Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal has echoed the comments of his rider Chris Froome, saying that the four-time Tour de France winner is on track with his form ahead of his tilt at the Giro d’Italia title next month.
Froome finished fourth overall at the recent Tour of the Alps, 16 seconds behind the overall winner Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). It wasn’t for a want of trying as he attacked repeatedly over the five stages but he was unable to crack his rivals, and his result broke a run of victories for Team Sky at the race. With his ambition to target both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this season, Portal says that Froome is taking a similar approach to his Tour-Vuelta double last season.
“I think he’s right where the team expects him to be. He’s got the Giro but he also wants to perform well in the Tour,” Portal told Cyclingnews ahead of the final stage of the Tour of the Alps.
“When you have the Giro and the Tour it’s really hard. Maybe you start earlier, but you have less room. You want to do some long rides to get the base for both of the Grand Tours, but at the same time, you want to do some intensity. You don’t want to go too hard too early because then you might be really good in the Giro and then pass through the Tour de France without anything. It has been quite hard and I think that he’s in the right place.”
Racing the Tour of the Alps also gave Froome and the team an opportunity to size up their rivals for the Giro d’Italia. Following the race, Froome said that it was hard to read too much into how the contenders fared in the much shorter race, but it has given them some insight into where their form lies two weeks out from the big event.
“[Domenico] Pozzovivo is on really good form, all of them are on really good form, [Thibaut] Pinot, Froomey and [Miguel Angel] Lopez. They will be even better when they recover from here,” said Portal. “They will have that benefit from the competition. You push hard and you’re tired, but you recover and you’re stronger. They’ve got a few blocks of training to polish things. Those guys need to race and they are always getting better when they race hard.”
Once into the heat of battle at the Giro, Froome will not be thinking much about his chances at the Tour de France. But the way he and the team manage his recovery in the immediate aftermath of the race will be key to his chances, and the extra gap will give the team a chance to allow him a longer period of rest before he begins to build towards the Tour in July.
“It’s a nice coincidence that we have two weeks more. He can rest a little bit and straight after the Giro he can go somewhere calm in a healthy environment and just try to rebuild nicely,” explained Portal. “Then, quite close to the Tour, two or three weeks out, he can start to do some hard work again.”
Giro d'Italia line-up
With Team Sky’s Giro d’Italia team being finalised over the coming week, Kenny Elissonde has earned himself plenty of brownie points with Portal after his performance at the Tour of the Alps. Elissonde was unsure of his spot during the race, but he has now put himself near the top of the list for a place in the squad.
The 26-year-old French rider was, without fail, the last man standing for Chris Froome on the fast and aggressive stages. His efforts earned plenty of commendation from his team leader Froome and Portal believes he’s coming good at just the right time.
“We have really believed in him since the start, which is why we wanted him to come to the team,” Portal told Cyclingnews. “He needs to learn how we train and ride and sometimes you need a couple of months and now he’s just perfect. He’s like a flower blooming and it’s the perfect time. There is a selection that has to be made and he has given himself a lot of points, and I am happy with him.
“He’s done this every day. On the first day he was one of the key riders, and then the next day and the next. He’s backing it up every day. So, he’s solid. It’s also nice to have a French guy going really well in the team.”
Just under two weeks out from the Giro d’Italia starting in Jerusalem, the final list of riders that will join Froome still needs to be whittled down. Those wo raced with Froome at the Tour of the Alps have made their case for inclusion but the Ardennes are yet to conclude and there are several riders racing in Belgium that could yet earn inclusion, plus a few others besides.
“We have to discuss this calmly with everyone and everyone has their approach. There is always a discussion,” said Portal. “I was a rider before and I always hated this is the type of thing when you see that a DS forgets your name and you get stressed and then after three or four days they say that you’re in.
“I think people understand, but it’s pretty easy to see that the guys that are here will be on the list, plus a few others. I’m thinking about Christian Knees, [Vasil] Kiryienka, Sergio Henao and there are already too many names, so we need to make a choice. And Wout Poels, if I forgot him then he would kill me.”
The decision of who goes and who misses out will be a little bit harder for the team with only eight sports available compared to the nine of years gone by.
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