After launching two blazing attacks on the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya and finishing a solid eighth overall, Team Sky are quietly convinced that Chris Froome is on track for a strong bid in July for a third Tour de France title.
In the long build-up to the Tour, timing is everything and the performance in a hilly circuit in central Barcelona shows that Froome, whilst not at 100 per cent yet – and nor should he be with three months still to go, is steadily progressing in the right direction.
The Volta a Catalunya, one of Spain’s top three stage races, threw up some other intriguing lessons, given it was won in style by Nairo Quintana, twice a runner-up in the Tour de France behind Froome and at 25, five years his junior.
Sky are particularly pleased because this time last year, Froome was in the midst of a difficult comeback from a chest infection. This March, as Froome tackled what is only his second race of the season, it is a very different story.
Although Froome has never looked to be in the frame for the overall victory, Sky point out that he is well on track for the summer. “We’re really very happy with his condition right now, he’s going very well,” team director Nico Portal said. “Compared to last year at this point [Froome lost nearly half an hour on one mountainous stage of the 2015 Volta] he’s doing fine. All he’s lacking is the top-end speed, which comes with greater competition. On the two big mountain stages that decided the race, Chris was up there until the very last part of the stage, where his rivals put in the big accelerations. It’s very encouraging.”
Other top riders in action included Alberto Contador, who finished second, seven seconds back, with Froome’s former Sky team-mate Richie Porte, set to be another big challenger this summer for the Tour in fourth. But the time gaps between the favourites in a week-long, mountainous stage race, were minimal, with Froome a mere 46 seconds down.
The Volta was a critical test for the Briton given the depth of the opposition, including all three winners of last year’s Grand Tours in Contador, Froome and Italy’s Fabio Aru. Froome’s next race will be in early May in the Tour de Romandie, which he has won twice in the past. Then after more altitude training, he will head to the Criterium du Dauphine race in France – also won twice by the Briton – which represents the final build-up for the Tour.
Portal also revealed that Froome is – as in 2014 and 2015 – considering doing two Grand Tours in 2016, the Tour de France in July followed by September’s Vuelta a Espana.
“He’s thinking it over. It’s not a pre-season objective but it’s a race he likes a lot,” Portal added. Froome has already finished second twice in the Vuelta, although last year he abandoned after crashing and riding an entire stage in Andorra with what turned out to be a broken ankle.
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