INTERVIEW: CHRIS FROOME
The defending champion and three-time winner tells us about his belief that he can add another title to his collection this year
You reported a minor back injury after the Tour de Romandie. About 10 days later you were involved in a hit and run incident at home. Are there any lingering effects from these problems you’ve had to work through?
Not really. The incident with the motorist was pretty scary, but I came away completely unscathed, luckily, and in the Tour de Romandie I got an injury in my lower back. I’ve been working pretty hard off the bike to get that sorted, in the gym, and I’m pretty glad I’m on top of it.
Your hit and run, Scarponi’s death - there have been some very high profile incidents involving riders and cars...
I think these kind of incidents have been happening more and more and there have been some really serious ones, like the tragic deaths of Michele and also more recently, Nicky Hayden. It’s drawing attention to how dangerous riding on the road can be and highlighting the rift between riders and motorists that arises from cycling becoming such a popular sport now. I think for me, in the past few years, the last couple of months building up to the Tour I’m even more conscious and looking over my shoulder to see if there’s a driver eager to get past you. It’s a shame it’s at the stage where it is now, but sometimes it takes a serious incident like that to make people sit up and think about what they’re doing on the road, both cyclists and motorists.
Your build-up this year has followed a traditional pattern. Where is your form a couple of weeks out from the Dauphiné in relation to previous years?
Every year has been different but I feel as if right now I’m on track, I’m where I need to be for July and the rest of the summer. With the Olympics and the Vuelta last year, I felt that it worked to take a slower approach to ease in and I’ve taken a similar approach this year. I’ve been enjoying riding my bike and enjoyed being a dad as well. My son Kellan is at an age where he’s wanting to get out and explore the world so it’s been good for me as well.
There are only three summit finishes in the Tour de France this year and only 37km of time trialling. In terms of riders, who does it suit?
The way that I look at it, every year, whatever route they throw at us, you have to try and adapt to it. Sometimes it will suit some riders more and I’d say this year the course doesn’t suit me as much as last year’s did. But having said that, I still feel confident about my chances. It’s the hardest Tour on paper for me to win compared to the other three. With fewer mountain top finishes and considerably less time trialling, it certainly leaves the race more open. It’s probably a Tour that needs to be ‘raced’, if that makes sense. You can’t just sit back and wait. It’s maybe a little bit like the Giro in that you’ve got to come up with a plan and find a way to technically get ahead of your rivals given there aren’t that many opportunities on paper. You’ve got to be more innovative in your race strategy and see what’s thrown our way on the road, what weather and wind conditions are like and make the best of the situation.
Could a situation like Formigal in the Vuelta a España last year where Sky was caught off guard and ambushed happen in the Tour?
In the Vuelta it was one of those moments where certainly from my point of view my guard was down. And yeah…we had a very different team at the Vuelta compared to what we’d normally send to the Tour de France. I find it hard to see something like that happening again …but then again it could happen. We were caught out in a similar situation in the Tour of Catalonia, but I certainly wouldn’t foresee that happening in the Tour de France.
A characteristic tactic of Sky’s is to ride a strong pace on the front to discourage attacks. Can it be deployed in the same way on a more open course?
I think that riding hard on the front is an effective strategy once you’re in the yellow jersey but the challenge of getting to that point is where I think the onus is really on me to take those opportunities in the first place.
In the first two Tours you won you laid down a marker on the first mountain top finish. Could the same impact be made at La Planche des Belles Filles?
It’s not a very long climb but having said that it is steep and it is the perfect test to see exactly where everyone’s at. So it’s definitely an important stage both from a physical point of view and the mental battle between the GC guys. It’ll be one of the key moments and given it’s one of the three uphill finishes it’s going to be quite a crucial day.
At the Giro, Nairo Quintana is currently trailing Tom Dumoulin, so do you think that makes Quintana more or less of a threat at the Tour?
Quintana said that he feels strongest in his second Grand Tour of the season, so we’ll have to wait and see. Dumoulin has definitely taken a step up in his climbing and his time trialling has always been pretty amazing so he’s really shaping up into the ultimate GC contender.
You see him as a future Tour winner?
A lot depends on future routes. If the organisers keep on taking out time trial kilometres that’s less in Dumoulin’s favour. But looking at the improvements he’s made in the last two years he’s obviously shed a lot of the weight, he’s kept the power, he paces himself well on the climbs, he keeps his cool when the likes of Quintana ride away on the climb and he rides at a pace that suits him. He’s the only GC rider I’ve seen doing that. I think he can be a big GC rival in the Tour
in the future.
You don’t share Quintana’s feeling of getting stronger in a second Grand Tour?
Not at all. I’ve always felt at the Vuelta I’m basically holding on to whatever form I had at the Tour. Each to their own. If that’s how he feels and it’s worked for him then fine. But I’ve always felt less prepared.
Last year, you said you weren’t interested in chasing records, but now you’ve got three Tour wins, has that attitude shifted?
Yeah, I’d have to admit…I have to say it’s probably because I’m asked so much about it. But yes, it is more of a thing for me now, just thinking about my place in the sport. I’m in a very privileged position with three Tour wins and the fact that I even have the possibility to get up there with the Grand Tour greats like Indurain and Merckx. I’d love to get there but I know I have to take it one year at a time. I can’t be thinking about five until I’ve got number four.
I'd say that this year the course doesn't suit me as much as last year's did but I still feel con ident about my chances
I have to take it one year at a time. I can't be thinking about number ive until I've got number four
Are you expecting brickbats to be thrown at Sky after the revelations from the Parliamentary inquiry?
I don’t think any of that has been aimed in my direction so personally I don’t feel any pressure in that respect. I think that in terms of the whole investigation and all the allegations that have been brought up, those only concern a few people and most aren’t even part of the team any more. It doesn’t feature on most of our radars. It’s a thing for the managers of the team and the PR guys. The rest of us are cracking on with what we’re meant to be doing.
Could Geraint Thomas’s crash out of the Giro bolster the squad for the Tour?
I’ve not spoken to G much and I might have to answer that question in a couple of weeks when we know how he is. We all know he could do pretty much whichever role he wants. At the moment, he could be a back-up GC rider, a great support rider for me in the mountains. He can play pretty much any role. We’ll just have to see how he recovers from his injuries.
Very different scenarios, but commissaires made an intervention when you came off on Ventoux due to external circumstance. Just generally, do you think commissaires should be intervening more in races?
It’s always a difficult call. Each scenario is very different. It basically comes down to discretion and how the commissaires think the race has been affected. Obviously in my case it was one kilometre to go and the break had already been formed. At the end of the day we are at the mercy of the commissaires and I think it’s a huge shame for the race when the result of a race is affected [by external circumstances]. We’re left here wondering where Geraint would be every day. It’s something at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now, safety on the roads. I think the CPA (the professional riders’ union] is pushing hard.
Froome's tactics in the mountains tend to rely on a strong defensive role for his Sky team