Frustrated Froome insists he will get his chance to lead Sky in the Tour de France
Team Sky rider committed to supporting Wiggins despite knowing he can win this year's race, but says debt will be repaid
Chris Froome insists that he will get an opportunity to lead Team Sky in the Tour de France and says that chance could come as early as next year, depending on the parcours of the 100th edition of the race. In an interview published today in French sports daily L’Equipe, the 27-year-old reveals his frustration at having to play a supporting role to Bradley Wiggins in a race he believes he can win, but is confident that the debt will be repaid in the future.
“Everyone is wondering about me, I’m aware of that and I know that I would be capable of winning this Tour, but not with Sky,” he acknowledged in the interview, the full version of which appears in the print edition of the newspaper. “We have drawn up a strategy around Wiggins and everyone respects that.”
The Kenya-born British rider was speaking at the end of a week that has seen him climb to second overall, 2 minutes 5 seconds behind his team-mate. The gap between the two men would be much narrower had Froome not punctured ahead of the finale of Stage 1 in Seraing last Sunday.
However, he pointed out that Team Sky had gone into the race with the goal of securing an overall victory for Wiggins in Paris next Sunday. That remains the objective and Froome said he fully intends to play his part in making that happen, despite it being put to him that he is the stronger climber of the pair.
“I am without doubt, but in this Tour there is more than 100 kilometres of time trialling, so it was decided internally that I would accompany Wiggins on the climbs with a regular rhythm, he would make the difference in the time trials, that’s how we will win the Tour.”
Froome, winner of Stage 7 of the race at La Planche des Belles Filles, was at the centre of discussion after Thursday’s Stage 11 when he put in a sudden burst of accelaration that briefly seemed to have Wiggins in trouble before he checked his speed.
The precise reasons for that move remain unclear – Wiggins, perhaps diplomatically, attributed it to his team mate mishearing an order to slow as one to go, while some have wondered whether Froome saw an opportunity to put time into Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali and defending champion Cadel Evans, the latter having already been distanced.
Speaking of that episode, Froome said only that Wiggins “was perhaps a bit nervous, tired. The climbs, they’re not his strong point.”
It was put to Froome that during that stage, he seemed to be very agitated, checking his radio, as though bubbling with impatience. He was asked whether he felt frustrated.
“The earpiece… Yes, I kept it plugged in, I wanted to know where people were, the distance to the escapees. If they only had 20 seconds, we would increase the rhythm to catch them. As for the other part, it is frustrating, you don’t often get a chance during your lifetime to win the Tour de France,” he confessed.
Froome was asked what would happen if Wiggins found himself in trouble on today’s stage from Limoux to Foix, which takes in two big climbs in the Pyrenees.
“If I have the feeling that we could lose the Tour, I will go with the strongest riders, whether that be Evans or Nibali, to keep out chances alive, to ensure the presence of Sky.”
The wording of the reply is slightly ambiguous; it’s unclear whether that’s Froome’s personal view, or whether it reflects team orders, although certainly with two riders at the top of the GC, both of them strong against the clock, the race is Sky’s to win and sacrificing the chances of the man lying second to help the maillot jaune if he were in trouble would not seem the most sensible strategy.
Froome, however, was clear about the man he sees as the greatest threat – Nibali, who now lies third on GC. “Cadel lost a minute at Toussuire, he will be hard-pressed to turn the situation around,” he explained.
The respective merits of the two Team Sky riders have been hotly debated since last year’s Vuelta, where Froome finished second to then Geox-TMC rider Juan Jose Cobo, with Wiggins, who decided to target the race after his early departure from the Tour de France due to a broken collarbone, completing the podium in third place.
During that race, Team Sky courted controversy after Froome, who had taken the leader’s red jersey after finishing the Stage 10 individual time trial in Salamanca in second place behind Tony Martin, found himself working as a domestique for Wiggins in the following stage.
His team mate would move into the overall lead on that stage and keep the jersey for three more days, but Froome proved much stronger in the mountain stages that decided the race, moving to second place overall as Wiggins lost more than half a minute to him on the Angliru in Stage 15, won by Cobo.
Froome himself went on to win Stage 17 at Peña Cabarga on the final day in the high mountains, and briefly appeared to be riding towards the overall victory as he dropped Cobo on the way to the summit; the Spaniard recovered, however, finishing 1 second behind Froome to keep what would turn out to be a race-winning advantage of 13 seconds over him.
“In the Vuelta, I could have won, it’s true, but because there were more severe climbs, suitable for me, such as the Angliru with its ramps of 20 per cent,” reflected Froome. “In this Tour that’s far from the case, it’s lacking the high mountains. Next year, if the Tour is designed differently, we’ll review my plans.
“It all depends on the parcours,” he went on. “If there are cols, I hope that Sky will be honest with me and that all my team mates would put themselves at my service, with the same loyalty that I am demonstrating today.”
All that is known for now is that the race will begin on Corsica with three road stages, the first time it has visited the island, before recommencing on the mainland with a team time trial in Nice, close to Froome's home in Monaco. Stage 5 will start at nearby Cagnes-sur-Mer, but that’s as much as is officially known at the moment.
Froome believes that Wiggins, whom he describes as “a man of his word” would be one of those who might support him if he were designated leader, saying: “I know he’ll help me.”
It’s unlikely, however, that even if he were designated team leader, Froome would benefit from the same level of support that Wiggins has enjoyed in the past fortnight; with the Olympic road race Mark Cavendish’s principal target this year and the green jersey likely to head to Peter Sagan or André Greipel, the current world champion will expect more backing from his team than he has received in the current edition of the Tour to help him win it back.
Following last year’s Vuelta, Froome signed a three-year contract to remain at Team Sky, which he had joined from Barloworld two years earlier. Before renewing his deal with his current team, however, he also had an approach from Team Saxo Bank whose owner, Bjarne Riis, said last week that he still believes Froome will win this year’s Tour.
The rider was asked whether it was a difficult decision to stay put. “Not at all,” he replied. “My intuition told me to stay at Team Sky. I’m happy there. Moreover, I can’t imagine Contador riding for me.”
L’Equipe pointed out that wining the Tour sets a rider up for life, being worth 3 or 4 million euro for the three or four years after victory.
“I’m aware of that, I know that it could change my life. It’s for that reason that it’s a great, a very great sacrifice,” Froome admitted.
And while there may be other Tours to win, he also agreed that he risks missing writing his name in the record books for another reason. “It would be an historic moment to be the first, for Britain and for Sky. The problem, in effect, is to be the first."
He added: “I can’t lie to you, it’s difficult, truly, but it’s my job.”
Note: Quotes from Chris Froome have been translated from the French article in L'Equipe, but the original interview was reportedly conducted in Italian; it is possible that some nuances may have been lost in the various translations.