One of the biggest stories of this year’s road racing season will no doubt be the return from injury of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome. The 35-year-old Kenya-born British cyclist suffered a fractured right femur, a fractured elbow and fractured ribs in a high-speed training crash on June 12, 2019. As a result, he was out of training for more than three months and was effectively sacked by Team Ineos in July 2020. He then signed a long-term contract with the new Israel Start-Up Nation team.
That is a lot of turmoil to overcome to be able to reach the level of racing Froome had achieved in his career prior to the injury. Will he be able to reach those heights again? Will he be able to win a fifth Tour de France, as he has vowed to do?
“It’s clear I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Froome said via video in mid-March after a training ride on the island of Tenerife.
The video also shows Froome during his first race of the year, at the UAE Tour. He finished 47th in the general classification and was never close to winning.
Froome blamed the intense heat and the intense racing for his disappointing finish. “Racing over in the UAE felt like a bit of a shock to the system,” he said. “Stage 1 right out of the blocks was straight into crosswinds. It was, like, ‘Whoa, OK, right back to racing’”.
He also said that the top riders appeared to already be near Tour de France form in March, which is different from how he has traditionally handled his season. “Typically, people would be getting into the racing season early on and using that build-up for the bigger races,” he said. “Now, people are hitting the ground running.”
Perhaps that is what it feels like to someone who is not close to Tour form.
Froome also said something that will sound disquieting to those who believe he can win the Tour again and become a five-time winner, like legends Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, and Miguel Indurain.
“I’m continuing with a lot of strength work off the bike. And just sort of making adjustments as I go. I imagine I’m going to have to keep doing this throughout the course of my career — the strength work.”
Strength work is what much of his rehabilitation consisted of, meaning that he will continue rehabilitation until the end of his racing career, which does not bode well for his racing future. And neither does his showing in the recent Volta a Catalunya, where he finished 81st, nearly 54 minutes behind the winner, countryman Adam Yates, of Froome’s former team Ineos Grenadiers.
To be so far behind the top riders just a few months before the start of the Tour de France doesn’t sound promising for a Tour victory this year. And Froome will turn 36 in May. The oldest Tour winner, Firmin Lambot, was 36 years, 4 months old when he won in 1922. That doesn’t mean Froome can’t win it again; it just makes it unlikely.
Asked at the Volta by Cycling Weekly if winning the Tour this year was still a reasonable goal, Froome sounded downbeat.
“I can’t really put any time on it,” he said. “I am just taking it one week at a time at the moment. Naturally, I would love to be ready for the Tour de France, but I have to keep following the process and do what I can.”