Even as he rode to an anonymous 18th at the Tour de Romandie, making it the first time since 2012 he hadn't registered a victory in the first four months of the season, his calibre and palmares bought him time.
The Critérium du Dauphiné, it was said, would be the acid test. On each of the three occasions Froome has won the Tour, he won the Dauphiné a month beforehand.
But the week-long French race has rolled around and in the first test for the GC contenders, the stage 4 time trial, provided far more questions than answers.
Froome, whose top form would ordinarily see him put time into each and every one of his rivals over a flat 23.5km course, finished 37 seconds down on Richie Porte (BMC Racing), and was slower than Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team Sky Directeur Sportif Nicolas Portal admitted that Froome was "disappointed" and "lacking a little something", but he insisted that patience should be extended until the end of the week.
"We really need to look at the Dauphiné as a whole," Portal told Cyclingnews in La Tour-de-Salvagny on Thursday morning.
"We have three big days in the mountains on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and that's when we're really going to see where exactly he is with his state of form."
Portal insisted there are no worries in the Sky camp at Froome's results sheet so far this season. After starting his campaign in Australia with sixth at the Herald Sun Tour, the 32-year-old finished 30th at the Volta a Catalunya before heading to Romandie. Nineteen race days were all he took into the Dauphiné, with much of May being spent at altitude in Tenerife.
"He did a super Volta a Catalunya. He finished second on a very hard stage, even though we haven't forgotten what happened next," Portal said, referring to the 25 minutes Froome lost the next day in an ambush that had shades of Formigal at the 2015 Vuelta about it. "He hasn't raced a lot since then. For his last reference point you have to go back to the Tour de Romandie. And then coming back after an important block of training at altitude – some lack a bit of speed in the legs, some don't.
"Of course he's still optimistic. He's disappointed about yesterday – that's for sure. It was a time trial that suited him, and he's a competitor. But his form is good, and the feelings are there. He's he is very, very motivated now to see how he compares against the others in the mountains."
After Thursday's flat stage 6, the Dauphiné really gets serious on Friday with the Mont du Chat climb and a hurtling descent to the finish. The following day will see a summit finish on Alpe d'Huez, while the race will conclude on Sunday with another summit finish on the Plateau de Solaison.
"We have three big days in the mountains, and it will be interesting to see how things play out there," said Portal. "He's not far away. He needs to recover 37 seconds on Porte, which is complicated but not too bad.
"We are, at the same time, both far away and quite close to the Tour. But we're only on stage 4 here. We have to wait for the whole Dauphiné to draw conclusions."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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