Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo: SWpix.com
Chris Froome’s staying power has never been in doubt. Four stages after hitting the deck at high speed on the very first stage of the 2021 Tour to Landernau, he is suffering through the pain, putting a brave face on, and insisting that his comeback remains on track.
Time trial helmet removed, leaning against the barriers beyond the finish line in Laval, Israel SUN’s biggest star was in reflective mood as he recovered from the Tour’s first individual time trial, from Change to Laval.
If Froome was still in anything like as much pain as he had appeared to be, five days earlier, he wasn’t letting on.
“I’ve got a lot of dark bruising on my upper leg, and my chest, but I don’t think I’m the only one in the peloton with aches and pains,” he said. “A lot of guys have come down these last few days and looking around the peloton, I can’t ever remember seeing so many injured riders. It’s pretty scary.”
It has been a torrid start to the Tour for Froome and his team mates. Their best-placed rider, Canadian Guillaume Boivin, was in 54th place, over six minutes off the GC pace, as the first time trial began. Froome, meanwhile, after being derailed yet again on his road back to being a contender, admitted he had been moved by Mark Cavendish’s return to winning form in Fougeres.
“There’s a lot of emotion there,” he said of Cavendish’s tears on the finish line. “The pressure that is put on the guys, especially at this level. It’s to be expected.”
“It was amazing to see Cav do that,” he said. “Everybody had written him off. The Tour is where you’re measured as a professional cyclist. For Cav to have come back and won another stage at the Tour — and he’ll probably go and win another one in the next few days — is just phenomenal.”
Perhaps seeing his old team mate return to the pinnacle of road racing, when he — like Froome, had been seen as yesterday’s man — was the inspiration Froome needed. Right now, however, the four-time winner has got a big battle on his hands, just to recover from his injuries.
“We’ve got the mountains coming soon, so I’m hoping I come around a little bit more before we hit them. I’m starting to feel like the side I crashed on on the first day is starting to work again now. I know I’m nowhere near the pace on today’s course, it was just about getting through the day.
Asked what was his main goal, Froome responded: “To help my team mates win a stage.”
Helping team mates, he said, was “nothing new” to him. “When I go into a race that I know I can’t win myself, I’ll be happy doing a job to help somebody else. For years of my career, I have had people helping me and it’s nice to give back a little bit.”
“Even though it’s been really technical and dangerous racing, I am loving being back at the Tour de France. I’ve missed that in the last two years and it feels amazing to be back here.”