These are curious times for Chris Froome. For a start tomorrow morning, the world’s best cyclist, winner of the Tour de France, the dominant figure of 2013, will not begin the world championship road race, 270km up, down and around the Tuscan hills, as favourite. Then there is life since that evening in July when the Briton completed his emphatic Tour victory. It has all been a bit of a blur and amid all that has been the perennial struggle of the big-time winner to get back on the bike and get that racing head on again. This is new ground for Froome, a new puzzle to piece together.
“I have found it is harder,” he says simply. Yesterday he made the four-hour drive from his home in Monaco to join up with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and the rest of the British team. Last night they sat down to study the route and decide the plan of attack, the focus once again on cycling and only cycling.
There is due reason Froome is not favourite. It is impossible to escape history in Florence. It hangs from every bridge and balcony. When the race route hits the city it will take the riders along the north bank of the River Arno, give them a glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio before swinging them through the tight streets of the ancient city centre towards the finish. History stands against Froome reaching the line first.
It is the last act of a long season for a man who has scaled peak after peak, and the demands of doing it one more time have proved beyond his recent predecessors. Not since Greg LeMond in 1989 has anyone done the double of adding the rainbow jersey to the yellow one. It has become over the last quarter of a century a very big ask indeed.
“On the back of the Tour and all that it definitely has been harder to get back into it and I’ve found there have been a lot more distractions since I have been going again,” says Froome. “A lot of things happening in the background, a lot of talks with sponsors and obviously hundreds of requests to do charity events and other kind of corporate events and things like that. So it has been quite a challenging time.
“It does make it a lot harder in many respects but having said that, I’m up for [the worlds]. I know I’ve done the training. A lot of the guys are tired at this time of year and I think anyone who wins on Sunday will need a little bit of luck in their favour.”
He sees the Slovak Peter Sagan and the defending champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium as the men to beat on what is a tough, hilly course. Froome has done much of the preparation for this race in Colarado, escaping along the empty roads that head up into the Rocky Mountains under the watchful eye of Tim Kerrison, the former swimming coach who has become his key advisor at Team Sky, and with his right-hand man from the Tour triumph, the Australian Richie Porte, at his side.
“It was pretty hard work getting going again after the Tour, and getting the form going in the right direction but I feel like after that camp, I’ve just got better and better through the Canadian races and the world team time trial last weekend,” says Froome. Last weekend Sky won bronze, one of the few times Froome has not stood on top of the podium this season. The biggest win of all, the 100th Tour, has changed everything and that time in Colorado at last gave him some space to reflect on what has happened.
“I have, I have,” he says. “It is a great feeling, thinking to myself that I’ve won the biggest event there is in cycling. And especially with all the challenges we were up against this year, it was really tough. It wasn’t just cycling’s physical factor. There was a lot of everything else to deal with at the same time. The fact that it was the 100th edition, and all the biggest competitors were there. It really was a full-on race this year. I feel really proud, a real sense of accomplishment having won the Tour.
“I wouldn’t say my actual life has changed in the respect that I still wake up every day, still go training. But when I go to the supermarket or when I go for a walk into town or anything like that, I am stopping every few minutes to take a photo with someone or sign someone’s cap. That’s just one of the things that I’ll have to get used to. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing. I think the people who ask, they generally do it in a polite and respectful way and they’re genuinely happy to meet me and so I’m also happy to stop and give a few seconds for a photo or something.
“I understand exactly how people feel. I felt exactly like that when I was an amateur cyclist. I’d look up at the guys who were really successful and think wow, I’d love to pass that guy in that street or have a picture with that guy.”
This will be the first time he has met let alone been pictured with Wiggins since he replaced his absent team-mate as the Tour winner. “I haven’t had any contact with him,” says Froome. But the tension that existed between the two appears to have disappeared as Wiggins has rediscovered his own purpose and Froome has won his Tour. They are team-mates not mates. “I’m expecting Brad to be there in the last few laps on Sunday. He’s definitely got the form to do it. He’s going to be one of the key guys towards the end of the race. It would be great if he could help me towards the final lap.”
Yates brothers fade to end British hopes
There was no British victory on the road yesterday at the world championships. Simon and Adam Yates had represented possibly the best chance of claiming a rainbow jersey but faded in the closing stages to finish 17th and 19th respectively in the men’s under-23 road race.
It means Simon Yates was unable to add a road world title to the track one he took in Minsk earlier this year.
Today Lizzie Armitstead will lead Britain’s team in the penultimate event of the world championships, the women’s road race. Lucy Garner, Katie Colclough and Nikki Harris will support her.Reuse content