Chris Froome says that after five Grand Tour wins, he is still seeing physical improvements and that ‘the numbers’ during this year’s Vuelta a Espana were better than ever before.
Froome won this year’s Tour de France by 54 seconds – the narrowest of his four victories in the race.
However, he claims the result does not reflect waning powers, claiming that he has never climbed better than during his Vuelta win shortly afterwards.
"I don't think I'm a weaker climber," he told Cycling News. "If anything, the numbers are very similar – the times and the speeds haven't changed much. If I just compare myself now to where I was previously, if anything I'm climbing faster than I was previously, looking at the data.
"The numbers this year in the Vuelta were better than they've ever been in my life, and not just over a certain distance; it was across the board, from two minutes all the way up to half an hour. The numbers were higher than I've ever seen before. It is really encouraging to see I'm still improving physically."
So why was the Tour so close? Froome suggests that his narrow winning margin was partly down to ‘cagier’ racing as a result of the route.
"This year's route, only having a few summit finishes… if you compare the Tour and the Vuelta, in Spain if one summit finish doesn't go quite right you've got another eight or nine to correct it and change your tactics. But with only two or three summit finishes, you basically can't afford to risk it like that, so I think that led to a much more cagey race this year."
There’s also the small matter of his rivals, who he believes are stronger now than they have been in the past.
"The level of the rivals has improved a lot, and more guys are spending weeks upon weeks up at altitude, training a lot more specifically now."
He adds: "For me, there are certainly two factors to looking at the preparation for each edition of the Tour de France: the parcours and who I'm racing against. We look at the factors that are going to be the main drivers for gaining time, and in order to work that out you need to know also who the main rivals are going to be.
"In previous years I've been more aggressive in the mountains, whereas this year I probably knew that riding the climbs by just doing enough to stay at the front of the race was enough, and not necessarily having to attack the climbs, knowing that I had the final time trial in Marseille, where I favoured my chances over [Romain] Bardet and Rigo [Uran]."