "My spirits are up. I'm so grateful to be here. A lot of people probably would have hung up their bike and not continued racing. So I'm extremely grateful to be in this position, being given a second chance to come back to professional racing. And I'm actually in the race, I'm not out of the back. I'm in the race, and that's a fantastic first step for me."
He stressed too that although he is expecting to line up at the Tour de France, he's got no thoughts of winning it. "I'm not talking about winning the Tour de France in a few weeks' time, that's for sure. I won't go from this level to winning the Tour de France in a few weeks.
"I know where I've come from. I know a year ago that I was on a bike racing before I could even walk properly, so just to be here in the Dauphiné walking properly and having no issues and being in the race is great progress already. I'm looking at those measurements myself. I know other people don't see those measurements, because they don't see everything else that happens behind the scenes."
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