Chris Froome has laid bare the scale of the challenge he has faced as the goal of a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title drives his rehabilitation from a career-threatening crash in 2019.
As the 35-year-old prepares for his first season with Israel Start-Up Nation, Froome is still battling to overcome the catalogue of injuries he suffered when he came off his time-trial bike at the Criterium du Dauphine a little over 18 months ago.
The process has already taken much longer than hoped, and after he missed selection for last year’s Tour, Froome finished his time with the Ineos Grenadiers battling pain as he rode the season-ending Vuelta a Espana in a support role.
“That was probably the biggest revelation,” Froome said. “Figuring out that the rehab process wasn’t actually 100 per cent completed, and that I still had work to do.
“As good as it was to be back racing the Vuelta, I wasn’t at the level that I would expect of myself. I was there doing a job for the team but I did feel limited as to my physical capability.”
After the race Froome had two screws that had been causing pain removed from his right leg before isokinetic testing revealed a 20 per cent deficit in quad strength on that side of his body.
Correcting that has been Froome’s goal during a winter spent at the Red Bull High Performance Center in Santa Monica, where he has undergone gruelling gym sessions in between rides under the California sun.
Staying in the United States meant Froome is missing Israel Start-Up Nation’s pre-season training camp in Girona this week, a key chance to get to know his new team-mates, but the pros outweighed the cons.
“The more pressing issue for me personally was really to address the weaknesses I had going into the season,” he said.
“I think these next few weeks should be the finishing touches to the rehab process.”
Froome had initially planned to start his season at the Vuelta a San Juan next week but the Argentinian race has been cancelled. Instead, he will now remain in California for at least two more weeks, with his race schedule yet to be determined.
But what is not in question is Froome’s number one goal – the Tour de France.
Success for Froome in 2021 would be recapturing his pre-crash form and, if he can, this year’s Tour route and its 58 kilometres of individual time trials looks like one that would suit him to a tee.
“This year I think (the route) is fantastic,” he said. “It’s got a good balance between pretty exciting big mountain-top finishes and the two time trials.
“So on paper, it looks like a great race and a race I’m looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into.”
Having spent two years away from the Tour, Froome will find much has changed while he away. The last two editions have been won by riders who rank second (Tadej Pogacar, 21) and fourth (Egan Bernal, 22 at the time) on the list of youngest ever winners.
If Froome is stood on the top step come Paris this summer he would be, at 36, the second oldest behind Firmin Lambot in 1922.
Age may be, as Froome suggested, “a state of mind”, but it is also a hurdle he must overcome this year.
“As an athlete you’re constantly questioning yourself,” he said. “And there are no guarantees. But I don’t see any reason why physically, I shouldn’t be able to get there…
“Certainly at my age and coming back from this injury it is something that’s very much driving me.
“To get to a record-equalling fifth Tour de France would just be incredible and especially on the back of the whole comeback story – that does give me extra motivation.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe